Chapter 4. Drivers of trust in government in Korea: Values

After discussing competence, the first key component of the OECD Trust Framework, in the previous chapter, this one will focus on the second component: values. As recognised in the public management literature, the process of policy making and its guiding motivations (values) are just as important as the actual results achieved for influencing trust in government institutions. The chapter builds on the results of the OECD-KDI Trust Survey, complemented by a review of other relevant sources, it presents opportunities for policy action in Korea that could contribute to improve institutional trust levels.


Why values matter for trust in government

Having discussed competence, the first key component of the OECD Trust Framework, this chapter will focus on the second component: values. As recognised in the public management literature, the process of policy making and its guiding motivations (values) are just as important as the actual results achieved for influencing trust in government institutions. In a context of growing inequality, citizens expect that governments will not only have a strong commitment to improve socio-economic conditions for all,1 but impeccable behaviour in the exercise of its delegated authority. Downe et al (2016) notes that not only what government delivers but also how it conducts its procedures seem to have pronounced influence. Likewise, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (2001) argue that people tend to focus on outputs because citizens contact service delivery institutions more frequently, but dissatisfaction with government has more to do with unfair policy and political processes.

These expectations entail three critical dimensions of values as a dimension of trust: 1) integrity, or the alignment of public institutions with broader principles and standards of conduct that safeguard the public interest and mitigate the risk of corruption; 2) openness, or the extent to which relevant information is shared with citizens in an accessible and usable manner, as well as a comprehensive approach to citizen engagement and interaction; 3) fairness, or the consistent treatment of citizens and business in policy making and policy implementation (Box 4.1). The following sections will discuss these dimensions of trust in detail in light of the results of the econometric analysis presented in Chapter 2.

This chapter is structured as follows: it has three broad sections on integrity, openness and fairness. Within each of the sections, the components of the drivers that were found to be statistically significant will be addressed outlining the key challenges for Korea in each of them. The chapter will be concluded by putting forward some policy recommendations touching on key aspects of the drivers that are crucial for increasing trust in government institutions in Korea.


Integrity is often mistakenly understood narrowly as the absence of corruption. However, the concept of public sector integrity is not simply about the use or abuse of power but rather about “the consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritising the public interest over private interests in the public sector” (OECD, 2017c). While to a large extent bribery is the most commonly recognisable corrupt behaviour, the full complexity of corruption encompasses influence trading, embezzlement of public property, use of confidential information and the abuse of power – all of which are extremely harmful for society.

Using data from the Trustlab project, Figure 4.1 presents the share of the population in six countries who answered negatively (0-4), neutrally (5) or positively (6-10) to the question: “Do you agree with the following statements: people working in public institutions behave according to ethical standards aimed at avoiding corruption?” Slightly less than 60% of Koreans rank public institutions below average, the second highest share after Slovenia of all countries with available information, thereby signalling a relatively high share of perceived lack of integrity by public officials in Korea.

Figure 4.1. Perceived integrity of public officials in selected countries

Note: Data corresponds to the percentage of the population who answered 0-4 (negatively) 5 (neutrally) or 6-10 (positively).

Data collection in Korea lasted from November 2016 to January 2017 and overlapped with large scale protests surrounding a high profile corruption scandal eventually leading to President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment.

Furthermore, according to the econometric analysis conducted in Chapter 2 of this case study, people’s expectations of the extent to which a corrupt high-level officer found guilty of misusing tax payers’ money would be prosecuted has a positive effect on trust in government institutions. In other words, a lack of integrity in high-level civil servants demonstrated by misuse of public resources, or inadequate behaviour by government representatives, can negatively shape public opinion on the overall trustworthiness of government institutions. This finding is consistent with the negative relation between perception of government corruption at large and trust in government found in OECD countries and beyond (OECD, 2017a; OECD, 2017b; OECD, 2013a). Political leaders, especially senior management, can therefore leverage integrity to increase trust in government institutions by taking the lead, through measures such as asset disclosure, conflict of interest management, and transparency in lobbying and political financing.

A solid integrity framework, with high standards of behaviour, is necessary to reinforce the credibility and legitimacy of government. Countries have at their disposal a number of tools to create and continuously develop and improve a network of integrity and anticorruption mechanisms. Particularly those addressing high-risk areas at the intersection of the public and private sectors, including effective management of conflict of interests, high standards of behaviour in the public sector, and adequate lobbying and political finance regulation, can be leveraged to limit undue influence and build safeguards to protect the public interest (Box 4.1).

Box 4.1. Keeping a high standard of probity

Defining an effective policy approach to dealing with conflict of interest is essential to the political, administrative and legal structure of a country’s public life. The OECD Guidelines, for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service (OECD, 2004) provide a modern approach to conflict-of-interest policy which seeks to strike a balance – by identifying risks to the integrity of public organisations and public officials, prohibiting specific unacceptable forms of private interest, raising awareness of the circumstances in which conflicts can arise and ensuring that effective procedures are deployed to identify and manage conflict-of-interest situations.

