1. Trust and public governance in Norway

The current debate on public management in Norway recognises that trust will be a key element for reconsidering ways of working in the public administration, which include greater autonomy and focus on mission-related tasks rather than on reporting and performance measurement. As such, the political statement of the recently formed government includes the pursuit of a “trust reform” as one of the objectives to be achieved in coming years. The reform doesn’t focus on public trust, but on trust within the public sector. Still, the ultimate aim to achieve better public services, that could positively impact people’s trust in the administration. Through a combination of an original population survey and interviews with a large number of stakeholders, this study is a key input for understanding what drives trust in public institutions in Norway and for informing efforts to adapt the work of the public administration around the notion of trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that governments rely on trust to handle crises without the need of resorting to coercion. In turn, public trust is the long-standing foundation of democratic systems, and is crucial for ensuring their legitimacy and sustainability. Understanding what drives institutional trust, and what may cause trust in institutions to change, consequently, contributes to sustaining the quality and effectiveness of the political and administrative systems in Norway, other OECD countries and beyond.

Trust in government in Norway is high compared to OECD and Scandinavian countries, in 2021 trust in government in Norway reached 77% compared to 47% in OECD (Figure 1.1). Norwegians consider their public institutions to be trustworthy (OECD, 2021[1]; Listhaug and Aardal, 2011[2]) and Norway has enjoyed continuously high levels of institutional trust since the 1960s (Miller and Listhaug, 1998[3]).

Trust in Norway is a key element of the political-administrative culture and remains high over time in a number of institutions, such as the police, the legal system, and the parliament. Trust in politicians and political parties has grown since 2002; however, these are the least trusted institutions among the ones included in the European Social Survey (Figure 1.2).

Citizens’ trust in their political and administrative institutions is an important indicator of how well a democratic society is governed (Easton, 1965[4]; Hetherington, 2018[5]). Institutional trust influences how effectively governments can implement policies and reforms, since citizens are more likely to comply with policies and regulations in a high trust environment (Schmelz, 2021[6]). For the purpose of this study, trust is defined as a person's belief that another person or institution will act consistently with their expectations of positive behaviour (OECD, 2017[7]).

While institutional trust in in Norway is high, Norwegians approach trust in government “critically”. Trust levels can change as a result of economic downturns or shocks such as pandemics or terrorist attacks, but also following changes in the quality of public governance and the performance of public administrations (Wu and Wilkes, 2018[8]) (Haugsgjerd and Segaard, 2020[9]). Accordingly, public management reforms could affect trust levels. For example, academic sources discuss that the wave of changes introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s aimed to increase efficiency in the provision of services through, amongst others, a diversification of delivery modes and a re-organisation of public employment in agencies, may have resulted in loss of institutional trust (Christensen and Laegreid, 2005[10]). A “trust reform for the public sector” proposal, adopted during the campaign by the parties forming the current government, aims to enhance learning and innovation in the public sector and redesign governance to foster the participation of institutional and civil society stakeholders. While the reform focuses predominantly in trust within the administration it is expected to improve the quality of public services and ultimately enhance people’s institutional trust.

The crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the role of public trust as the long-standing foundation of democratic systems. Understanding the main determinants of public trust and what may cause change in trust in institutions can contribute to sustaining the quality and effectiveness of the political and administrative systems in Norway.

Satisfaction with democracy in Norway is very high: over the last five decades, the percentage of people reporting being satisfied with democracy was always above 80% (Figure 1.3). Satisfaction with democracy captures to what extent citizens believe that democracy is the best political system for their country, and that in general, it is functioning well (Norris, 2011[12]). It goes beyond what public institutions are doing to indicate whether citizens agree with the fundamental norms and rules that operate their society. Over the same period, trust in politicians was substantially lower than satisfaction with democracy, between 40 and 70%. The difference in levels and trends between these two indicators also points to the importance of distinguishing between actors and types of trust. Norwegian residents are satisfied with the quality of their democracy over time, but not necessarily with all elements currently associated with a democratic system. According to the IDEA voter turnout dataset, since 1945, voter turnout at the national level has been consistently above 75%. Trust in institutions and satisfaction with democracy are found to be positively correlated with measures of political efficacy (González, 2020[13]). Indeed, amounting to 60% of the population in 2018, Norwegians report the highest level of “ability to participate in politics” (internal political efficacy) among OECD countries. Some 69% of Norwegians consider having a say in what the government does (external political efficacy), which is the third highest values in OECD countries (OECD, 2021[1]).

