Rebuilding Broken Civic Trust

By: Madison Sorsen, MSU CCED, Senior Research Assistant,

A large audience at the Navigating Civic Distrust conference in Flint, MichiganFor several years, public trust in State officials, particularly legislators, has been waning. Exacerbated by the 2016 presidential election and-more locally-by the Flint water crisis, this distrust has been reported on extensively over the past year. As such, the Center for Community and Economic Development's Contemporary Issues Institute in 2017 determined to focus on Rebuilding Broken Civic Trust. Specifically, the Institute looked at the process of rebuilding trust in the Flint community.

With the direction of an advisory committee, CCED led discussions around the definition of trust and distrust; the historic trauma of the Flint community associated with economic and social injustice; the physical and mental impacts of the ongoing Flint water crisis; and the demands of the Flint community in wake of the most recent crisis. During these conversations, the committee decided that it needed to provide a space for people to define trust, discuss how they navigate broken trust between the people and the state government, and to voice what they need in order to begin the process of rebuilding trust, or perhaps, building civic trust for the first time. While it was important for the people of Flint to speak, it was also imperative that state officials hear the voices of the Flint community.

Many participated in the conference in East LansingIn alignment with these two target audiences and the committee's goals, two conference style events were held regarding broken civic trust. In the first, Navigating Distrust held in Flint on the evening of June 5, 2017, Flint community members discussed the effects of broken trust on their everyday lives and articulated what they needed from the state government in order to begin rebuilding the trust that was broken. The second event, Building a Trusting Relationship was held in East Lansing on June 8, 2017.

Experts from the fields of Criminal Justice, Business, Community Sustainability, and Communication presented research and case studies that discussed strategies to rebuild broken trust. Additionally, Mark Bishop from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and Patrick McNeal, a leader in the Flint community, provided a personal perspective of the damage inflicted by the water crisis and the importance of building a trusting relationship between the state and its constituents.

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