Annex A. Definitions in the OECD Trust Framework

The OECD Trust framework recognises the following definitions of drivers of trust in government institutions. These definitions are based on a wide-ranging review of the academic literature, which is consistent in finding specific attributes that matter for trust, both in relation to the “competence” and to the “values” components.


Competence, while insufficient on its own, is a necessary condition for trust; a provider with good intentions but without the ability to deliver on expectations cannot be trusted, especially when people depend on its services (Forsyth, Adams and Hoy, 2011; Mishra, 1996). The provision of public goods and services (from security public health to civil registries) is one of the principal activities exercised by governments in OECD countries today. In many countries, these services are provided at a massive scale and offered to citizens as a right, in return for their tax payments. Despite being entitled, citizens are dependent on the ability of governments to actually deliver the services they need, at the level of quality they expect. These expectations entail two critical dimensions of trustworthiness: 1) responsiveness, and 2) reliability.

Responsiveness: recognising responsiveness as an explicit dimension of trust reflects the core objective of public administration, which is to serve citizens. Common findings in OECD countries, including Canada, France and the United Kingdom, suggest that improving service delivery can improve not only satisfaction but confidence in government in its role as service provider. Under tight fiscal constraints and high expectations, governments are exploring alternative ways of service delivery, including a bigger private sector role. In this context, responsiveness looks not only at how citizens receive public services but also at how government listens to citizens and responds to their feedback (Denhardt and Denhardt, 2000). Responsiveness then is about availability, access, timeliness and quality, but also about respect, engagement and response. Authors such as Machin (2014) assert that the performance of public services is a strong predictor of trust levels. Additionally, Gyorffy (2013) finds evidence that good quality in public services generates trust towards the institutional framework, and contributes to general compliance with rules and paying taxes.

Reliability: prior to delivering responsive services, governments must assess their citizens’ economic, social and political environment, and act accordingly. This may mean adapting certain services (e.g. in response to climate change) or creating new ones, but also being able to deal with uncertainty in a consistent and predictable manner. In the aftermath of the last global financial and economic crisis, long-term planning and risk management have proven to be essential, albeit not universally institutionalised, functions of government. Reliability as a dimension of trust responds to this delegated responsibility to anticipate needs, minimise uncertainty in people’s economic, social and political environment, and act in a consistent and effective manner. Gyorffy (2013) states that in a low-trust environment, policies are short-term oriented – thus trust affects decision making by influencing time horizons in planning.


When it comes to influencing trust, the process of policy making and its guiding motivations, or values, are just as important as actual results.1 In a context of growing inequality, citizens expect governments to commit strongly to improving socio-economic conditions in society at large,2 but to behave impeccably in the exercise of its delegated authority. These expectations entail three critical dimensions of trustworthiness: 1) integrity, 2) openness and 3) fairness.

Integrity: the way in which public administrations conduct themselves, and the degree to which they can be expected to safeguard the public interest without the need for scrutiny, has the most direct influence on levels of trust in government. A solid integrity framework is needed, with high standards of behaviour, to reinforce government’s credibility and legitimacy. According to Knack and Keefer (1997), trust matters in the context of repeated transactions, where reputation needs to be built. Trust would be instrumental in this case. Blind (2006) claims that trust is enhanced by affecting quality of government (in particular, lowering corruption).

Openness: openness and stakeholder engagement in the design and delivery of public policy and services can help governments better understand people’s needs, leverage a wider pool of information, achieve higher levels of compliance and increase trust (OECD, 2013). Openness as a dimension of trustworthiness reflects a renewed social contract between citizens and state, where the former contribute not only by paying taxes and obeying the law, but also by being receptive to public policies and co-operating in their design and implementation. Bouckaert (2012) acknowledges the importance of transparency; however he claims that open government per se does not create trust; the existence of co-design, co-decision, co-production, co-evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition to build trust in the public sector.

Fairness: citizens share a growing concern since the financial crisis that the distribution of burdens and rewards among members of society is skewed. Higher levels of wealth accumulation in the top few percent help fuel mistrust in government. Fairness as a dimension of trust addresses this concern by focusing on the consistent treatment of citizens and business by government, and protecting the pursuit of benefits for society at large. Slemrod and Katuscak (2002), using data on interpersonal trust and trustworthiness from World Values Survey, find that both prosperity and government involvement are higher in more trusting societies.


Blind, P. (2006), “Building trust in government in the twenty-first century: Review of literature and emerging issues”, 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government, Vienna, 26-29 June 2007,

Bouckaert, G. (2012), “Trust and public administration”, Public Administration, Vol. 60/1, pp. 91-115, Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ

Bryson, J. M., Crosby, B. C. and Bloomberg, L. (2014), Public Value Governance: Moving Beyond Traditional Public Administration and the New Public Management. Public Admin Rev, 74: 445-456. doi:10.1111/puar.12238

Denhardt, R. B. and J. V. Denhardt (2000). The New Public Service: Serving Rather Than Steering. Public Administration Review, vol. 60, No. 6, pp. 549–559.

Gyorffy, D. (2013), Institutional Trust and Economic Policy, Central European University Press, Budapest.

Hibbing, J. and E Theiss-Morse (2001), “Process Preferences and American politics: What the people want the government to be”, The American Political Science Review, Vol 95, Issue 1, pp. 145-53

Knack, S. and P. Keefer, (1997), “Does social capital have an economic payoff? A cross-country investigation”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 112/4, Oxford University Press, pp. 1251-88,

Machin, S. (2014), “Economics of education research and its role in the making of education policy”, Fiscal Studies, Vol 35 No 1, pp 1-18

OECD (2013), Government at a Glance 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Slemrod, J and Katuscak, P (2002), “Do trust and trustworthiness pay off?” The Journal of Human Resources, Vol 40/3, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, pp. 621-646,


← 1. Competence, in the light of wrong guiding principles or corrupted mechanisms, does not lead to trust. As argued by Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (2001) people tend to focus on outputs because citizens contact output institutions more frequently, but dissatisfaction with government has more to do with unfair policy and political process.

← 2. The ongoing discussion around public value points in this direction, not only as an evolution of public management science, but as a direct consequence of increasing levels of inequality. Public value is achieved when governments produce what is either valued by the public, good for the public or both, leading to just and fair conditions in society at large (Bryson, Crosby and Bloomberg, 2014).

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