Trust and Pride During the Pandemic
It’s often through adversity that we see people for who they really are. My feeds are full of stories about community members’ acts of kindness and generosity. The heroes in these stories are civic-minded people with an inclination for togetherness, and social distancing has given them an opportunity to shine. On the flip side, some people are so concerned about their own well-being that they may not realize it’s to the detriment of others (such as hoarding supplies or ignoring stay-at-home mandates).
The spotlight is on you
Just like individuals, cities have a similar opportunity to shine and this crisis has demonstrated how important local government. Cities that have long worked to cultivate pride and keep open lines of communication are better positioned to navigate these troubled waters. In contrast, communities that have not put-in these efforts can fall victim to the refrain of “government is the problem,” which is even more challenging to overcome during times of crisis.
Government is not the problem, but poor communication can lead to a disengaged or apathetic community, and that is a problem. The most effective local government is recognized for its leadership, strong communication, and taking the necessary steps to help people feel proud of the place they call home.
Crisis shines a spotlight on our strengths, but it can also shine a light on our deficits. We are experiencing times like no other and coming to the fast realization that leadership and communication are essential to successfully combating the pandemic. The challenge we face today, while completely different from any other, still leads us to the same conclusions and follows the same rules. For cities, most problems are not totally unique, and we can learn from the past, as well as other communities who have pioneered the path and found successful solutions.
The crisis we face today during the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates just how imperative it is for local government to provide residents with information and guidance. People need to be aware of what’s happening locally, which resources are available, how they can help themselves, and how they can help keep others safe.
Trust can’t wait
As Stephen McCovey has often stated, we move at the speed of trust. Having the trust of the people in the community is critical to successful communications, particularly in times of crisis. It’s not a “government problem,” nor is it because “residents don’t care.” It often just boils down to trust. The issue of trust isn’t a touchy-feely sidebar conversation, it’s central to the success of a city and elected leaders must take the opportunity to actively build trust amongst residents so a city can begin to improve.
City pride and good communication pre-pandemic gives cities a leg-up in the midst of crisis; they are able to respond and make tough decisions more quickly and get the word out just as fast. They already have strong lines of communication in place and built trust with residents. Those that are having to figure it out on-the-go are at an extreme disadvantage. A crisis is often the wake-up call and this particular crisis demonstrates how trust, leadership and communication are vital components of healthy and resilient cities.
How do we build trust within communities?
Trust is built on a foundation of communication. Understandably, with so many challenges and needs that cities have to prioritize – infrastructure, amenities, business retention, etc. – a strong communications strategy can take a backseat. However, waiting for a crisis is not an ideal way to establish new lines of communication that didn’t already exist. So if you find yourself in this position, let it be an opportunity to change the tides of communication.
Many people don’t know where exactly local government has jurisdiction, what they can and cannot do, which can lead to unnecessary finger-pointing and blame, especially in a crisis. The good news is that it’s not too late; consistent transparent communication can help residents understand how local government works, the opportunities and the limitations. Trust takes time – be consistent and persistent, and trust will build. By keeping people in the dark on how the city functions, leaders can unknowingly plant seeds of distrust. Informed residents are engaged residents and cities that keep resident informed fare much better.
Let’s do this
What we are learning from dealing with a pandemic on a local level is that “preparedness” includes ongoing communication and a level of trust with residents. The ability of local government to be successful depends on it. There is too much work to be done and the stakes are too high. We are witnessing right now, why it matters so much.
We have to take this opportunity to do better, to be better, to ask more and to raise our expectations.