In addition, the “revolving door” phenomenon that sees an increasing movement of staff between the public and private sectors has raised concerns over pre- and post-public employment conditions and negative effects on trust in the public sector. Such issues of impropriety (i.e. the misuse of “insider information”, position and contacts) have led a growing number of countries to modernise arrangements to effectively prevent and manage conflict of interest in pre- and post-public employment, establishing standards or principles in order to ensure integrity in current or post-public officials. For example, a “cooling-off” period exists in many OECD countries, where public servants must limit their interaction with their former organisation for a given length of time. The OECD (2010) Post-Public Employment Principles and Framework can act as a reference point for policy makers to gauge their current or future post-public employment frameworks.

Lobbying is a way of informing public decision making, but it must be undertaken in a way that it balances benefits and risks. Lobbying can contribute to good decision making and improve governments’ understanding of policy issues by providing valuable insights and data as part of open consultation processes. Yet lobbying can also lead to unfair advantages for vocal vested interests if the process is opaque and standards are lax. The OECD (2013b) Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying provide guidance to decision makers on how to promote good governance in lobbying.

Financing democracy, while a necessary component of the democratic processes, may undermine representativeness and raise risks of conflict of interest in the absence of adequate and effective regulation. This issue has been identified in the international arena, including the 2004 United Nations Convention against Corruption. Regardless of the particular mechanisms chosen, democratic countries face similar risks when addressing money in politics, including weaknesses in enforcement, capacity limitations of electoral management bodies, and common loopholes in regulations. The OECD has studied Democracy Financing (OECD, 2016a) mapping relevant risk areas and presenting policy options to promote a level playing field.

More recently the OECD has published the Recommendation on Public Integrity that provides policy makers with a vision for a public integrity strategy. It shifts the focus from ad hoc integrity policies to a context dependent, behavioural, risk-based approach with an emphasis on cultivating a culture of integrity across the whole of society (OECD 2017g).

Notes: Further information about the principles can be found on Further information about the principles can be found on Further information about the recommendation can be found on:

High standards of behaviour and impartiality are expected of public servants in fulfilling their fundamental mission to serve the public interest. Public officials’ conflicts of interest pose a threat to public trust. In this context, assuring transparency and accountability of public officials in their decision-making process is essential for restoring trust in government in institutions.2 Although it remains primarily public officials’ responsibility to manage their conflict of interest situations, disclosing their private interests can greatly aid in preventing apparent and potential conflicts of interest. In turn, some jurisdictions have developed innovative tools for helping public servants identify situations where they could be incurring ethical faults (see Box 4.2).

Box 4.2. Guiding public officials in facing ethical dilemmas in Australia

The Australian Government has developed and implemented strategies to enhance ethics and accountability in the Australian Public Service (APS), such as the Lobbyists Code of Conduct, the register of “third parties”, the Ministerial Advisers’ Code, and work on whistleblowing and freedom of information.

To support the implementation of the ethics and integrity regime, the Australian Public Service Commission has enhanced its guidance on APS values and code of conduct issues. This includes integrating ethics training into learning and development activities at all levels. To help public servants in their decision-making process when facing ethical dilemmas and choices, the Australian Public Service Commission developed a decision-making model. The model follows the acronym “reflect”:


  1. 1. Recognise a potential issue or problem; public officials should ask themselves:

    • Do I have a gut feeling that something is not right or that this is a risky situation?

    • Is this a right vs. right or a right vs. wrong issue?

    • Recognise the situation as one that involves tensions between APS values or the APS and their personal values.

  2. 2. Find relevant information.

    • What was the trigger and circumstances?

    • Identify the relevant legislation, guidance, policies (APS-wide and agency-specific).

    • Identify the rights and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders.

    • Identify any precedent decisions.

  3. 3. Linger at the “fork in the road”.

    • Talk it through, use intuition (emotional intelligence and rational processes), analysis, listen and reflect.

  4. 4. Evaluate the options.

    • Discard unrealistic options.

    • Apply the accountability test: public scrutiny, independent review.

    • Be able to explain your reasons/decision.

  5. 5. Come to a decision

    • Come to a decision, act on it and make a record if necessary.

  6. 6. Take time to reflect

    • How did it turn out for all concerned?

    • Learn from your decision.

    • If you had to do it all over again, would you do it differently?

Source: Office of the Merit Protection Commissioner (2009), “Ethical decision making”,

In Korea, the Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC) is in charge of establishing Korea's anticorruption strategy and operating related policies, but the Ministry of Personnel Management (MPM) is responsible for enforcing asset disclosure policy across the government. As established in Korean regulations, public officials have more obligations than in other OECD countries regarding asset declarations (see Box 4.3). In parallel, increased mobility between the public and the private sector (the “revolving door” phenomenon) in Korea has pushed government to adopt legal instruments to monitor and investigate more closely pre- and post-public employment and the use of confidential information to avoid potential conflicts of interests (OECD, 2010).

Most measures to prevent potential conflicts of interests in Korea are outlined in the Public Service Act. This was enacted in 1981 by the Public Ethics Policy Division in MPM and by the Government Public Service Ethics Committee, and has been amended several times. According to this act, public officials in Korea have limitations and “cooling-off” periods when they leave public sector employment. In general, the cooling-off period in Korea is two years and applies to the president, prime minister, line ministers, political advisors and senior civil servants.3 In the cases of other civil servants there are no restrictions. Still, officials who leave the public sector also face restrictions on lobbying or engaging in official dealings, including with former subordinates or colleagues in the public sector, in order to obtain preferential treatment or privileged access. Furthermore, during the first three years following retirement, public officials of Grade 4 or above cannot get a job at organisations related to the agencies in which they have worked during the past five years. Finally, public officials are legally bound not to use confidential or other “insider” information after they leave the public sector.

