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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. 

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


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.

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. 

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.

Central themes of earned legitimacy


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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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#EarnLegitimacy


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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