OECD Public Governance Reviews

2219-0414 (online)
2219-0406 (print)
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This series includes international studies and country-specific reviews of government efforts to make the public sector more efficient, effective, innovative and responsive to citizens’ needs and expectations. Publications in this series look at topics such as open government, preventing corruption and promoting integrity in the public service, risk management, illicit trade, audit institutions, and civil service reform. Country-specific reviews assess a public administration’s ability to achieve government objectives and preparedness to address current and future challenges. In analysing how a country's public administration works, reviews focus on cross-departmental co-operation, the relationships between levels of government and with citizens and businesses, innovation and quality of public services, and the impact of information technology on the work of government and its interaction with businesses and citizens.


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Trust and Public Policy

Trust and Public Policy

How Better Governance Can Help Rebuild Public Trust You do not have access to this content

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27 Mar 2017
9789264268920 (PDF) ;9789264268913(print)

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Trust plays a very tangible role in the effectiveness of government. Few perceptions are more palpable than that of trust or its absence. Governments ignore this at their peril. Yet, public trust has been eroding just when policy makers need it most, given persistent unemployment, rising inequality and a variety of global pressures. This report examines the influence of trust on policy making and explores some of the steps governments can take to strengthen public trust.

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  • Foreword and acknowledgements

    Trust plays a very tangible role in the effectiveness of government. Few perceptions are more palpable than that of trust or its absence. Governments ignore this at their peril.

  • Executive summary

    International surveys agree that the level of trust in government has declined since the crisis (down to 43% in 2015 according to the Gallup World Poll). Trust in political parties and in parliaments has also fallen to around 50% according to Eurobarometer/European Social Survey. The Edelman Barometer 2016 finds a widening disparity between levels of trust in public institutions according to income, with high-income persons reporting a higher degree of trust in government (on average 10% higher). Trust in financial institutions decreased by an average of 9 percentage points in OECD countries between 2007 and 2015.

  • What drives public trust? Identifying the policy levers

    This chapter presents a framework for understanding trust built around two fundamental building blocks: competency and values. A competent government provides accessible, efficient and citizen-oriented public services that effectively address the needs and expectations of people and evolve as those needs and expectations change. A competent government will also ensure a high degree of reliability and predictability, minimizing uncertainty in the economic, social and political environment of its citizens. A government is values-based when it promotes integrity through the alignment of public institutions with broader standards of conduct and undertakes to safeguard the public interest, mitigate corruption and strive to ensure fairness in both the processes and outcomes of public policy. A values-based government will also demonstrate a high degree of transparency and inclusiveness.

  • The influence of integrity on public trust

    Corruption and mismanagement in the public sector are usually cited as among the most important sources of mistrust; as such, policy action to strengthen integrity will have an important influence on trust. This chapter identifies four key policy levers to fight corruption and reuild trust: aligning integrity values closely with evolving concepts of acting in the public interest (i.e. transparency, inclusion, courtesy, quality services, etc.); making the most of mega events and large investments to both strengthen and affirm the governments’ commitment to acting with integrity; ensuring that political and senior leaders lead by example; and strengthening local integrity systems where citizens’ levels of trust are often forged through public services and more frequent and direct interactions.

  • Responding to citizens' needs: Public services and trust

    This chapter discusses the importance of public service quality as a key determinant of trust in institutions. Recent country studies have shown a relationship between citizens’ experience with government services – including employee and citizen engagement with public services – and trust and confidence in government more generally. Many countries have begun to use barometers that allow citizens to evaluate their experience with public services. It is important to monitor outcomes and adjust services accordingly; results in this area so far have been modest, and more effort is needed to ensure that services are well evaluated and that quality improves as a result. This chapter argues that often small-scale refinements in how services are delivered can have a big impact on satisfaction and, in turn, on trust.

  • Regulations, fairness and trust

    Citizens’ perception of fairness, in process as much as in outcome, is a critical dimension of trust. People must feel they have a real voice, be treated with respect, and receive necessary explanations. Positive perceptions of fairness lead to greater acceptance of agency decisions, better compliance with regulations, and more co-operative behaviour in dealing with agents of the government. The reverse also holds: citizens are more likely to accept negative outcomes, such as financial penalties, if they feel that they have been treated fairly. In general terms, low trust generates extra transaction costs for citizens, businesses and government. This chapter looks at empirical evidence on the links between good regulatory practice and trust in public policy.

  • Trust and budgeting: Meeting the challenge of competence and values

    The use of public money is another important domain in which trust can be easily lost. A government’s budget is a political appeal to voters; a statement of its programme ambitions; an opportunity for citizens, via parliaments, to express preferences and concerns; a ritual for legitimising public expenditure; and an accounting of past decisions and actions. Governments need to ensure that the budget decision-making process itself is open and provides for an inclusive, participative and realistic debate on budgetary choices, not simply provide access to information once spending decisions have been made. This chapter looks at current tools to promote fiscal transparency such as citizen’s budgets, which present key public finance information in a way accessible to a general audience, and independent bodies responsible for oversight of fiscal policy (independent fiscal institutions or IFIs).

  • Open government: How transparency and inclusiveness can reshape public trust

    From law-making to budgeting and service delivery, efforts to embed greater openness send a clear signal of a government’s commitment to invest in trust while also improving the quality of the policy decisions made. This chapter discusses the links between openness and trust in public policy. The current move towards concepts of ‘open government’ and the even more ambitious ‘open state’ are positive signs that governments are trying to strengthen the dialogue with citizens, even if in some cases this openness can illuminate facts that can generate distrust. Guaranteeing freedom of the media is another sign of an approach to openness that helps to build trust.

  • Who earns the trust of citizens and why: Experiences from the private sector

    A recurring theme of the report is the close parallel between what public institutions are starting to do today to build trust, and the ways that private companies routinely use trust to attract and retain customers, through deliberate and well-thought out “trust strategies”. This chapter uses two case studies – e-commerce and autonomous cars – to illustrate how the private sector builds trust. Gaining the trust of society is recognised as one of the main hurdles to wider adoption of any new technology. For example, carmakers across the world are working intensively with users to earn trust through direct experience with driverless cars. Trust is essentially about inferring future behaviour or events despite incomplete information. Most people have already taken this step with e-commerce and, according to many experts, will soon do the same for driverless cars.

  • Trust and access to justice

    Justice is an area of public policy that exemplifies the need for a strong trust relationship between public institutions and citizens. This chapter looks at how trustworthiness is grounded in an understanding of users’ legal needs and how to respond to them through a continuum of legal assistance and justice services. Integrating legal and justice services with other social services (e.g. health, employment), establishing simple gateways (“one-stop shops”) and providing targeted and timely legal assistance services to those facing the most severe problems will maximise social return on investment. Expanding ICT-enabled justice services and processes further helps meet specific needs (e.g. remote communities) and address new policy challenges (e.g. self-representation). Finally, developing transparency and outreach measures (e.g. legal empowerment) will support the development of legal capabilities and improve openness.

  • Update on measuring trust

    Trust is one of the foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are built. It is crucial to the implementation of a wide range of policies, and influences people’s behavioural responses to such policies. However, despite its acknowledged importance, trust is poorly understood and is not measured consistently across OECD countries.

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