Box 4.3. Disclosure requirements in Korea compared to G7 and OECD countries

The OECD has developed a composite indicator for the level of disclosure and public availability of private interests across branches of government. The composite is based on the 2014 OECD Survey on Managing Conflict of Interests in the Executive Branch and Whistle-blower protection (OECD, 2014). Korea reports higher disclosure requirements for all positions than the G7 and OECD average. As in most OECD countries, top decision makers in Korea (the president and prime minister) have more obligations for private interest declarations and public availability of this information compared to regular civil servants. In Korea, political advisors and senior civil servants also have significant obligations for private interest disclosure compared to the G7 and OECD country averages (see Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. Level of disclosure and public availability of private interests, all branches of government, 2014
Asset disclosure and public availability of information is higher in Korea than the G7 and OECD countries

Note: When calculating an aggregate of country-specific data, all private interests and all positions were deemed equally important and were therefore assigned the same weights. The private interests include assets, liabilities, income sources and amount, paid and non-paid outside positions, gifts and previous employments. The “at risk” areas include tax and customs officials, procurement agents and financial authorities.

Source: OECD (2014), “2014 OECD survey on managing conflict of interest in the executive branch and whistle-blower protection”,

As in most OECD countries, public officials in the legislative branch have the highest level of disclosure requirements, but overall requirements are fairly homogeneous across branches in Korea (at rather high levels). Even in the category of government professions considered “at risk areas” – which include tax and customs officials, procurement agents and financial authorities – disclosure requirements are comparable to the high requirements in the executive, legislative and judicial branch, whereas it is generally lower than for the other branches in most OECD countries (see Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3. Level of disclosure and public availability of private interests, all branches of government, 2014

Note: When calculating an aggregate of country-specific data, all private interests and all positions were deemed equally important and were therefore assigned the same weights. The private interests include assets, liabilities, income sources and amount, paid and non-paid outside positions, gifts and previous employments.

Source: OECD (2014), “2014 OECD survey on managing conflict of interest in the executive branch and whistleblower protection”,

Practice has shown that OECD countries are not immune to the risk of policy capture at the expense of the public interest. The global financial crisis in 2008 showed the extent of capture of financial policies, although the risk is present to different degrees in countries. In addition to managing conflict of interest, other forms of capture can be averted by enhancing integrity and transparency in lobbying practices, ensuring balanced political finance and guaranteeing the protection of whistle-blowers (see Box 4.4).

Vested interest groups wield influence through lobbying and providing financial resources to political parties and campaigns. In 2010, to level the playing field among all stakeholders in the policy-making process, the OECD adopted the Recommendation on Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying, aiming at mitigating lobbying-related risks of corruption and undue influence. While the number of countries that have introduced lobbying regulations is still low, it has increased substantially over the last decade. Common restrictions on senior public officials include engaging in lobbying after they leave the government, as well as pre-public employment restrictions. The Korean government has no restrictions regarding pre-public employment of private sector employees, lobbyists and government suppliers.

Box 4.4. Whistle-blowers in Korea

The protection of employees who report wrongdoing such as fraud, corruption and misconduct in the context of the workplace (whistle-blowers) is recognised as an essential element for safeguarding public integrity (OECD, 2005). Across the OECD, 88% of countries have a dedicated protection law for whistle-blowers or provide protection through piecemeal legal provisions. In Korea, the Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistle-Blowers (2011) provides protection to whistle-blowers through a dedicated law.

The coverage of whistle-blower protection in Korea is rather broad. It includes both public and private sector employment and other categories of employment such as employees, consultants, suppliers, temporary staff, former employees as well as volunteers (for this last category protection is provided only in the public sector). The government also provides some financial incentives to report wrongdoing. Unlike other OECD countries, whistle-blowers are not protected if they report directly to the public in Korea (including for instance to the media). The Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistle-Blowers, the Act on Anti-Corruption and the Establishment and Operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) stipulate that whistle-blowers are protected when they make a report to external agencies including the ACRC and an investigative agency, as well as when the report is made under the internal procedures within the organisation to which the reporter belongs. The ACRC has the power investigate certain cases of discrimination against whistle-blowers who act in the public interest or those who report cases of corruption. The ACRC can also demand disciplinary action and/or bring a criminal charge against those who create disadvantages to whistle-blowers, and request from the institution to which the whistle-blower belongs to take necessary actions including reinstatement.

Source: OECD (2016b), Government at a Glance: How Korea compares, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Overall, the key elements of a sound integrity system are in place in Korea, both in the legal framework and in implementation. As a result, and together with a strong values-oriented culture, corruption is deterred in service provision, administrative transactions and even in core government processes. Looking forward, in addition to further deepening implementation to keep matching the increasingly sophisticated risks (e.g. in procurement), the challenge lies in moving up the ladder of integrity tools to focus on those related to risks of undue influence. By nature, these are more difficult to curb and investigate, and are a challenge across OECD countries. Nevertheless, and for Korea in particular, it is a pressing need to address these risks – given not only previous corruption scandals taking place at the political level, but the very negative perception of corruption expressed consistently by Koreans.

