Executive Summary

Trust in others and in public institutions in New Zealand is comparatively high. High levels of trust helped New Zealand’s administration navigate the COVID-19 pandemic with minimum impact on society and the economy. Some of the reasons behind this effective response included a high reliance on expertise, an emphasis on shared goals coined by the slogan “a team of five million”, and high confidence in the functioning of a politically neutral, effective, and trusted public service that worked in a co-ordinated manner. However, despite the positive outcomes achieved on many fronts, New Zealand is not exempt from challenges to its democracy. The Wellington protests -- an anti-vaccine demonstration fueled by misleading information that led to occupation of the Parliament surroundings and other key locations in the country in February 2022 -- highlighted the pervasive effects of mis- and disinformation, even when policies have delivered their intended outcomes.

According to the 2021 OECD Trust Survey, implemented as part of this study, trust in New Zealand is highest in the police (73%) and the courts (65%) and lowest in local government councilors (45%) and the media (35%). Just over half (56%) of New Zealanders reported trusting the public service, which is above the OECD average (50%), but only in the middle of the benchmarking group of small, advanced economies and other anglophone countries considered for this study.

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 addressing trust are correctly targeted. The responsiveness of public services and the reliability of government in addressing future challenges are important drivers of trust in the public service. Levels of trust in local governments are most influenced by meaningful engagement opportunities and fairness of treatment. Similarly, trust in Parliament is predominantly influenced by meaningful engagement opportunities, but also by expectations of having a say in what the government does and the reliability of institutions in addressing future environmental challenges and maintaining the stability of business conditions.

In a context where complexity is the norm, governments are expected to respond rapidly and effectively to people’s changing demands and expectations. New Zealand needs a competent and trusted public service to help ensure the well-being of the country and all its people. The public service act, enacted in 2020, emphasizes “a spirit of service to the community” as the fundamental characteristic of the public service, to be nurtured across all organisations. In the framework of the act, New Zealand Public Service Commission released the first briefing on the state of the public service in December 2022. The briefing states the vision for the public sector and discusses progress to promote stewardship and transform the public sector. This report is expected to contribute to these efforts. It recognizes that in some instances the perceived quality of public services is deteriorating, requiring complementary actions to improve satisfaction and preserve and strengthen public trust.

The main recommendations of this report revolve around six main areas: 1) Upgrading measures of trust to build a robust evidence base; 2) Strengthening responsiveness of services for people’s well-being; 3) Enhancing preparedness and strengthening foresight in policy making; 4) Improving transparency and achieving meaningful engagement; 5) Reinforcing the integrity system; 6) Preserving and strengthening fairness. The main findings and recommendations are summarised below.


This document was approved by the Public Governance Committee on 8 February 2023 and prepared for publication by the OECD Secretariat.

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