In the case of institutional trust in Norway, research has highlighted several cultural, political and economic contextual factors, in combination with some individual characteristics as causes of high trust levels and its relative consistency over time (Haugsgjerd and Segaard, 2020[9]).

The literature on institutional trust has long argued that strong performance of public institutions leads to trust (Van de Walle and Bouckaert, 2003[14]). Examples of such a performance include ensuring good economic conditions, strong public services, and high integrity levels (Zmerli and Hooghe, 2011[15]). On the basis of a series of qualitative interviews with stakeholders, as well as a literature review, a number of these contextual features were underscored as being essential in explaining high levels of trust in Norway (see Box 1.1). Norway has a strong welfare state, inclusive public services and political decision-making procedures, as well as high levels of public sector integrity. Its economy is prosperous, and can rely on a Sovereign Wealth Fund that will support the sustainability of public finances in the longer run. Citizens also have faith in the capacity of their civil servants to use public resources and implement qualitative policies (Haugsgjerd and Segaard, 2020[9]). High levels of trust have been a linchpin to establish and reform Norway’s public services, such as the Norwegian welfare state (Bergh and Bjørnskov, 2011[16]; 2014[17]; Kumlin, 2021[18]). Widespread access to services and social benefits plays an equalising role and contributes to maintaining high levels of social cohesion, which in turn influences social and institutional trust (Martela et al., 2020[19]).

Individual characteristics also lead to high trust levels. Norway has a small, highly educated, and relatively homogeneous population, which contributes to high levels of interpersonal trust that has also been recognised as a mediating factor of public trust (Zmerli and van der Meer, 2017[30]).

However, there are several risks with the potential of affecting trust levels in the future. Such challenges stem from both contextual and individual features. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (whose effects will be discussed later in this chapter), there were challenges to the Norwegian model some of which will persist into the future. These challenges include decreasing labour force participation (OECD, 2019[31]). The power of collective bargaining is weakening. Rural poverty, although low, is persistent (Ivarsflaten and Strømsnes, 2013[32]). Real incomes fell between 2015 and 2018 (in reaction to higher levels of unemployment, lower oil prices, more migration and inflation) (Statistics Norway, 2020[33]). Lastly, the affordability of housing and living is a challenge, especially in the cities (OECD, forthcoming[34]). Moreover, even though Norway is a relatively equal society, trust levels fluctuate based on class divides and have remained stable. Citizens who have fewer economic resources, or have a lower educational background, record lower levels of trust in public institutions (Haugsgjerd and Kumlin, 2019[35]). In addition, Norwegian society is becoming more diverse, which means that an increasingly large part of the country’s inhabitants may not be fully integrated into Norway’s social networks (Ivarsflaten and Strømsnes, 2013[32]).

Another potential challenge to trust stems from the size and geography of Norway. The territory of the country covers a large area despite having a comparatively small population (around 5 million inhabitants). As a result, population density in many areas is very low, because 80% of Norwegians live in urban areas (Statistics Norway, 2020[33]). The contrast between densely populated cities versus the smaller communities scattered around Norway’s countryside, has made Centre-Periphery relations a defining aspect of Norway’s political system and it has profound implications for disparities in trust (Stein, Buck and Bjørnå, 2019[36]).

In order to tackle these challenges, Norway’s public institutions will need to have responsive services towards citizens’ policy demands, as well as policies that tackle future challenges (climate change, rising inequality, the ageing of the Norwegian population, immigration, etc.) and ensure sustainability. It is also important for public institutions to remain transparent, open and accountable, and that opportunities are provided to all segments of the population. Preserving democratic values should be at the heart of the Norwegian strategy for preserving public trust. Accordingly, this study both presents metrics on average levels of trust in government and explores the trust differences across population groups as well as the determinants of trust in different institutions. Its overarching goals is to shed new light on how to address these challenges. The evidence and recommendations put forward by this case study will inform possible policy actions for preserving public trust.

