Executive Summary

People’s trust in others and in governments is an important foundation of democratic systems, ensuring their legitimacy and sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that governments need to rebuild trust to handle crises, facilitate policy responses and implement reforms.

Finland is a high-trust society, ranking among the top performers in OECD countries. In 2019, 64% of the Finnish population reported trusting the government, compared to an OECD average of 45%. Indeed, the notion of a trust-based governance system is deeply enshrined in the ethos of Finnish civil servants, and, together with the rule of law, a merit-based system and a values-based integrity approach, underpins the functioning of Finnish public institutions. However, by 2019, trust in government had declined by 12 percentage points from 76% in 2007.

Finns maintained high levels of trust in the capacity of the government to manage the pandemic, inform the public, and address the consequences for the economy and society. People with higher levels of institutional trust also complied more with restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 emergency. As of November 2020, 86% of the population considered the information provided by political leaders reliable. At the same time, the pandemic provides an opportunity to better understand how government competences and values influence public trust and to identify actions to strengthen and maintain trust.

This report analyses the challenges for reinforcing trust in Finland and identifies opportunities to address them. Alongside desk research and interviews with the main stakeholders, the report is based on the OECD Trust Survey, which provides the citizen’s perspective on government performance and public governance values. The findings can contribute to the transformation of the Finnish public administration and to designing reforms to respond to evolving expectations and needs.

Despite the high national averages, trust in government institutions is significantly lower for rural residents, lower income households and the less educated. If these pockets of distrust deepen, they may undermine Finnish social cohesion, which is necessary for coping with change due to ageing, climate change, digitalisation and the transformation of work.

While trust in public institutions and satisfaction with democracy are high, the percentage of people who believe that they can influence political processes – either because they perceive they are competent to understand or participate in politics (30%) or because they believe they have a say in what government does (40%) – is low compared to countries with similar levels of trust. The potential disengagement of certain population groups should be tackled by promoting broader social dialogue.

According to the OECD Trust Survey, trust in different institutions varies. After the police, which is trusted by over 85% of Finland’s population, the civil service (66%) is the most trusted institution in the country, followed by the national government (61%), the parliament (53%) and local government (52%).

The drivers of public trust also vary according to the institution and level of government considered, suggesting a need for different strategies to ensure that policies and reforms to address trust are correctly targeted. The responsiveness of public services and the reliability of the government in addressing future challenges and providing a stable economic environment have the greatest influence on people’s trust in the national government and the civil service. While a large share of Finns perceives that the government and the civil service act with integrity, openness and fairness, these values have less influence on levels of trust than the government’s competence – most likely because they are recognised as being already well entrenched. Levels of trust in local governments are most influenced by interpersonal trust and engagement opportunities provided.

The main recommendations of this report revolve around six main areas related to: 1) improving measurement of trust in government; 2) strengthening responsiveness in service design and delivery; 3) improving reliability for a more inclusive policy making; 4) improving openness to strengthen political efficacy and participation; 5) supporting integrity to promote trust over compliance-oriented control; 6) ensuring fairness and non-discrimination. The main findings and key recommendations are summarised in the following table.

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