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Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort

How governments are rebuilding trust with communities

What is earned legitimacy?

CPI believes that a government is arguably only legitimate if it has the support of the people it purports to serve, and that support is invariably tied to the amount of trust the people feel for their government.

Earned legitimacy refers to the admission that the government must work tirelessly with its people to increase community trust, continuously demonstrate its value in people’s lives, and maintain the very promise of democracy. 

Map of America with Carlton County, MN, Detroit, MI, Salt Lake City, UT, and Harris County, TX starred

Our inaugural cohort

The Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort (ELLC) pilot program took place in two cities and two counties. In developing this inaugural Cohort, CPI considered a wide range of factors, including population size, geography, ethnic and racial makeup, and the city’s or county’s socioeconomic status. Each city or county within the Cohort developed a core team of community leaders, local government staff, and other local actors and was partnered with a CPI Learning Liaison, who acted as coaches for the teams.

Topics of focus and policy impacts

A river through a forest in Carlton County

Carlton County, Minnesota

Carlton County, whose team focused on connecting with rural communities, recommended that all government employees receive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training and that the County allot $10,000 in funding to support locally-driven projects that incentivize residents to take a leading role in building stronger, more vibrant communities. Both proposals were approved by the County Board.

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit, Michigan, whose team focused on better serving the disability community, received buy-in from the Director of Human Resources for the city and the Chief of Staff for Detroit’s Mayor to mandate disability awareness training for all city employees and to move forward with cross-departmental meetings to finalize and pursue initiatives that will reduce accessibility barriers throughout the city.

Houston during a sunset

Harris County, Texas

Harris County, whose team focused on affordable housing for Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and low-income residents, presented to the Commissioners Court of Harris County on inclusive and accessible community engagement. The County is continuing to ideate and test various housing solutions and will meet again with the Commissioners Court in the coming months. 

City Hall in Salt Lake City in front of snow-covered mountains

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, whose team focused on advancing equity in public safety, met with Mayor Mendenhall who noted that residents “shared ideas that are already being implemented by our city government” and came up with “brilliant, novel ideas to solve challenges in policing, such as mental health de-escalation training for law enforcement.” Mayor Mendenhall is supportive of continued empowering of and collaboration with residents to build a more equitable tomorrow.

Impact by the numbers


4 local governments worked to rebuild legitimacy


28 team members across the nation pitched in


13 residents engaged with the program


93% of surveyed participants would reccomend the program to their peers


100% of participants learned new skills


80% of participants continued to apply these skills after the program

Central themes of earned legitimacy

Four team members standing in front of a podium with the Harris County Seal

Humanizing and demystifying government

Humanizing government means allowing the community to see the people behind the closed doors of government. Demystifying or making government more transparent is helpful to marginalized groups because it makes government programs and resources more known to them. By increasing awareness of available services, the government is able to create stronger relationships with communities.

A man and a woman talking in a professional setting

Centering residents in governmental processes

Core teams focused on residents’ experiences with the government, began to build deep relationships with them, and found creative ways to connect with residents. This is helpful for marginalized communities because it recognizes their importance in communities and permits the government to create stronger working and personal relationships with them. 

A Black man holding up a

Importance of understanding place and history

Historical context worksheets uncovered pain points that were brought up by residents during the Community Listening Sessions and Cocreation sessions. Understanding place and history recognizes the harm that the government may have perpetuated on marginalized groups. Addressing past harm is one of the first steps to earning legitimacy.

A mother and her young son

The power of hope

The Cohort mentioned ‘hope’ as an emotion they associated with engaging and sharing power with communities. Earning legitimacy is about being vulnerable and apologetic with communities about the role the government plays in systemic challenges today. When working with residents in a deeper way, earning legitimacy becomes easier to obtain and inspires hope and action for a better tomorrow.


“I really sensed the “Power of Hope” emerge through [CPI's Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort] process. In fact, it was interesting and inspiring to experience how we moved from challenges to possibilities over the life of the engagement activities…The program allowed for important connections between the community and local government.”

Phyllis Meadows, Senior Fellow, Health Programming at The Kresge Foundation, Detroit
Kaletta Lynch

“As the first Chief Equity Officer for Salt Lake City, I have already started encouraging my new team to utilize asset and systems mapping, and community ideation. Once we use these [Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort] tools to identify where power currently lies, those who are involved, and those who are missing or lack access, we can then move forward to increase engagement with very focused groups."

Kaletta Lynch, Chief Equity Officer for Salt Lake City
A young boy taking a photo of a colorful mural in Carlton County

“Great information was received through [CPI's Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort] community listening sessions and interviews. We identified a need for people to be heard.”

Susan Zmyslony, Community Member, Carlton County
The printed out booklet of the Earned Legitimacy Learning Cohort Impact Report

Download the report

Over 10-weeks, governments dismantled inequitable power dynamics and enabled community-driven change.

Learn how you can build a trusting relationship between local governments and underserved communities that have been harmed by government actions.



How can a government rebuild legitimacy? @slcoei, @HarrisCountyCSD, @CityofDetroit, and @CarltonCountyMN were set on finding out, and the @CPI_Foundation was set on helping them. Learn how they worked to #EarnLegitimacy
Governments have intentionally and unintentionally harmed communities. The time to recognize harm, rebuild trust with residents, and #EarnLegitimacy is now.
There are no easy answers when it comes to government legitimacy. It’s still worth trying. Join the @CPI_Foundation, @slcoei, @HarrisCountyCSD, @CityofDetroit, and @CarltonCountyMN as they explore a path towards righting past wrongs.

Earn legitimacy in your community

Dismantle inequitable power dynamics. Enable community-driven change. Build trust, and restore legitimacy.

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