The next section presents the evolution of trust indicators during the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses the importance of trust for tackling crisis such as the current pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought the issue of trust between citizens and public institutions to the forefront of the public debate (Bargain and Aminjonov, 2020[37]; OECD, 2021[1]). Mitigating the effects of the pandemic and finally surmounting it requires a rapid adoption of far-reaching policy measures, and high levels of compliance depend on the degree to which citizens have trust in their government institutions and the course of action being set. Trust matters particularly in times of crisis, as uncertainty tends to be high, decision-making processes are accelerated, and public scrutiny can be reduced. In addition, policy measures often drastically restrict personal freedoms to keep the community safe, which requires trust that governments do not abuse their new powers (OECD, 2021[1]; Bargain and Aminjonov, 2020[37]; Christensen and Lægreid, 2020[38]; Schraff, 2020[39]). It therefore remains crucial to maintain high levels of public trust, as well as monitor trust dynamics across different groups and places, while paying extra attention to regions where trust is low or decreasing. This section relies on evidence from the Norwegian Corona Monitor, which is operated by Opinion (a market research company) and collects monthly data on the social effects and consequences of COVID-19 in Norwegian society (see Box 1.2).

The Norwegian government was effective in halting the spread of the virus (for an overview of key policy measures see Box 1.4). By the end of the summer of 2021, just 157 034 cases were declared in the country, which is about 2 925.6 cases per 100 000 people. This is similar to infection rates in neighbouring Finland, but is lower than in countries such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden or the UK, which all had over 9 900 confirmed cases per 100 000 citizens, or even Germany and Denmark (over 4 500 cases per 100 000 inhabitants). In turn, preliminary reports showed that 814 people in Norway died due to the consequences of COVID-19, a lower figure than in Sweden (14 685), Denmark (2 580), or Finland (1 024) (WHO, 31 August 2021). 

Norway participated in the EU vaccination initiative but vaccination started slowly due to a lack of vaccines. By 1 September 2021, for instance, only about 55% of the Norwegian population was fully vaccinated, which was a lower vaccination rate than most other OECD member countries (WHO, 31st of August 2021). However, by November 2021, about 70% of its population was fully vaccinated, which is comparable to the vaccination rates of most OECD members (WHO, 8 November 2021). While most Norwegians are willing to be vaccinated some hesitancy has been identified, particularly across certain groups such as men, rural residents, people with children under 18 years of age and men. Exposure to unmonitored media platforms also leads to less willingness to accept the COVID-19 vaccine (Ebrahimi et al., 2021[40]).

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, trust in Norway was high, although the share of people who said that they trust the national government had been decreasing after 2017 when it recorded a peak at 72% to around 60% in 2019 (see Figure 1.1). Yet, during the initial weeks and months of 2020, public trust increased sharply by almost 25 percentage points to reach 85% by April 2020.1 This phenomenon is also referred to as the ‘rally-round-the-flag’ effect. It is well-documented in times of crisis that people gather or ‘rally’ behind their institutions and national leaders, when the country as a whole is perceived to be under threat (Mueller, 1970[41]).

Studies show that people with higher confidence in their government institutions are less likely to break rules (Marien and Hooghe, 2011[42]) and more likely to comply with public health measures and restrictions to curb the spread of viruses (Vinck et al., 2019[43]; Dhillon and Kelly, 2015[44]). An increasing number of studies highlight the importance of trust in government institutions to ensure a fast and wide adoption of mask wearing, reduction of mobility and social interactions, reporting of symptoms, adherence to self-isolation requirements, and uptake of medical testing and vaccines (Brodeur, Grigoryeva and Kattan, 2021[45]; Bavel et al., 2020[46]; Devine et al., 2020[47]; OECD, 2021[48]).