Another key challenge is achieving a culture of integrity and avoiding impunity as a component of a coherent and comprehensive integrity system (see Figure 4.4). Specifically, measures need to be based on risk assessments and adapted to the context and to specific sectoral and geographical conditions. Adequate institutional arrangements have to be in place to ensure that laws, regulations and policies are effectively implemented and mainstreamed throughout the government. Information about corruption offences needs to reach the relevant law enforcement authorities. And finally, the messages need to be reinforced in Korea that corruption erodes economic and social well-being and needs to be addressed by the public sector, business, civil society and citizens alike.

Figure 4.4. The OECD strategy for an integrity system

Source: OECD (2016c), “Strengthening anti-corruption and integrity for global productivity”, Based on the OECD Recommendation to Public Sector Integrity.


“Open government” is defined as a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth (OECD, 2016d). According to this definition, promoting government transparency by granting access to public sector information, as well as by ensuring the public’s ability to use information effectively, are cornerstones of open government. In addition to making public information and data easily available by taking advantage of public insights, scrutiny and input, government performance will improve via more effective policies, better regulation and higher-quality services. Transparency also helps the public gain a better understanding of policies and processes. As a result, citizens’ trust in government can be expected to increase (OECD, 2017c).

The results presented in Chapter 2 of this report demonstrate that the perceived availability of finding information on administrative procedures has a positive effect on trust in public institutions in Korea. In addition to obtaining the information they need for specific purposes, it is expected that high levels of transparency help the public gain a better understanding of policies and through these channels increase trust levels. In terms of complementary evidence, a study from Seoul showed that assessments of government transparency by users of e-government services are positively associated with participants’ trust in the government that provide e-participation programmes (Kim and Lee, 2012). In turn, Kim and Shim (2011), through a survey for residents near a nuclear power plant, empirically tested and found that increased transparency (by fully informing residents about the status of the nuclear power plant, its safety and government efforts to compensate the community) may increase the level of trust in responsible public institutions and the level of acceptance of their actions.

Using data from the Trustlab project, Figure 4.5 below presents the share of the population in six countries who answered negatively (0-4), neutrally (5) or positively (6-10) to the question “Do you agree with the following statements: public institutions are transparent?” 64% of the Korean population rank public institutions rather negatively – the highest share of all countries with available information – thereby signalling a relatively high share of perceived lack of transparency by government institutions.

Figure 4.5. Perceived openness of public institutions in selected countries1

Note: Data corresponds to the percentage of the population who answered 0-4 (negatively) 5 (neutrally) or 6-10 (positively).

1. Data collection in Korea lasted from November 2016 to January 2017 and overlapped with large scale protests surrounding a high profile corruption scandal eventually leading to President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment.

Governments can increase transparency through a number of mechanisms. First, regulating the right to access information is a critical step to facilitate openness and stakeholder engagement in the policy-making process. Effective legislation, furthermore, provides rights and establishes the institutional framework to help ensure access. This includes measures that mandate the publication of information by public bodies (with the potential exception of some law enforcement, national security and judiciary offices); establish clear limitations on what information should not be made public; require public agencies to establish an information and documentation system to manage public information properly and efficiently; and form oversight offices to settle disputes and report on the implementation of the law.

As a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)4 since 2011, Korea has ratified its commitment to build an open and transparent public administration. In line with this commitment, the government has carried out several initiatives to enhance transparency: promoting public information disclosure systems; motivating citizen engagement in the policy process; and strengthening participation mechanisms, such as government committees and the petition system. Recent efforts include publicly disclosing the names of programme line managers and enhancing the user-friendliness of public data, for instance by generating graphs of drinking water quality.

Access to information can also be supported by government efforts to design and implement open government data (OGD) within the broader framework of digital government and transparency policies. OGD refers to the release of data collected and produced by public organisations in the course of their work, or data commissioned with public funds. The data are released in an open format that allows for their free use and re-use.

The Korean government regularly sponsors special events to promote open government. For instance, since 2014 the government has held the IoT (Internet of Things) week to raise awareness of the possibilities offered by digital technologies such as OGD, as well as hackathons, where programmers and start-ups are invited to share and develop innovative services and mobile applications by re-using public data. The use of OGD is also promoted within the public sector, through regular training and seminars on using digital technologies and data, organised by the National Human Resources Development Institute in collaboration with the Korean National Information Society Agency.

In addition to making most government data available, Korea generally provides the enabling conditions for the re-use of open government data inside and outside the public sector. Since 2014, all central and local government organisations as well as public organisations have been mandated by law to develop annual data plans in line with the Open Data Master Plan (see Box 4.5). At the start of 2018, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety announced its new agenda for “achieving an intelligent public administration through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and OGD” as part of its annual work plan. Under this agenda, the ministry intends to harness OGD as part of the emerging “fourth industry revolution”. Among other aims, this strategy includes standardising OGD formats, enhancing data accessibility for citizens and businesses, and supporting start-ups and SMEs based on using OGD.

Korea has also put a lot of effort into creating the enabling conditions to support re-use of open government data inside and outside government. Strengthening the eco-system of actors and re-users of data (including SMEs and start-ups) and improving the methodology for impact assessment could help further leverage the benefits of OGD initiatives in Korea (OECD, 2016b).

