Does principled engagement lead to increased trust?


June 12, 2018

Recently we published public engagement principles for the Government of Canada. This was part of our Open Government commitment to Enable Open Dialogue and Open Policy Making. We were delighted by how many people helped us along the way, which Thom has written about. This post explains what we intend to do with these principles, and how it helps us move towards a more participatory approach to governance.

Baseline indicators

Our hypothesis is that increased engagement will lead to increased trust in government. We have baselined the following indicators:

  1. Awareness in the opportunities to participate (37% in 2017)
  2. People feel they are provided with opportunities to participate (8% in 2007, 10% in 2017)
  3. Participation rates in government-led consultations (22% in 2007, 34% in 2017)
  4. Satisfaction with consultations, for those who have participated (18% in 2007, 37% in 2017)
  5. Government cares about the concerns of Canadians (30% in 2007, 36% in 2017)
  6. Trust in government to do what is right (27% in 2007, 41% say almost always in 2017)

What are the steps between engagement and trust?

According to the Rethinking Citizen Engagement research study, the first step in meaningful engagement is that people feel they had information needed to meaningfully participate. They also report that they are more likely to participate if their feedback helps shape decisions. They agree that government should consult broadly to get a range of views.

Based on the data collected in the research study, we have outlined the process of meaningful participation as such:

  • People are aware of opportunities to participate.
  • People have information needed to contribute.
  • People feel their input was heard.
  • People think their input will be used to shape government decisions.
  • People learn about others' views and have an opportunity to discuss trade-offs.
  • Better policy results from developing options with a broader range of people.
  • People's trust increases as they see a government that reflects the people it serves.

The first draft of our logic model, therefore, looks like this:

OG Logic model
Logic model - Text version

Logic model: what we're measuring

Understanding the drivers of meaningful engagement


  • Develop principles, practices, and methods
  • Build capacity / Be a learning organization
  • Improve public awareness, knowledge, participation, and reach


  • Have a seat at the table / feel heard
  • Intelligence, understanding shared amongst participants
  • Influence policy, programs, services


  • Increased public buy-in
  • Better policy outcomes that benefit more people
  • Increased trust in government

This framework helps us measure ourselves against these baselines as we try to improve.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Are we measuring the right things? Does the logic model make sense? Post your comments here or help us develop our measurement framework on GCcollab.

Laura Wesley

Laura Wesley

Executive Director, Consultations and Public Engagement, Privy Council Office, Government of Canada

Laura has a track record of disrupting the status quo to bring about results. Her knowledge of, and interest in, systems change, service design, and human motivation form a lens through which to consider new ways of working together. After more than a decade working in the federal public service, she's come to believe that working across boundaries – sectors, disciplines and organizations – results in better outcomes for everyone. In guiding individuals and teams, Laura shows an unwavering commitment to supporting people through change.

Blog comments

Geoff Wilson - June 15, 2018

Thanks for sharing this research. It is valuable for public engagement practitioners to have access to this kind of research because it enhances the credibility of our work. As a practitioner for the past decade, I am convinced by my experience that real engagement builds trust. However, hard evidence from research and ongoing engagement evaluation is is what we need if we are going to shift the sceptical mindset of both the elected and non-elected decision-makers in the public sector who seem to be threatened by the prospect of engaging citizens in policy and decision making.

In my work in health care I use the PPEET (Patient and Public Engagement Evaluation Tool). This was developed by Dr. Julia Abelson (McMaster) from a 3-year, CIHR-funded project that I was involved in as a practitioner. Though health care focused, the tool can easily be applied to almost any other sector.

I look forward to following this work with great interest! Thank you!

Doris Fortin - June 12, 2018

Great piece Laura - exciting times for all of us who support engagement of Canadians. I am wondering if you have given thought to how to foster the belief by Canadians that their input shape Government decisions and policies? How do we collectively inspire - and live up to - this belief? How do we support a feedback loop to show that input has shaped Goverment decisions and policies?

Laura Wesley - June 16, 2018

Great question Doris! Yes these are really exciting times to bring the public into closer contact with the design of programs, policies and services.

How can we demonstrate we are listening? Closing the feedback loop early and often is key. Whenever possible, create the conditions for conversations between and among stakeholders. Publish summaries of meetings; comments as open data (example:…); and reports about what was heard.

As a channel into decision making, rather than as the decision-makers, an important role public servants play is ensuring people can participate if and where they choose - that the process, language and channels are easy to use to as wide an audience as possible.

To demonstrate that input is shaping our analysis and options, we need to design transparent processes from the get-go. That can start with sharing information and data that we have and are using to understand the issue. It continues with an invitation to hear from a variety of perspectives, that is clear about how their feedback will be used, what's in/out of scope, what are the expected timelines, how can people track this issue moving forward. The more a shared understanding of the issue can be cultivated, the more useful the inputs from others might be.

We must present feedback in a way that is fair and non-partisan, and use tools like GBA+ that help reduce personal bias. We must seek out perspectives unlike our own, consider who is not at the table, and going the extra mile to make it possible for under-represented groups or affected individuals to participate.

I also encourage public servants to zoom out and consider all the different ways that people can participate beyond the discovery, options and analysis stage into the parliamentary process - for example, when it gets to the House and into Committees (…).

A well-designed consultation is iterative; new information (from feedback and other channels) is interlaced into the process - and product - in order to develop laws, policies, programs and services that are reflective of the people the government represents.

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