Norwegians’ confidence in the ability of their institutions to cope with the crisis varies across institutions (see Figure 1.4). People have, in general, high trust in the measures put in place by their health institutions, as well as in the capacity of the health system to provide adequate treatment. However, confidence in both of these measures followed different trends. The share of people reporting confidence in control measures by health authorities increased from 70% in March to 78% in April and then decreased to less than 60% in August 2020 and March 2021 as new containment measures were put in place, and fatigue with the COVID-19 situation was more acute (see Box 1.3). On the contrary, confidence in receiving adequate treatment in case of infection was initially lower at 60% in March, but jumped to 81% in May and has remained above 74% ever since. Hence, overall, public opinion seems to reflect the fact that the Norwegian health system has been successful in absorbing the COVID-19 emergency. The relatively high number of doctors and nurses in Norway, and local infrastructures, have resulted in a higher capacity to cope with the health crisis (OECD, 2020[49]).

The Norwegian public has been sceptical about whether the number of COVID-19 cases will diminish. In March 2020, only 16% of the population considered that the number of cases would be reduced, this increased somewhat in April-May 2020 (to 29%) following the success of containment measures including the first lockdown but dropped to a low point in August 2020 (13%) as the second wave was imminent. By June 2021, 45% of Norwegians considered that there would be fewer cases in the future, indicating that the widespread availability of vaccines led to a clear change in public opinion. However, this optimism was short-lived, as in the wake of the 4th wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall of 2021, confidence in reducing the number of cases has dropped again, despite the high vaccination rate.

Confidence in the Norwegian Labour and Welfare administration (NAV), which is in charge of managing unemployment applications and income compensation schemes, has been consistently low. Only about one-quarter of the population reports trusting them. Throughout the interviews carried out for this study, it was signalled that many of their processes were cumbersome, and that it was difficult for citizens to obtain information and interact with NAV. The agency could also be suffering from reputational damage resulting from the NAV scandal2 that unfolded in 2019, as the agency unduly denied benefits to people who were entitled to them.

Norwegians’ perception of the compliance of other people with restrictions also varies substantially. Recent research suggests that the level of compliance can be facilitated by Norwegians’ trust in their authorities, and each other (Helsingen et al., 2020[50]). In May 2020, slightly more than half of the population indeed expressed trust in other people’s compliance with COVID-19 regulations. However, this figure decreased steeply to less than one-quarter in August 2020, when the number of cases were dropping over the course of the summer. Confidence levels afterwards gradually bounced back to 48% by October 2021, in the wake of rising cases.

Clear and effective communication is crucial to get the buy-in and compliance of citizens. Throughout the pandemic, people had relatively high and stable trust (never falling below 60% for all institutions) in institutional information coming from government, health authorities and their municipality. Nevertheless, trust in information from the national and municipal government declined somewhat between March and June 2020 (74% to 64%, and 72% to 62%), which coincides with the trend of declining confidence in the health authorities’ measures, as shown in Figure 1.4. Trust in information provided by the government recovered over the course of 2020, but the gap between information provided by the national and local governments diverged from 2021, reaching 10 percentage points in favour of the municipal government by June 2021 and then shrank again by the fall of 2021 (see Figure 1.5). As the situation improves and restrictions are eased, addressing local sources could provide more accurate information on the restrictions that remain in place. When COVID-19 cases started rising again in the fall of 2021, the gap between trust in local and national governments narrowed considerably. Trust in information provided by the health authorities has been stable and high throughout the pandemic.

The Norwegian government has put in place important measures to secure jobs, help businesses and people, and strengthen health services. Such measures include income protection schemes, budget allocation aimed at temporarily supporting businesses and industries, postponed tax payment for businesses, as well as new guarantee and loan schemes. Public confidence in the economic measures put in place in Norway has decreased over the course of the pandemic. While almost 60% of people in Norway had confidence in the measures in April 2020, this dropped to less than 40% twelve months later, recovering to 56% by October 2021 (see Figure 1.6). In tandem, the share of people stating that Norway was well prepared to deal with a pandemic such as COVID-19 first increased to reach almost 45% in October 2020, but fell sharply in subsequent months to 26% in October 2021. Such a steep decrease indicates that people are critical of the government’s capacity to address the crisis, and to anticipate change and challenges to keep citizens safe. Stated differently, Norwegians are sceptical of the reliability of public institutions.