Box 4.5. Open government data in Korea

In 2014, the OECD published a measure of governments’ support for open government data (OGD) for the first time, based on the G8 Open Data Charter, ratified in 2013. A second version of the index was published in 2017. According to the OECD OURdata Index, Korea’s support for OGD in terms of data availability, accessibility and support for the re-use of the data is the highest across the OECD. Several elements can explain the high ranking of Korea.

First, in terms of data availability, Korea has increased the amount of data available on its central open data portal ( in recent years. Since 2013, the Law on Open Data has mandated that all public sector agencies register their datasets in the central open data portal. Korea now provides a large quantity of government data through this central portal in an open format, including datasets identified in the G8 Open Data Charter as “high-value data”, such as data on public expenditure and election results, but also crime and environment statistics and data on the performance of the health care and education system.

Second, to ensure greater accessibility to public data, an Open Data Management guideline was developed for the whole central government in Korea, which provides a framework to ensure data quality in terms of timeliness, data formats and the systematic provision of metadata. Finally, the Korean government’s support for the re-use of public data is also strong and targeted at different types of audience.

Source: OECD (2016b), Government at a Glance: How Korea compares, OECD Publishing, Paris,

A further open government practice that builds trust is a policy-making process that facilitates the participation of all relevant and interested actors; trust in institutions is driven not only by the substance of policies, but also by the process through which policies are made. For example, Traber (2013) found that “public interest groups report higher satisfaction with the policy outcome the more they participate”. To the same end, Esaiasson, Gilljam and Persson (2012) used a randomised field experiment to reproduce the decision-making process in large-scale democracies. They empirically tested ideas about legitimacy enhancing decision-making arrangements, including participatory constitution drafting, personal involvement in the decision making process, and fairness in implementing arrangements. The authors found that “personal involvement is the main factor generating legitimacy beliefs” Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (2001) also emphasised the importance of government procedure for citizens, noting that the process through which governments create policies is just as important for citizens as the policy itself. Taken together, these findings suggest that citizen and stakeholder inclusion in policy decisions can help legitimise resulting policies, in turn increasing citizen buy-in, compliance and trust in public institutions.

Government institutions could benefit greatly from people’s feedback, as this would help them to understand better people’s needs, leverage a wider pool of information and achieve higher levels of compliance. In turn, deepening engagement can lead to innovative partnerships between government and citizens. An example can be found in the co-creation and co-delivery of services. Box 4.6 presents the OECD typology on the levels of engagement between citizens and the public administration, ranging from information availability to higher levels of engagement.

Box 4.6. Levels of engagement between citizens and public administrations

Information: an initial level of participation characterised by a one-way relationship, in which the government produces and delivers information to stakeholders. It covers both on-demand provision of information and “proactive” measures by the government to disseminate information.

Consultation: a more advanced level of participation entailing a two-way relationship, in which stakeholders provide feedback to the government and vice versa. It is based on the prior definition of the issue for which views are being sought and requires relevant information to be provided, in addition to feedback on the outcomes of the process.

Engagement: the most advanced level of participation when stakeholders are given the opportunity and necessary resources (e.g. information, data and digital tools) to collaborate during all phases of the policy cycle and in service design and delivery.

Source: OECD (2017d), “Recommendations of the Council on open government”,

Cultural and sociological explanations of trust in government emphasise the impacts of generalised trust and social participation on trust in government. Yang and Park (2007) explore whether stakeholder participation in government-led participatory exercises can increase the level of trust in the government by analysing doctors’ and pharmacists’ perceptions of the Ministry of Public Health in Korea. They find that stakeholders who participated in these exercises on public health policy making came to trust the government more, as the consultations allowed stakeholders to understand government officials’ motivations, their capacity to listen and respond to stakeholders’ interests and needs.

A number of factors can offer insight into current performance and potential for improvement of engagement practices in Korea. First, the specific objective pursued through engagement needs to be clearly defined from the outset, so that the most appropriate mechanism can be considered, rather than defaulting to a standard approach. Second, the effectiveness of engagement initiatives relies on their relevance, both in terms of the scope of the policy issue at hand and the representativeness of social groups and stakeholders involved. Ensuring that those involved include under-represented groups is crucial to mitigate the risk of capture, both of the engagement process and of policy outcome. Third, for engagement and consultation to have a policy impact, there must be an explicit link between the results of engagement and how they feed into the policy process, the lack of which often leads to “consultation fatigue”. Last, but not least, evaluation mechanisms on the effects of these efforts should be also considered. Other factors also matter in providing enabling conditions for effective engagement to happen in the first place. These include political and cultural attitudes; supporting legislative frameworks; and adequate institutional co-ordination mechanisms, capacities and incentives. Some efforts by OECD countries to foster engagement are described in Box 4.7.

Box 4.7. Informing national vision and policy choices through engagement

Approaches to engagement as a lever to shape national vision and inform key policy priorities can be further explored. For example, engagement can help identify key outcomes that represent a shared vision for society. It can also inform the identification of policy trade-offs and complementarities, including people’s preferences for different policy options or packages. This can further the use of engagement for integrated policy making, leading to a broader understanding of the needs and preferences of citizens, one that cannot be fully captured through individualised engagement efforts.

