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OECD Guidelines on Measuring Trust

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Trust, both interpersonal trust, and trust in institutions, is a key ingredient of growth, societal well-being and governance. As a first step to improving existing measures of trust, the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Trust provide international recommendations on collecting, publishing, and analysing trust data to encourage their use by National Statistical Offices (NSOs). The Guidelines also outline why measures of trust are relevant for monitoring and policy making, and why NSOs have a critical role in enhancing the usefulness of existing trust measures. Besides looking at the statistical quality of trust measures, best approaches for measuring trust in a reliable and consistent way and guidance for reporting, interpretation and analysis are provided. A number of prototype survey modules that national and international agencies can use in their household surveys are included.

These Guidelines have been produced as part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, a pioneering project launched in 2011, with the objective to measure society’s progress across eleven domains of well-being. They complement a series of similar measurement guidelines on subjective well-being, micro statistics on household wealth, integrated analysis of the distribution on household income, consumption and wealth, as well as the quality of the working environment.

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Concept and validity

A clear definition of the concept of trust is necessary in order to measure it. Building on a review of different theoretical approaches to the concept of trust, this chapter provides a working definition and a conceptual framework to underpin its measurement. The framework distinguishes between interpersonal and institutional trust and between the two main categories of interpersonal trust: trust in others, and trust in friends, family and neighbours. Four approaches to measuring trust are identified, which provide the organising framework for the question modules proposed in these Guidelines. The chapter also discusses the statistical quality of trust measures, with a focus on their relevance and accuracy. While measures of both interpersonal and institutional trust are of high relevance, the picture is mixed with respect to accuracy. In particular, while there is strong evidence supporting the reliability and validity of measures of trust in others, the evidence base is weaker with respect to trust in friends, family and neighbours, and, even more so, with respect to trust in institutions. For this reason, the chapter recommends that measures of trust in others should be included in official statistics, while measures of trust in friends, family and neighbours and of trust in institutions should be regarded as more experimental.

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