Government preparedness to deal with systemic shocks has been further investigated by an Independent Coronavirus Commission. This Commission, established by the Norwegian parliament, investigated the handling of the pandemic by Norwegian authorities and the consequences of the virus, and issued its final report in April 2021. The report highlighted that Norway was not sufficiently prepared to deal with the COVID-19 crisis (in terms of crisis planning, equipment, co-ordination structures, etc.), which seems to be reflected in the public opinion assessment.

Moreover, the declining confidence in economic measures taken by public institutions in Norway could indicate economic scarring effects, particularly among some groups, as well as concerns about the duration of support plans and transitioning towards a normal business environment. In turn, personal economic and financial conditions have been recognised as influencing levels of public trust (Anayev and Guriev, 2019[51]). Monitoring this trend could shed light on the long-term effects of the pandemic. The Coronavirus Commission Report (2021) highlights, amongst other insights, that employees, in particular, with a low level of education, or lower wages that lost their jobs during the pandemic, and may continue to struggle economically in the longer run. The report also noted that the pandemic increased societal cleavages in health. Higher infection and mortality rates were noted in poorer residential areas in cities, among residents with a migrant background, and some occupational groups (such as bartenders or drivers). Such cleavages, moreover, tend to be overlapping: vulnerable groups that were more likely to become ill, also were more likely to be punished economically by the crisis.

The percentage of the Norwegian population reporting to be worried about their financial situation, losing their job or about the Norwegian economy are 25%, 19% and 47% respectively (Figure 1.7 and Figure 1.8). In turn, the level of education as an indicator of social stratification shows important differences (Bovens and Wille, 2017[52]). Altogether, citizens who did not have a higher education degree, were more likely to have lost their job, or be worried about their own financial situation (Figure 1.7). They are also less likely to believe that their fellow Norwegians are adhering to infection control measures, they expressed less confidence in getting adequate treatment, or in the government’s control measures. In addition, a centre-periphery dynamic is at play too: residents of urban areas are more likely to have confidence in the pandemic management (Figure 1.8). While confidence levels are overall relatively high, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt more acutely depending on one’s social background and place of residence.

A number of factors were identified as contributing to the initial increase in public trust. Clear, regular and transparent communication from political leaders and health authorities, confidence in a qualitative medical sector and scientific support for policy decisions (Christensen and Lægreid, 2020[38]); (OECD Interviews), as well as a range of social measures to protect people and economic measures to help businesses and workers (see Box 1.3). In terms of decision-making structures, the Norwegian Government worked closely with the Norwegian Directorate of Health (NDH), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (co-ordinating role) as the leading authorities in managing the crisis, but also Norway’s civil society was, to a large extent, involved and consulted.

A consensual and transparent political decision-making approach contributed to the mostly successful management of the pandemic. However, the depth and systemic nature of the crisis also created challenges in terms of government preparedness, institutional co-ordination across departments and agencies, as well as the appropriateness of the different policy responses in different moments and territories. Building on the lessons learned will be important for Norway’s capacity of dealing with future crises.

Trust gives us confidence that others, individuals or institutions, will act as we might expect, either in a particular action or in a set of actions. While trust may be based on experience, it is often a subjective phenomenon, based as much on interpretation or perception as on facts (OECD, 2017[7]). Trust is a fragile societal asset, while it takes time to establish, it can be lost quickly. All these reasons make trust in public institutions one of the key outputs of good public governance (OECD, 2021[1]).

The fundamental question of this study is what drives trust in public institutions and what actions are required to preserve it. A first theory emphasises the role of culture and argues that individuals learn to trust or distrust based on early socialisation and interpersonal networks which, in turn, influence their trust in institutions (Tabellini, 2008[53]). In turn, as signalled previously, institutional theories focus on the performance and reputation of institutions, both in terms of processes and outcomes, as the key determinants explaining levels of institutional trust (Van de Walle and Migchelbrink, 2020[54]).

