Civic Entrepreneur is a podcast hosted by Dr. Josh Franco, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cuyamaca College, that focuses on civic entrepreneurship, grassroots organizing, and public policy with diversity, inclusion, and equity at its core.
Episode 3: Trust and Accountability defines individual, community, and network of responsibility; explains why each of these concepts matter and how they can be assessed; and share an experience while an undergraduate student at UC Merced working to form the university's student government.
Hello and welcome to Civic Entrepreneur, a podcast that focuses on civic entrepreneurship, grassroots organizing, and public policy with diversity, inclusion, and equity at its core. I'm your host, Dr. Josh Franco, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cuyamaca College. Welcome to Episode 3: Trust and Accountability. In this podcast, we'll be discussing trust and accountability, networks of responsibility, how to assess trust and accountability, and how do entrepreneurs build trust and maintain accountability Let's begin by defining some terms. Trust, accountability, and network or responsibility. Trust is assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. In the context of a verb, it's the idea that we can place confidence in or rely on something or someone. Now trust can be represented in many forms, so let me share three examples. The first example is a trust fall. This is where there's two individuals and one person has their back to the other and that person who's back is to the other individual is expected to fall backwards with the expectation that there'll be caught by the second individual. This is an example of trust because you're willing to allow yourself to fall backwards in the expectation and the hope that you'll be caught before you hit the ground. A second example of trust is when you buy fruit at the supermarket. Now, a lot of thought may not go into when you buy a pear, or an apple, or a banana. But you're trusting that the supermarket has purchased that product from a reputable a farmer or a grocer. That they are willing to ensure its safety and reliability. And that you're willing to pay the price that's being asked of it. So, you're placing a lot of trust in the supermarket because you see it as embodying an effort to ensure that this product is consumable for individuals. A third example is flying on a plane. Now, if you've never flown on a plane, your day will come. But know that when you do get on a plane, that there's a sense of a fear that might come with, traveling. But then you start to think about how this plane got here. How many individuals are involved? Who's flying the airplane? And the fact that there's a hundred plus other people on the plane who are trusting that piece of equipment to get them from point A to point B. So, when you get on a plane and you fly on a plane, you're trusting a whole community, a network of individuals to ensure its safety. The second term I'd like to define as accountability. And accountability is an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions. And let me share three examples. The first one is a child eating their vegetables. Now when a child is served from vegetables, like a piece of broccoli or some zucchinis, the expectation is that the child will consume those vegetables, because it's a part of their meal. Now, how do you ensure that the child is held accountable for eating that food? You can either incentivize that behavior of eating the vegetables or you can disincentivize the opposite behavior. So, withholding some kind of object or putting the child in timeout. So, in our to ensure accountability of the child, eating vegetables and action has to be taken to support the behavior that's desired. A second example is an adult returning a lost wallet. Now, there may come a time in your life where you come across a wallet. And you open it up and that there's a lot of money in it, there's credit cards, and obviously there's someone's identification. And so how do you ensure accountability of someone returning that wallet? If you've lost it and you don't know where you left it's hard to. expect someone to bring it back, but we do have that expectation because we feel that people will hold themselves accountable for doing the right thing and returning the wallet to a lost and found or to a police station. Now the third example is an elected official running for reelection. In a democratic society, such as ours, an individual is elected and then they have the opportunity to run for reelection. So, you can think of like a member of Congress or US Senator, a governor, or a president. Now, when they run for reelection, let's say a second or third or multiple term. The idea is that they are going before the voters, and they are willing to be held accountable by the voters. And so if a majority of voters support their campaign and their effort, then they'll have a second or additional term, and if they don't then they'll we'll have lost and the expectation is that they'll step down and allow for the next person to take on that role. This is also another form of accountability because you're willing to go before the people in order to have them decide whether they should continue to support you or not. And so for each of the examples, we see a sense of accountability. How do we ensure that the child is being held accountable for eating their vegetables? Or how do we expect an individual who finds a lost wallet to do the right thing and return it? Or the last example, we're an elected official who runs for election loses, showing that the people have the ultimate say over their continued service or not. And so accountability, isn't just about this obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions, it's also the mechanisms by which that accountability is maintained. The third term I like to define is a network of responsibility. Now, networks consists of individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions, and the connections between them. These connections can be positive, neutral, or negative. And networks that have predominantly negative connections are largely unable to maintain a degree of responsibility because responsibility is a function of the trust and accountability mechanisms that exist between the individuals and entities within that network. However, on the flip side, if a network has positive connections, and some neutral connections, then the individuals and entities involved are able to hold themselves and each other accountable and build on the trust that exists between them. So why do each of these things matter: trust, accountability, and networks