A number of OECD countries have made progress in this regard. In Lithuania, the State Progress Council led a consultation process with the participation of civil society, business and community leaders, and government officials to shape the Lithuania 2030 national strategy. In Scotland, the 2011 National Performance Framework will be updated following an extensive consultation process. In Mexico, the draft of the National Open Data Policy was open to public consultation in 2015 with the goal of creating an open data policy better suited to users’ needs. In New Zealand, the treasury is developing tools designed to gather and assess citizens’ preferences on key policy issues that affect well-being across a variety of age, location and income groups. In addition, they are attempting to gain an understanding and to quantify the relative importance New Zealanders place on each aspect of well-being, including how preferences differ among social groups and geographical locations.

Source: OECD (2016e)

Fairness as a key dimension of trust

Positive perceptions of fairness lead to greater acceptance of agency decisions, better compliance with regulations and more co-operative behaviour in dealing with government agents. The reverse also holds: citizens are more likely to accept negative outcomes, such as financial penalties, if they feel that they have been treated fairly. Fairness as a dimension of trust includes the pursuit of socio-economic progress for society as a whole and consistent treatment of citizens and businesses. Dimensions that can be considered under fairness include that the interests of all stakeholders are properly considered in policy decisions that the rule of law applies to all equally, that public services treat all citizens equally or that vulnerable groups receive special attention so that they are not left behind. Another common distinction is between fairness in processes, or procedural fairness, and fairness in outcomes – distributional fairness. Both aspects have been found to have effects on levels of institutional trust.

There is evidence of a relationship between perceptions of fairness and trust in the government. This is confirmed by academic research. Using the 2009 Korea General Social Survey, Chi et al. (2013) examined the effect of perceived inequalities on trust in political institutions in Korea. Citizens’ perceptions of elements of distributional fairness, such as income inequality and inequality of opportunity (in jobs and education) have a trust-eroding effect. When citizens perceive that their government and political elites are responding to their demand for “a fair share,” their political trust increases. Similarly, Park and Kim (2006) find that perceived fairness, impartiality and honesty of state institutions do have an effect on trust in government institutions and in the development of social trust.

Moreover, conducting a national sample survey, Park and Bae (2011) found evidence that trust in government institutions in Korea was largely related to perceptions of fair treatment (i.e. procedural fairness) by government (distributive fairness) and procedural fairness in policy making. Furthermore, these variables are stronger predictors of trust in government than relative levels of policy benefits and assessments of national economic conditions. These findings imply that how government decides and implements policies is a critical input for shaping trust attitudes. Other sources point in the same direction (see Box 4.8).

Using data from the Trustlab project, Figure 4.6 presents the share of the population in five countries who answered negatively (0-4), neutrally (5) or positively (6-10) to the question: “Do you agree with the following statement? Public institutions treat all citizens fairly regardless of their gender, race, age or economic condition”, aimed at capturing elements of procedural fairness. Over 60% of the Korean population rank public institutions below average, the second highest share after Slovenia of all countries with available information – thereby signalling a relatively high share of perceived unfair treatment by government institutions in Korea.

Figure 4.6. Perceived fairness of public institution in selected countries

Note: Data corresponds to the percentage of the population who answered 0-4 (negatively) 5 (neutrally) or 6-10 (positively) to the question, “Do you agree with the following statement? Public institutions treat all citizens fairly regardless of their gender, race, age or economic condition.”

Data collection in Korea lasted from November 2016 to January 2017 and overlapped with large scale protests surrounding a high profile corruption scandal eventually leading to President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment.

In terms of distributional fairness OECD interviews conducted for this review identified the perception of a growing concern among Korean citizens – especially after the 2008 financial crisis – that the distribution of burdens and rewards among members of society is skewed. Higher levels of wealth accumulation among the top few percent help fuel mistrust in government. Further, OECD interviews with stakeholders showed that while there is a perception that the Korean government is trying to provide services that lead to economic growth, these are not focused enough on the fairness dimension of policy making.

Box 4.8. Results from the 2014 KIPA survey about fairness

In 2014, a Korea Institute of Public Administration (KIPA) survey asked people about the perceived fairness of government institutions (Figure 4.7), further confirming a gap in the perception of fairness. For instance, 80% of respondents expressed very little belief that the National Assembly represents people’s interests fairly. Fairness is also questioned for the justice sector, as discussed earlier in the report, with about 65% of respondents reporting concerns over fairness in the administration of justice. At same time, there is a relatively higher belief that “Ministries of central government and local governments provide fair service to all people” and that “The national election commission secures fair competition for all candidates”.

Figure 4.7. Perceived fairness of public institutions
Answers to the question: “How much do you agree with the following statements?”

Source: KIPA (2015), Korea Social Integration Survey 2015, Korea Institute of Public Administration, Seoul.

Based on the econometric analysis presented in Chapter 2, two dimensions of fairness influence trust in government institutions: the extent to which a reported case of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race or nationality would be pursued; and the extent to which a financial burden of a future tax reform would be shared fairly across social and income groups.

During the past 25 years, Korea has experienced the fastest productivity growth among OECD member countries, helping to lift per capita income – from 39% of the average of the top half of OECD countries in 1991, to 75% by 2014 (OECD, 2016b). However, while this rapid growth has benefitted the Korean economy as a whole, it has also created significant inequalities between the working conditions at large companies and SMEs resulting in a dual labour market.

