Trust in government is an essential element in any democracy. Unfortunately for the United States, it’s currently running on a near-empty tank, as the gap between parties widens further with every passing day. While this is disheartening, the gap is not unbridgeable; simple human interaction can work wonders for combating this divisiveness.

When it comes to restoring trust in the government, why is community engagement important? Essentially, because it’s easier to trust in a system when one is actively engaged in fostering its growth and working alongside others who share a common purpose. This is what democracy is supposed to be about, but the political divide has made it difficult to move forward, with one side shouting for one thing while being drowned out by the other. Working together on a small scale will make even the largest problems seem less insurmountable.

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has created a template known as the Spectrum of Public Participation—a useful tool in breaking down the techniques of community participation along with a spectrum of public control. In essence, there are four different types of community effort: On the lower end, we have Inform, defined as reaching out to people and educating them on the issues; and consult, which is gathering feedback from said individuals and using it to move forward. As these two require effort mainly on the part of the community organizers, they’re satisfying when it comes to feelings of accomplishment, but limited in terms of control over the outcome.

On the higher end of the spectrum, there’s Collaborate, which partners the volunteers with the public moving forward; and Empower, which places the decisions solely in the hands of the public. These two don’t see much action in the community organizing process, because certain decisions are left up to elected officials. Still, those officials wouldn’t have been elected in the first place if it weren’t for the people working on both ends of the spectrum.

This is an important thing to remember when becoming involved in politics on any scale. It’s easy to become frustrated with the government, to imagine that the ones in power aren’t working in the interests of the public. In truth, however, this is a democracy; the public is the government.