Executive summary

Trust in public institutions is essential for the legitimacy and viability of democracy. Moreover, as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated, interpersonal and institutional trust can help countries successfully navigate social and economic crises. High levels of institutional trust also improve compliance with laws and regulations and contribute to the implementation of public policies, all of which will be crucial for achieving an inclusive recovery from COVID-19 and overcoming complex multidimensional challenges in years to come.

Yet, trust is a fragile societal asset. While it takes time to establish, it can be lost quickly. Analysing what drives trust in public institutions and what actions are required to preserve it is essential for ensuring public governance systems deliver policies that improve people’s lives.

This report analyses the challenges for reinforcing trust in Norway and identifies opportunities to address them. It is based on the OECD Trust Survey, which provides the citizen’s perspective on government performance and public governance values. The findings of this report can assist the Norwegian authorities in designing and implementing its “Trust Reform”, a new initiative to adjust the public sector management practices and strengthen collaboration among stakeholders, placing greater emphasis on the knowledge, experience and capacity of civil servants as a way to improve service provision and preserve trust between people and the public administration.

Levels of public trust in Norway are among the highest in OECD countries. In 2021, 77% of the population reported trusting the government, compared to an OECD average of 47%. Law and order institutions, such as courts and the police, are trusted by 82% of people. The parliament is trusted by 69% of the population, while 65% trust the civil service and 58%, the local government. On the low end of the spectrum, only 40% of Norwegians reported trusting the media, with no distinction among different types of providers.

Several factors explain this high institutional trust in Norway. First, a robust welfare system provides high-quality services and contributes to low levels of inequality. Fiscal space is comparatively large, stemming from high levels of taxation combined with a natural endowment of oil reserves that allows for relatively high levels of public investment. The public governance culture is rooted in a long tradition of collaboration and social dialogue among government, business and unions; high levels of public sector integrity; and accountability. Finally, Norway also enjoys a strong sense of community, high rates of political participation, low polarisation and high satisfaction with democracy.

When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Norwegian government was able to react at scale and speed to ensure the service provision and put in place exceptional support measures, while remaining open and maintaining fluid communication with the public. As of October 2021, 68% of the population expressed confidence in control measures in place, while 69% reported confidence in the information provided by the government.

However, high levels of institutional trust should not be taken for granted. The population is both ageing and becoming more diverse. Society is also facing uncertainty in terms of how to cope with climate change and ensure the sustainability of the welfare system. According to the OECD Trust Survey, only 46% of the Norwegian population considers that public institutions are doing enough to adapt to future challenges. There are also persistent trust gaps, in particular in rural regions and among less educated and low-income people. How Norway responds to the challenges ahead could influence trust levels for years to come.

In Norway, the preparedness of public institutions and the reliability of policies to cope with future challenges are found to be the most important determinants of trust in the national government. At the same time, there is scope for reviewing policy-making mechanisms to improve preparedness as well as strengthen co-ordination mechanisms to cope with complexity and uncertainty. Enhancing the responsiveness of services, through greater digitisation, enhanced capabilities and skills of civil servants, and more opportunities for people to engage with the public administration, will also be important for maintaining trust.

The main recommendations of this report can be grouped into six areas: 1) Continuing to measure trust in public institutions and its drivers; 2) Achieving responsive citizen-centred services through better co-ordination, innovation and skills; 3) Enhancing preparedness and foresight for more reliable policies; 4) Simplifying access to information for all and enhancing the engagement of vulnerable groups; 5) Strengthening public integrity by preventing and anticipating integrity risks; and 6) Guaranteeing equality in service provision and improving the diversity of the administration. The following table summarises the main findings and recommendations.


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