Executive summary

The erosion of public trust presents countries with complex and multidimensional challenges that have implications across a range of inter-related policy drivers, including institutional aspects, political events and cultural factors. From a public governance perspective, trust in public institutions can be considered as a final outcome, which is influenced by the performance of public institutions in terms of core competences and values. For the first time, this report offers a comprehensive analysis of these challenges, drawing on the Korean experience and on original data from a unique survey, which allowed bringing the citizens’ voice in this crucial policy debate.

In Korea, people’s trust in public institutions is bound to a paradox. Compared to most OECD countries, Korea has a strong fiscal position; its public sector performance rates above the OECD average according to several measures, particularly those related to digital government and the use of open data such as the OECD OURdata index1. Yet levels of public trust in Korean government institutions are comparatively lower than the OECD average since at least 2007 when comparative evidence started to be collected in the Gallup World Poll. This pioneering study was set to offer a comprehensive measurement and policy framework to address this paradox and to offer clear insights for policy action. The study reflects a co-operative effort between the OECD and the Korea Development Institute (KDI), which benefitted from an innovative survey conducted in early 20162, complemented by qualitative analysis and desktop research.

The OECD-KDI survey indicates that 54% of the Korean population is either neutral or do not trust the government to act in society’s best interests. The National Assembly is the least trusted institution, while public services (e.g. the public health system) are better valued by respondents. Analysis of the survey data confirms the conceptual distinction by survey respondents between trust in institutions responsible for the provision of public services, and institutions of a political nature. The results of the survey were analysed against the general OECD framework for understanding the dimensions that influence trust in public institutions, including competence and values. The following policy actions have been identified below to act on core drivers of trust.


Define a set of long term national priorities acceptable to all institutional actors beyond the five-year political cycle. Policy development and formulation in Korea may face low levels of transparency, lack of consistency, institutional competition between political parties and lack of internal collaboration. While these features are not unique to Korea, limited collaboration spills over public administration, undermining the co-ordination required for successful policy implementation. Charting a clearer way forward to show strategic policy directions in the future, as well as promoting collaboration between government agencies and between government and citizens – would help to anticipate and respond to growing citizens’ expectations and maximise the outcome of public policies. Collectively defining a set of long term key priorities that are acceptable to all institutional actors beyond a political cycle will help advancing towards a more stable, collaborative and transparent policy making environment, crucial for developing institutional trust among stakeholders3 This could be done by strengthening the role and resources devoted to forward planning and ensuring that it reflects into government priorities.

Review and adjust risk management frameworks. Korea has developed a comprehensive all-hazard national strategy for critical risk governance. However, the disasters that occurred over the past years revealed gaps in crisis management and lack of coordination among the institutions in charge and across levels of government. Reviewing and adjusting the risk management frameworks will help manage novel types of crises. Local response units should be equipped and empowered to deal with a crisis as it unfolds, combined with the capacity to co-ordinate among different sectors, and to integrate new stakeholders for coping with all foreseeable and unforeseeable hazards. Enhanced emergency planning and simulation exercises, reviewing the functioning of the multi-hazard warning systems and implementing modernised crisis communication tools are also potential areas of development.

Build public sector innovation capacity by promoting a flexible environment coupled with an appropriate mix of skills. Public sector innovation can help build public trust by anticipating and developing new services that respond to emerging needs. The Government Innovation Strategy enacted by the Korean government provides a unique opportunity for upgrading diversity and skills in the civil service, involving people in the co-creation of services, revising and updating processes, allowing room for experimentation and encouraging culture change within government organisations. Bringing into the civil service people with experience in applying innovative approaches and providing training to civil servants in policy experimentation for testing new solutions to public challenges could help create an ecosystem that supports innovation.


Refine integrity framework to boost the credibility and legitimacy of government institutions at the highest level. Overall, key elements of a sound integrity system are in place in Korea, both in the legal framework and in implementation. In the context of a strong values-oriented culture, there are few cases of corruption in service provision, administrative transactions and in core government processes. Koreans’ concerns about integrity are related to the risk of policy capture and potential conflict of interest between the public and the private sectors at the highest levels, notably the chaebol (large family-based business groups). Ensuring that leaders adhere and act according to core public values and guaranteeing the implementation of existing and planned safeguards for avoiding conflict of interests is crucial for improving trust.

Move from consultation to meaningful engagement. The Korean public administration has articulated extensive detailed rules to engage citizens and key public and private stakeholders in the public life of the country and its long term development. As such the government has given a high priority to transparent government information, digital government and open government data. Yet, despite good intentions, involvement of stakeholders on primary laws and subordinate regulations often occurs at a late stage. Engaging more actively and early on in the process would provide citizens with a sense that their voices are being heard and greater ownership over policy choices. When citizens are given meaningful opportunities to express themselves (e.g. active consultation and feedback incorporation) they are less likely to engage in adversarial relations with government (e.g. demonstrations) and would privilege collaborative approaches in their relation with public institutions. The deliberative consultation exercise regarding the construction of nuclear power plants in 2017 is an example of an action in this direction.

Address concerns over fairness in the distribution of burdens, opportunities and rewards across social groups and geographic locations. Strong economic growth in Korea over the past fifty years has benefited the country as a whole, yet has left a number of disparities and gaps. There is a growing perception of a skewed distribution of burdens and rewards among members of society, and that vulnerable groups such as women, youth and the elderly might be left behind and, based on their socioeconomic status, people might be treated unevenly in education, employment, and service provision. Ensuring fairness and solidarity as core social norms, embedded in the pursuit of growth, provision of quality public services, equality of opportunities, would boost inclusiveness and well-being in Korea and could have positive implications for trust.


← 1. The Open Government Data (OUR data index) is a composite measure of data availability, accessibility and re-usability.

← 2. The survey reflects the situation as of early 2016 and therefore the available evidence does not incorporate subsequent events in Korea. Nonetheless, the survey design is meant precisely to focus on the underlying patterns shaping institutional trust that cut across political cycles.

← 3. Finland is perhaps the best example of a country that has integrated a long-term vision into its policy cycle. Almost 30% of the Centre of Government budget is allocated to forward planning. Once in each government’s term in office a long-term Futures Report is prepared with a 20-year perspective, drawing on input from a broad stakeholder base. Each Government Programme has to be clearly aligned with the findings of the Futures Report

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