of responsibility? Trust matters because we have to find it in ourselves. We had to find it in each other. And the resilience of any network is predicated on this idea of being willing to trust each other. And so we have to care about trust because we have to be willing to build it in order to accomplish a common purpose Now, why does accountability matter? We can hold ourselves accountable, but in an effort to achieve a common purpose, we're going to have to hold each other accountable through our peer-to-peer networks, or we're going to have to hold each other's organizations accountable, or we're going to have to hold organizations outside of our network, like the government or business accountable. And so accountability matters because without a mechanism by which we can see what other people are doing and that we can applaud positive efforts, and frown upon negative efforts, and then draw a distinction between what needs to be done versus what has been done or what is a lagging to be done it really means that accountability is important for us. Lastly, why do networks or responsibility matter? The simple adage is: strength in numbers. But, more specifically you can go it alone, but you won't accomplish much, if anything Now, while going in alone in some fashions might work, like for example, taking a quiet hike in the woods or going out for a swim. When you think about trying to achieve a common purpose, a key function is that you have to do it with other people and so this network of individuals, communities, organizations, and entities will really make a difference in being able to achieve that common purpose. Now that we have the what and the why of trust, accountability, and networks of responsibility, a big question is how do we assess this? When you think about trust, there's a couple of ways of assessing this. It's both at the individual level and at the entity or the institutional level. So here, we're looking at the one-to-one relationship, say between myself and another individual, who's working towards this common purpose. Can I trust them? Do they trust me? Are they willing to work with me in order to accomplish this goal? Are they willing to put in the time and effort? And obviously the same questions I would ask of myself. At the institutional or at the entity level, it's a one-to-many relationship or a many to many relationship. And what I mean by this is that I can look at an organization that's trying to achieve a common purpose and I can ask myself: are all those individuals trustworthy enough in order to help achieve this effort? And the other question is, are all of us, together, willing to work with not only ourselves, but with other groups and organizations in order to achieve our common goal? And so this, assessment of trust comes at an individual level, comes at an entity or an institutional level. Now, another way of looking at trust or assessing it is to consider the idea that you can look at trust over either a single time period or multiple time periods. And the important distinction here is that we will assign trust to someone based on how they look, how they sound, how they present themselves. But we also got to realize that single moment is not indicative of the person as a whole. It might be revealing in some fashions, like the common adage of you only get to make a first impression once. But at the same time, we also have to think about our willingness to work with an individual and with organizations over a longer period of time. So, we're assessing trust, not just in time period one, but in time periods, two, three, and so on. Next, how do we assess accountability? And again, I'll bring in this framework of individual level and entity or institutional level. So, I have to ask myself, how can I keep myself accountable? Calendars, deadlines, trackers, other ways of organizing information, thoughts, ideas, and steps that need to be taken in order to help contribute to the overall effort of achieving our common purpose Now at the institutional or at the entity level, we have to think about how I can help the organization or the community keep itself accountable. And how can we as a community, keep each other accountable with our internal partners and with our external partners. And so assessing accountability, you have to look inward first and then you can look outward. But as you're looking outward, realize that that creates its own sense of accountability within an organization. And then we have to ask ourselves between organizations, how do we ensure that we're all working towards our common goal? We're all putting in our fair amount of resources and time and effort. And that we're willing to support each other when one individual or one part of the organization isn't able to carry its load. Or on the reverse side, when one organization is really leading the effort, how can they help diffuse that responsibility in order to ensure that there's a level of accountability between all those involved? Another way of thinking about this is the level of ownership that someone has with respect to the individual and the organizational efforts. And what I mean by this is ownership over three things: success, failure, and uncertainty. Now, for willing to look as an organization at our successes, obviously we'll applaud them, we'll reward them, we'll acknowledge them. But, in other instances, when we fail, it's important as an organization and as individuals to work with those experiences in order to learn from them and to grow from them. Many times, failure will lead organizations down a rabbit hole of indifference, negativity, and eventually leading to a disbandment of the group or of the effort. But failure is a wonderful learning opportunity to ensure that accountability mechanisms are reviewed and refreshed in order to meet the needs of the moment. And then lastly, this ownership over the uncertainty. When individuals and entities are working towards this common purpose, you can look ahead and say, well, what is this really leading to? Right? What that was asking is the sense of uncertainty about what the future holds. And I think this comes with any individual, or organization, but it's important to own that there is uncertainty that there isn't a predictability to some efforts. And ultimately, while there's a common purpose or shared goal, we can reach it, but once we reach that base what's the next one that we're looking to? And because we may not know what the next one is, that shouldn't diminish our efforts or prevent us from thinking about how we can maintain accountability as we continue to go forward beyond the vision that group or set of individuals already had. How do