Community outreach is essential for rebuilding trust in Liberia’s government, shows new research funded by the International Growth Centre

Distrust of government is likely to have contributed to the spread of Ebola in Liberia, according to a new study funded by the International Growth Centre. The research also shows that door-to-door community outreach was an effective way of gaining people’s cooperation in the fight against Ebola, as well as for building trust in government more generally.

Researchers conducted a survey of over 1500 residents in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, and found that people who expressed distrust in government were 9% less likely to support control policies – such as the government-imposed curfew and ban on public gatherings – and 7% less likely to comply with them.

Negative experiences during the outbreak, such as job loss, knowing Ebola victims, and witnessing the delayed removal of dead bodies, further reduced trust in government and undermined support for control measures designed to slow the spread of the disease.

The researchers also found that door-to-door community outreach, especially when organised by government in collaboration with community institutions, was an effective way to build trust in government and increase compliance with preventative measures and control policies. Of the 40% of citizens who experienced government-organised outreach, 90% report that it had been well-received.

Public awareness outreach efforts about Ebola and its prevention included teams supported by the government, sometimes with NGOs, going door to door speaking to people. Radio broadcasts and billboards were also used to promote public health messages.

Lily Tsai, an Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT and a researcher for the project, said: “Ground-level outreach is a promising way to help re-build trust in Liberia’s government, and increase support for policies essential for controlling the Ebola outbreak. Outreach is particularly effective when citizens perceive it to come from the government rather than NGOs, so we recommend that NGOs conduct their outreach alongside the government, rather than independently of it.  Emphasising the positive role that the government has played during the crisis and maintaining the connections between government and community institutions can also help to increase constructive engagement between citizens and government more generally.”

On 9 May 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization after nearly 10,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.

For more information on this research please read the latest IGC bulletin on the economic impact of Ebola.