While Korea has taken measures to correct the risks of rising inequalities, the effects of policies have been narrower than could be expected (Figure 4.8). The redistributive impact of the tax and benefit systems on income inequality among the working-age population is the weakest in the OECD area, and its impact on relative poverty is the second weakest, which contributes to income inequality. Despite the fact that market income inequality before taxes and transfers was much lower than in other countries, redistribution policy could be therefore more effective particularly as according to the latest available evidence, in 2015 the relative poverty rate5 in Korea amounted to 13.8% within the highest tier of OECD member countries (OECD, 2015).

In addition, there is a large wage gap between regular and non-regular workers, which results in wide wage dispersion and a high share of low-wage workers. In 2014, non-regular workers were paid 38% less per hour than regular workers and were assigned to tasks of less responsibility, despite having matching skills to permanent employees. A third of all employees are non-regular workers and the share of temporary workers was 22% in 2014, more than double the OECD average (OECD, 2016b). Respondents to the OECD interviews recognised this duality in the labour market, which leads to a perceived “dual citizenship”.

Figure 4.8. Differences in income inequality pre- and post-tax and government transfers, 2013
In Korea, the market income inequality before taxes and transfers was much lower than in other countries

Source: OECD (n.d.), OECD Income Distribution Database,


As well as income inequality, gender inequality is also a dimension of fairness. To achieve fairness in policy making a civil service must be diverse, including in terms of gender. Available data show an important gap to be closed in the role of women in Korean public life. In 2015, only 44.3% of public employment was filled by women, compared to an average of 58.3% in OECD member countries. Furthermore, only one-third of professional positions was filled by women for the same year (OECD, 2017e). In turn, the shares decrease further for managerial positions – as only 18% of middle management and 6% of senior management positions were occupied by women, compared to an average of 32% of senior management positions in OECD member countries. Several actions could be considered to improve the gender balance in the Korean public sector (see Box 4.9).

But gender inequality in Korea is not exclusive to the public sphere; according to the OECD employment dataset, the employment rate for women was 52.1% in 2015, compared to 73.9% for men, which represents a difference of 22 percentage points, the fourth-largest gap in the OECD. Furthermore, the 37% gender wage gap at median earnings is the highest in the OECD, discouraging female employment. The low rate is due to the withdrawal of most women at the time of marriage or childbirth and the large share of women in low-paid non-regular jobs.

Contrary to most OECD countries, gender gaps (in favour of men) have not been decreasing in Korea. Figures show that the number of women elected to parliament has remained stable at low levels over the past two years and the gender gap in wages is still the highest observed in the OECD area. Compared to men, Korean women are still less likely to have a paid job or be elected to parliament, and more likely to spend many hours performing household tasks and feel more insecure when walking alone at night (OECD, 2017f).

Box 4.9. OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life

In 2015 the OECD Council approved a Recommendation on gender equality in public life. It promotes a government-wide strategy for gender equality reform, sound mechanisms to ensure the accountability and sustainability of gender initiatives, and tools and evidence to inform inclusive policy decisions. It also promotes a “whole-of-society” approach to reducing gender stereotypes, encouraging women to participate in politics and removing implicit and explicit barriers to gender equality. This Recommendation is unique, as it provides not only governments, but also parliaments and judiciaries with clear, timely and actionable guidelines for effectively implementing gender equality and gender mainstreaming initiatives, and for improving equal access to public leadership for women and men from diverse backgrounds. The objectives of the recommendation are as follows.

  • Mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets.

  • Strengthen accountability and oversight mechanisms for gender equality and mainstreaming initiatives across and within government bodies.

  • Achieve gender-balanced representation in decision-making positions in public life by encouraging greater participation of women in government at all levels, as well as in parliaments, judiciaries and other public institutions.

  • Take adequate measures to improve gender equality in public employment.

  • Strengthen international co-operation through continuously sharing knowledge, lessons learned and good practices on gender equality and mainstreaming initiatives in public institutions.

However, whether or not the gender gap contributes to trust in government requires more analysis. The results of the OECD-KDI survey show that trust in institutions is not driven by gender, as both men and women tend to assess institutions in a very similar manner, with women expressing slightly higher trust. Nevertheless, looking forward it is important for Korea to capitalise on the untapped potential of women’s full participation in economic and social life.


Another dimension that could shed light on the effects of public policies is generational inequalities. Youth is another group confronted with several types of inequalities. According to the OECD-KDI survey, the younger cohorts rate the government poorly on whether or not it acts to defend the best interests of society. For example, Figure 4.9 shows that on a scale of 0 to 10, more that 50% of people aged 16-24 do not consider that the government is acting to defend society’s best interests.

These perceptions could be framed by several factors. For example, according to the OECD employment dataset in 2016, while the overall unemployment rate in Korea was 3.7% it reached 10.7% – almost three times higher – for youth. Complementary evidence collected through interviews for this case study signals that, unlike older cohorts, today’s younger workers are more likely to start their career with a non-regular contract. Additionally, over the last decade the share of public expenditure to support an ageing population has increased substantially, for example to adopt a basic old age pension and a long-term care programme – while fewer resources have been devoted to supporting the younger generations.

Figure 4.9. Share of the population who think that government acts in the best interests of society, by age group

Note: Data corresponds to the percentage of the population who answered 0-4 (negatively) 5 (neutrally) or 6-10 (positively).