civic entrepreneurs build trust and maintain accountability? Let's recall for a moment what a civic entrepreneur is doing and what they are. A civic entrepreneur operates in a time of dramatic change, they see opportunity and they mobilize others, in the community to work towards a collective wellbeing. Civic entrepreneurs create an operate at the nexuses between public private, nonprofit education and civic sectors. Now civic entrepreneurs can help build trust by doing the following, engaging multiple stakeholders, speaking, plainly and responsibly, and supporting efforts of the whole while acknowledging individual roles and responsibilities. Civic entrepreneurs build trust because they're the bee who's going to each flower and making and building a network that other bees can follow. And so they build trust because they have a map of the individuals and the entities that are involved in an effort. Secondly, civic entrepreneurs help maintain accountability by supporting the establishment of shared standards and responsibilities, they diffuse control from a centralized entity or cohort, and they look to expand that, to allow other people opportunities to be engaged, to make decisions, and to demonstrate leadership. So in other words, there's a, instead of a single group maintaining the effort it's about expanding it so that you can have multiple points of engagement. But also multiple points of checking in and holding each other accountable. And lastly, civic entrepreneurs. help acknowledge these differing viewpoints that come with working beyond yourself. And knowing that different individuals and different entities have different missions, visions, and goals, but if they're working together towards a common goal or a shared purpose, then the civic entrepreneur helps maintain accountability by continuing to focus on that common effort. I'd like to conclude with an application of trust and accountability. And again, I'll draw from my personal experiences because I can speak most confidently from them. And I'll share my time as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Merced. And, my interest as a junior transfer coming into a new University of California was ensuring that the student voice existed and was formalized in the form of a student government. So myself, and many others like Marsha Bond and Crystal Wuebker worked towards writing a constitution for our new UC Merced student government. So, a bit of background: This idea that we're the newest UC founded in 2005 so we had this blank slate The question that we asked ourselves: how do we ensure student representation? We can do it by speaking directly to faculty, to staff, and to administrators, but we needed a formal entity, like a student government, to be established. Now, student governments are all based on constitutions and bylaws. And, so we formed a constitution and bylaws committee, and the idea here was to engage as many students who are interested as possible to help the effort in writing and then ratifying the constitution. Looking at this from a diversity perspective, the idea here was to invite everyone. Now, this is in the proto-Facebook era, where it wasn't ubiquitous, in other words, it wasn't widespread, use or adoption of that kind of social network platform. So we had to do it the old fashioned way, right? Flyers, posters, word of mouth, inviting people to participate, in the main committee and in the sub committees. But the goal was to show that everyone was invited, no one was excluded, from the effort. Secondly, from an inclusion perspective, as the group initially organized, it was this conversation about what the student government is, what it should look like, how it should be organized, what are its roles and responsibilities. But as group had those conversations and came to a common understanding, it then needed to be more inclusive by decentralizing the process. And in other words, delegating the responsibilities of writing the actual text of the constitution, and specific articles of it, to subcommittees that were led by different individuals. Now this promotes inclusion because you move it away from a central group that meets maybe on a specific day and time to a broader set of groups that would invite other voices and other people to contribute their views and perspectives to a specific part of the whole. And lastly, from an equity perspective, this idea of offering a shared forum for each individual to share their thoughts and opinions. Now, these forums existed through the subcommittees on specific articles, but as we met as a whole, the idea was that anyone was welcome to engage, to participate and share their views. No one was asked to not speak up. no one was asked to not share their voice. And, so this notion that everyone's coming at this from a different place and perspective, the goal was to give them the information, the facts, and to support them in the ways they felt best in contributing. Now, obviously the ultimate goal was to write a constitution and this was successfully done. by a large cadre of students, including myself. And I think the most exciting part about this was that as a set of individuals, we had a common purpose of establishing a government. We were able to build trust with each other because we're open to each other's thoughts and experiences and viewpoints. And we're able to maintain accountability by having a common forum or a committee of the whole, and then having subcommittees that worked on specific elements. So what was really fascinating about this experience was that you connect with others in a way that ensures that the shared goal is achieved. Now, this isn't to say that there were any bumps, or hiccups, arguments, both dull and tense, throughout the process. But, I think what was really illuminating for me looking back on it was that this is where you worked towards achieving these efforts, but it was built on, the sense of trust that existed between us all coming together, to a new University of California campus. And the sense of accountability, that we needed to do this right and and proper, but we needed to do it in the timeframe given to us so that the student voice would be present at the beginnings of our new university. In future podcasts, we'll be exploring economy and society, people and place, change and continuity, and idealism and pragmatism. Thank you for taking the time to listen in on this episode of Civic Entrepreneur. I welcome your feedback, thoughts, comments, and suggestions. If you're interested in being interviewed as a part of this podcast, feel free to send me a message on Twitter or visit our website at www.civicentrepreneur.com. Thank you and take care!