This case study acknowledges the importance of culture in defining the stock of trust in a given society. However, it places greater emphasis on the role of public governance as a determinant that could influence levels of institutional trust over time. It recognises that institutional trust results from the interaction between people and government and is generated when people believe public institutions and/or the government will keep their promises and be efficient, fair and honest (Blind, 2007[55]).

Another important theoretical differentiation should be made between the concepts of mistrust and distrust as opposed to a trusting relationship. Mistrust implies that vigilant and well-informed people base their evaluations on what public institutions deliver (Devine et al., 2020[47]). In turn, distrust is associated with a heuristic response based on intrinsic beliefs or biases, which are not associated with actual performance but often with endemic cynicism and expectations of betrayal (Thomson and Brandenburg, 2019[56]). While mistrust relates to the constructive scrutiny and control role that informed people are expected to exercise in a mature democracy, distrust often involves implicit biases, so-called echo chamber effects and emotional aspects that may require differentiated policies and government actions.

The complexity of trust relationships is illustrated in Table 1.1. This study focuses predominantly on institutional trust or people’s expectations of positive behaviour by public institutions, which could also be called their trustworthiness. Nevertheless, even when limited to people’s trust in public institutions the scope of this study remains very broad as it encompasses a political and administrative dimension. ‘Political trust’ refers to an assessment of elected leaders, while ‘administrative trust’ refers to the institutions that form the core of public administration. These institutions include those entities that are in charge of policy design and service delivery, such as the civil service. A key challenge for addressing institutional trust is that these dimensions (i.e. institutional and political trust) could be influenced by similar factors (OECD/KDI, 2018[57]). Academic evidence shows that the performance of public institutions could influence political trust (Khan, 2016[58]), while political corruption could have an effect on administrative trust in systems where the accountability mechanisms of civil servants are associated with their political affiliation (Dahlstrom and Lapuente, 2017[59]).

This case study builds on previous OECD research showing that survey respondents are able to differentiate between at least three different underlying concepts related to institutional trust: a) trust in political-administrative institutions; b) law and order institutions and c) trust in non-governmental institutions (González and Smith, 2017[60]; OECD, 2017[7]).

As will be explained later, this study relies on the measurement of the determinants of trust through a population survey. Accordingly, it measures trust levels in Norway in the institutions displayed in Table 1.23 covering the three aforementioned dimensions (see Table 1.2). Even within the category of political administrative institutions, research has shown that while some overlap exists, levels of trust in each of them responds to different determinants (OECD, 2021[48]; OECD/KDI, 2018[57]; Murtin et al., 2018[61]).

As previously mentioned, there is no single answer to the question of what elements of public governance drive institutional trust. The political science and public management literatures have been prolific in advancing theories and evidence for obtaining an answer. However, explanations are often partial and narrow and there has been a lack of an analytical framework that can help organise concepts, links and causal relations for obtaining a holistic answer. The OECD has developed a framework on the determinants of public trust that encompasses two broad categories: competences and values (OECD, 2017[62]). The framework has been recently adjusted following the COVID-19 pandemic through an open collaborative process including academics, practitioners and civil society. There is consistency in the literature regarding specific attributes that matter for trust and may be amenable to policy action, in relation to two broad components, competences and values.

  • Trust as competence: Competence is a necessary condition for trust – an actor with good intentions but without the ability to deliver on expectations cannot be trusted. The provision of public goods and services (from security and crisis management to public health and education) is one of the principal activities exercised by government. However, citizens depend on the ability of governments to actually deliver the services they need, at the quality level they expect.

  • Trust as values. When it comes to influencing trust, the process of policy making and its guiding motivations are just as important as actual results. Citizens expect not only effective policies to improve socio-economic conditions, but also irreproachable behaviour.

In turn, these broad categories could be disentangled into five policy dimensions that are amenable to policy action within ‘competence’: responsiveness and reliability, and within ‘values’: openness, integrity and fairness (see Table 1.3).

