Trust: the tool of all tools to end poverty

Paul Bradley, Project Coordinator for Open Government at SCVO, on why trust is needed between government and civil society to make Scotland poverty-free.

It becomes clear after flicking through the pages of Poverty in Scotland that the knowledge base exists to tackle poverty. We also know this simply through the everyday response of Scotland’s third sector.

Yet many of us know we aren’t able to transform society at a pace that matches the knowledge and skills at our disposal. Of course it isn’t straightforward – but I don’t accept that we don’t have a decent idea of what the problems are. Indeed, we are very clear on the tools needed to tackle poverty. If we have the ideas, what’s stopping us from putting them to action?

Let me ask you a question: do you trust government and does government trust you?

Transforming Scotland towards a poverty-free country requires government to trust us with the information we need to spot where the issues lie and to deliver anti-poverty solutions. It also requires us to trust that government is making well-informed choices. I say this about tackling poverty, but it’s true for every policy area.

If we are to achieve no poverty in Scotland – just one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals the Scottish Government has signed up to – then a new way of working is needed where greater trust exists. This trust will enable much more participation from the public and civil society, a better understanding of what government is doing to deliver results and an awareness of how it arrives at the decisions made.

We have the knowledge base in Scotland to achieve so much. Imagine if we were trusted with more information on where money is spent. Mexico’s development of an Open Budgets Portal, which has led to a greater sense of where the money flows and has enabled real involvement of citizens in decision making, could be replicated in Scotland.

What if government called on us and citizens to define the information they should publish and how it should be done? In proactively publishing budgetary information in a friendly and intuitive way, we would find it simpler to identify priority policies and campaigns that reflect the tough choices government must take.

If we had more of an idea as to how budgetary decisions are made, we could work with government to find even better solutions or simply feel more confident and less uncertain with those that are pursued.

If you haven’t yet realised, I like to think about open government in terms of trust. In some ways this link is obvious because greater transparency means we are reassured that there is less to hide. On the other hand, people often see this trust as a one-way transaction from the citizen to government. In fact, open government is just as much about them trusting you with power, information and access over what’s happening.

There’s an obsession for wanting more and more evidence of what the problems are and how they might be fixed. Going back to the drawing board to find the perfect solution would be fine if we had time. The issues might not be simple but my argument is – trust can be a tool for ensuring all the other tools we have for tackling poverty are put to their best use.

I’ll finish with the question I posed earlier: do you trust government and does government trust you? Whatever your answer, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Scotland’s Open Government Network is open for all to join, whether you’re keen to get involved or simply want to lurk and learn in the background.

Scotland’s first Open Government Action Plan may be coming to an end, but our movement for two-way trust is getting stronger by the day. Greater transparency, accountability and participation could transform our approach to ending poverty, the goal that both ourselves and government share.

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