Source: OECD-KDI survey

Opportunities for policy action

While the Korean government 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 more can be done to achieve meaningful engagement. The results of the OECD-KDI survey point to the need of public institutions in Korea to better listen and engage with its citizens beyond formal administrative procedures.

To start with there is a need to better listen to and understand citizens’ particularly at the early stages of policy development. A meaningful dialogue with citizens ensures that their needs and priorities are taken into account from the very start of the policy cycle, and therefore better reflected in policies and services. According to the OECD (2017e), Korea conducts later-stage stakeholder engagement on all primary laws and subordinate regulations, as well as early-stage consultations for some regulations. Greater use of early-stage consultations can help provide citizens with a sense of ownership over policy choices, which would, in turn, have a positive effect on their evaluation of reliability as a measure of trust in government.

A case in point is the youth, who are particularly weary of public institutions. Effective engagement, from consultation and participation to co-production practices, can be instrumental both in shaping the purpose of government action to better fulfil society’s preferences and priorities, and to inform and support the delivery of outcomes in an accountable, innovative and cost-effective manner. In addition, effective engagement is associated with higher levels of policy compliance and implementation and better service delivery. As such, engagement can be an important driver of legitimacy and trust in government.

Existing government data should be leveraged to facilitate the development of meaningful engagement and consultation with stakeholders in designing, implementing and evaluating policies and regulations. The Korean government has placed a high priority on government information transparency, digital government and open government data. In fact, Korea leads the OECD in data availability, data accessibility and support for re-using data. To improve openness, digital tools and technologies could be further leveraged to strengthen consultation processes with citizens, businesses and other stakeholders. Korea can also leverage existing programmes to implement open policy-making processes. For instance, in 2014 the Korean government launched the “cost-in, cost-out” system to reduce regulatory burden by using regulatory impact assessments. Korea should also strengthen its efforts to build the Open Data Ecosystem of actors by involving SMEs and start-ups in the re-use of data.

Integrity measures to curb undue influence and ring-fence decision makers from private influence should be a priority of integrity policies in Korea. The Korean public’s concerns about integrity focus on the top levels of decision making, including the political level (consistent with the relatively low risk of bribery in the country). Integrity risks at this level are more difficult to identify and curb; yet there is a pressing need in Korea to ensure that top levels lead by example and to monitor closely possible conflicts of interests between the public and private sector, and risks of undue influence, particularly between the government and chaebols. It is therefore crucial to ensure that existing and planned safeguards to avoid policy capture are fully implemented.

In line with the above, a whole-of-society partnership for integrity could be a necessary step to restore trust in government. The 2017 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Integrity deepens the notion of integrity to include “the consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritising the public interest over private interests in the public sector”. Its building blocks could help chart a path for Korea to strengthen the protection of the public interest and public officials from risks of undue influence.

Breaking down dualism in the labour market is an essential step for achieving fairness in Korean society that could lead to higher levels of interpersonal and institutional trust. This could be achieved by taking measures for reducing wage gaps between regular and non-regular workers and creating alternative mechanisms for firm-based worker training. In turn, relaxing employment protection for regular workers and making it more transparent while expanding social insurance coverage to non-regular workers could also help this purpose (OECD 2018)

Strengthening policies to support female labour force participation in the public sector, and in the economy as a whole, is crucial for reduce inequalities that are detrimental for trust levels. To achieve this, a workplace culture is needed that promotes work-life balance, ensuring that high-quality child-care is available and increasing the take up of maternity and parental leave. Additionally, upgrading the accreditation standards of early childhood and care institutions and making them mandatory, raising the qualification standards of teachers and relaxing entry barriers and fee ceilings on private childcare institutions could also contribute to this purpose (OECD 2018)

Overall, addressing concerns about fairness in the distribution of burdens, opportunities and rewards across social groups and regions in Korea is at the heart of restoring trust in the values and intentions guiding government action. The impressive sustained economic growth of recent decades has allowed Korea to reach an exemplary level of progress. For the country to continue evolving, citizens need to feel that they are at the centre of progress moving forward. Focusing on macro-economic variables needs to be complemented with a long-term vision for inclusive growth, more integrity, openness and fairness, and a strong focus on well-being, to chart a new direction for the country and lay a foundation for long-term success.


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← 1. 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 the society at large (Bryson, Crosby and Bloomberg, 2014).

← 2. As part of its 2018 work plan the ACRC will present a new law for preventing conflict of interest. According to the plan, the Civil Service Conflict of Interests Prevention Act will be reviewed by the end of June and will be submitted to parliament in the second half of the year.

← 3. The restriction applies to civil servants above Grade 2. The Korean civil service is based on a grade system which reflects a strong tradition of seniority. Position assignments are made strictly according to grade, and remuneration is based on grade and length of service. There are nine grades, with Grade 1 being the highest (assistant minister level). Qualification of every government position is specified strictly in terms of the title. A bureau chief, for instance, should be an administrative associate executive manager (Grade 3) or an administrative executive manager (Grade 2); a division chief should be an administrative senior manager, or a chemical engineering senior manager (Grade 4), or an administrative associate executive manager (Grade 3), and so on.

← 4. The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

← 5. Relative poverty is defined as the share of the population with an income of less than 50% of the respective national median income. Income after taxes and transfers adjusted for differences in household size.

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