When citizens have trust in the institutions that govern them, society benefits as a whole.
Trust is the glue that facilitates collective action for mutual benefit. Without trust we don’t have the ability to address complex, long-term challenges. Trust is also closely tied to democratic satisfaction.¹
Despite the significant uncertainty and stress brought by bushfires and COVID-19, PwC Australia’s Citizen Survey 2020 found that public trust in our government institutions has risen recently. But this hard-won trust can also be easily lost if these same institutions aren’t responsive to the ever-evolving needs and expectations of their citizens.
At the micro level, trust in public institutions is largely dependent on the interactions the public have with the people directly responsible for implementing the policies and delivering the services that impact their everyday lives – experience trust. At the macro level, this trust comes from the government’s management of economic and social issues and, particularly, how well management outcomes align with citizen expectations – values trust.
So how can government agencies recruit, train and support a public sector workforce that builds and fosters public trust in policy design as well as service delivery?
Creating trust at the coalface
Employees interacting directly with the public need to be able to provide a customer experience that engenders trust. Trust is built through listening and responding with empathy, being reliable and delivering credible outcomes. Other required ‘soft’ skills include the ability to deliver sometimes disappointing information with compassion, as well as providing consistent, transparent and predictable outcomes.
Fostering empathic and compassionate interactions also requires providing employees with adequate time to properly service their customers and resolve the interaction. Inadequate staffing numbers or KPIs that prescribe average times for customer interactions can contribute to workforce stress and lead to poorer customer outcomes – particularly for more complex cases.
Service delivery organisations need to align their workforces to the communities they serve – geographically and demographically – this can go a long way to engendering trust in the services you provide. Such alignment might involve employing people with language skills that reflect community demographics, but it could also involve tailored awareness and sensitivity training for existing employees that address the specific cultural needs of the local community. Co-designing cultural training with citizens that reflects the nuances of their community’s culture and needs ensures an authentic and informed workforce solution, building confidence in front line staff to deliver meaningful outcomes for people.
Customer-centric policy creation
At the macro level, designing citizen-centric policy requires government institutions to listen to, analyse and then incorporate feedback from the public into the policy process. The public needs to see their values reflected not just in their interactions with frontline staff, but in the wider economic and social agenda of their government.
Embedding citizen input into policy making requires co-designing policies and programs with citizens, and drawing on knowledge and skill sets such as behavioural economics, organisational psychology, data skills, stakeholder engagement and user-centred design skills.
Government agencies need to balance competing demands when designing and building workforces that implement government policy at the same time as delivering a great customer experience. For example, how does an agency trying to save on workforce costs through outsourcing service delivery, still ensure consistent customer experience and quality of service? Consideration of the citizen-centric ‘bottom line’ is critical to striking a balance between costs and customer outcomes.
Public trust requires transparent communication from the public service. However, risk aversion can lead to a communication approach that favours complexity and ambiguity over clear, plain language when speaking to customers or engaging the public more broadly.
Implications for workforce development
To build a workforce that is truly focused on the needs of its customer base and thereby engenders trust in the public sector requires a planned approach. Agencies need to understand the customer experience and translate this into the skills and behaviours required for their workforces – from the frontline to the back end. They need to foster and reward a citizen-centric mindset and implement systems and processes to support consistent, quality customer interactions. Crucially, they need to be able to connect directly with customers and use customer input to design, refine and reinforce a customer-centric approach.
For the full Citizen Survey 2020 report and findings, visit: www.pwc.com.au/citizensurvey2020