According to this competence-values approach, citizens assess government from the perspective of how service delivery responds to people’s needs and expectations, but also with respect to the efficacy and fairness of the policy-making process and its outcomes. Furthermore, the framework provides guidance on measuring trust, on its monitoring over time, and on analysing the factors that may drive it in the future. In turn, following the revision of the framework it now includes explicitly as determinants of public trust political attitudes and participation, satisfaction with public services and the evaluation of government action on long-term global challenges (Brezzi et al., 2021[63]).

Traditionally public governance measures have not been included in official household surveys although there is a priori no good reason why they cannot be collected with the same quality standards as other environmental or economic statistics (González, Fleischer and Mira d’Ercole, 2017[64]). Alongside the framework, a measurement strategy on the drivers has been developed and implemented in different contexts (OECD, 2017[62]; OECD/KDI, 2018[57]; Murtin et al., 2018[61]).

The measurement approach on the drivers of institutional trust moves away from perceptions and instead focuses on specific situations. Typical behavioural questions, as used in psychology or sociology, investigate the subjective reaction expected from individuals when faced with a specific situation. However, the situational questions are not stereotypical behavioural questions: they do not focus on the individual behaviour but rather on the expected conduct from a third party, in this case a public institution, a civil servant or a political figure. As such, it provides, instead, measurement on the trustworthiness of public institutions. Unlike attitudes (passive response) and behaviours (active response), trustworthiness is based on expectations of positive behaviour in alignment with the working definition of trust. The battery of situational questions for measuring the determinants of public trust in alignment with the OECD trust framework is presented in Table 1.4.

The OECD trust module was included in the Norwegian Citizens Survey (NCS). This is a well-established population survey on people’s experience and satisfaction with public services. In addition to the trust questions referred to above, the Citizens Survey also includes questions on all other dimensions of the framework as shown in Table 1.4. The OECD module was reviewed and adapted to reflect special characteristics of the Norwegian context. The translation was reviewed by DFØ public governance specialists to ensure that the intended concepts were being captured.

In addition to the OECD module, the NCS also includes additional questions, some of which have been fielded over time. Among others, the survey investigates people’s view on services in general, interpersonal trust, the state of democracy and local society. It also provides a more detailed assessment on service attributes as experienced by users and non-users. When relevant, such questions pertaining to the NCS are also discussed as part of this case study. The 2021 version of the NCS was fielded between late May and late July. The results of the survey are discussed in Chapter 2 of this report.

Understanding the drivers of institutional trust is of greater relevance if a comparative perspective could be provided. To start, it will refine the analysis by looking at levels in relative terms. It could also shed light on best practices for building and preserving trust by identifying actions being carried out by top performers and also contribute to enhancing experience sharing. From a methodological point of view it could also help in disentangling the real weight of culture as a trust determinant by putting forward response style concerns that may explain differences across regions and countries.4 The data on the determinants of institutional trust collected through this case study will also inform the OECD Trust Survey Initiative, a cross-country data collection effort on the determinants of public trust. Consequently, it will allow experts to compare Norway with 19 other OECD countries (see Box 1.5).


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← 1. The Gallup World Poll survey in Norway was fielded between 24 March and May 2020.

← 2. The NAV scandal refers to the agency incorrectly implementing European social security regulations and wrongly denying benefits to people who were entitled to them, and then convicting them of benefits fraud. At least 75 people were wrongly convicted for NOK 24.8 million (USD 2.7 million) in welfare provisions they were entitled to, and 36 served jail sentences – the longest incarceration was eight months. Some 2 400 other cases have or will be re-examined for faulty decisions. All the cases might lead to repayment of funding that had been illegally retracted.

← 3. Finally, trust questions should not be asked immediately after items that are likely to elicit strong emotional responses or that refer to experiences with other people or institutions. Accordingly, to limit this contextual impact, questions on trust levels are asked at the beginning of the survey, immediately following the screening questions and household demographics that establish respondent eligibility to participate in the survey.

← 4. One way to get around response style concerns could be to use changes in response patterns over time (including those of different population subgroups) rather than the level of responding.

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