1. Trust matters for public governance and more so for recovery

Finland is a high-trust society. The government of Finland sees trust as a fundamental and guiding value that underpins the functioning of the public administration and the development of people-oriented public services. Various indicators of interpersonal trust, trust towards government and other institutions are, on average, high and have been relatively stable over the longer term. Notably, the police is the most trusted institution, with over 90% of the population reporting confidence in it, followed by trust in the public administration, which is significantly higher than for the government and the parliament (Figure 1.1).

According to other sources, such as the World Gallup Poll, the 2008 financial crisis had a negative impact on trust in national government in Finland, resulting in a 12 percentage point decrease from 76% in 2007 to 64% in 2019. This prompted the demand to better measure levels of trust in government and understand its main drivers so as to provide guidance to public institutions on the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the interviews carried out as part of this study and the literature review informing it, several historical and cultural reasons could help to explain high levels of institutional trust in Finland. Among these are strong adherence to the rule of law, low distance from people to power and elites, a shared belief on the benefits of egalitarianism, the role of public education for social mobility, a welfare system that widely provides opportunities and services to people living in Finland, shared Calvinist values of honesty and hard work, and cultural respect for constitutional and administrative stability (Box 1.1).

However, despite the fact that institutions are highly regarded and the value of democracy is firmly rooted in Finnish society, voter turnout has decreased over the past decades1 and is lower than in other Nordic countries (Figure 1.2). Reasons explaining the diminishing voter turnout in Finland often involve the ageing of traditional voters and apathy from younger segments of the population, as well as a diminishing number of people who consider themselves as belonging to the working class2 (Borg, 2019[11]). Still others argue that starting in the mid-1980s, major parties became politically closer and increasingly consensual as major differences in policies could have affected their potential to integrate the coalition (Mykkänen, 2019[12]). This may have led to the loss of clear-cut differences in party profiles and a “they are all the same” feeling (Kangas and Saloniemi, 2013[8]). As a result, the usefulness of participation may be questioned and this could result in some citizens opting out from the system. In this context, even if trust in representative institutions, such as the parliament, is high and has remained consistent during last decade, political parties are reported as being the least trusted institution in Finland (Kantar, 2020[13]).

In the same vein, the levels of political efficacy, both internal (i.e. people’s perceived ability to understand and participate in politics) and external (i.e. people’s perception of having a say in what the government does), in Finland are relatively low, especially in comparison with other Nordic countries with otherwise similar levels of satisfaction with democracy and levels of political and institutional trust (see Figures 1.3 and 1.4 and Chapter 4). Levels of political efficacy are important, as they shape political participation (Finkel, 1987[14]), people’s own life satisfaction (Flavin and Keane, 2011[15]) as well as perceptions of the legitimacy of public institutions (Mcevoy, 2016[16]). The fact that most of the referred indicators (i.e. life satisfaction, legitimacy of institutions) are comparatively high in Finland renders the result paradoxical and calls for further explanation on what is captured by the low levels of political efficacy and how to address it.

Still, political efficacy and trust are related but different concepts. While external political efficacy is primarily concerned with the perceived responsiveness of the system and internal political efficacy with people’s perceived ability to understand politics, trust is also associated with a normative belief about the quality of the outputs or the fact that public institutions are acting for the greater good and observing positive behaviour (Pollock, 1983[17]; Hetherington, 1998[18]; Chamberlain, 2012[19]).

Low levels of political efficacy in Finland have been associated with the existence of a complex and multi-level political system that makes it difficult for people to understand how and at what level decisions are taken. In addition, the language in which public affairs are dealt with and communicated could also render difficult their understanding for a non-expert audience (Laurinolli, 2019[20]).

Furthermore, as highlighted in a recent research project published by the Ministry of Finance, the high average level of institutional trust masks significant differences between different groups of society (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[21]). While more educated and well-off citizens tend to trust the government and the system, trust is lower in some groups of the population that are more vulnerable. Other studies confirm that people with more education and a higher level of skills tend to trust public institutions more (Foster and Frieden, 2017[22]). Looking beyond the averages and understanding what is behind these pockets of distrustfulness, who these citizens are and what drives their distrust is key for the government to take timely action and safeguard the trust-based society and governance from being potentially undermined over time. The evidence collected for this study finds statistically significant lower levels of trust in institutions for rural residents and people with low levels of education and income (see Chapter 2). As such, there is a need to unbundle these vulnerabilities and individual characteristics further. Who are these individuals? Why do they feel left behind or distrust the government?

In turn, highly aggregated indicators such as “trust in government” may provide a good overall picture, but are not granular enough to understand which parts of national governments are more or less trusted. The government is responsible for a wide variety of policy areas and delivering different public services at different levels and through many distinct organisations and mechanisms. It remains unexplored what exactly the respondent has in mind when answering the question of trust in “national government”. A more refined view on who and what is trusted or not could provide policy makers with relevant information on where to improve in a more targeted manner.

The OECD study on trust in Finland is an opportunity to explore the frontiers and intricacies of public trust, building on previous research efforts and a unique new dataset following the OECD trust measurement and policy framework. The findings allow diving deeper into the drivers of trust – and mistrust – and provide concrete policy recommendations to the Finnish government to support its pledge to the citizens of bringing the public administration closer to their daily life. In addition, the Finnish case can provide important insights on the challenges faced even in high-trusting societies and help to deepen our understanding and measurement of institutional trust in a rapidly changing world.

Generally speaking, trust is understood as “a person’s belief that another person or institution will act consistently with their expectation of positive behaviour”. Trust gives us confidence that others, individuals or institutions, will act as we might expect, either in a particular action or in a set of actions. While trust may be based on actual experience, it is often a subjective phenomenon, based as much on interpretation or perception as on facts (OECD, 2017[23]). Trust is also a fragile societal asset; while it takes time to establish, it can be lost quickly.

Trust plays a very tangible role in the effectiveness of government institutions and the functioning of societies. In fact, few perceptions are more palpable than that of trust or its absence. Two major trends emerge from the academic literature for understanding levels of trust in institutions. A first theory emphasises the role of culture and argues that individuals learn to trust or distrust based on early socialisation and interpersonal networks which, in turn, influence their trust in institutions (Tabellini, 2008[24]). In turn, institutional theories focus on the performance and reputation of institutions, both in terms of processes and outcomes, as the key determinants explaining levels of institutional trust (Van de Walle and Migchelbrink, 2020[25]).

This case study acknowledges the importance of culture in defining the stock of trust in a given society. However, it places a greater emphasis on the role of public governance as a determinant that could influence levels of institutional trust over time. It recognises that institutional trust results from the interaction between people and government and is built when people appraise public institutions and/or the government as promise-keeping, efficient, fair and honest (Blind, 2007[26]).3

Another important theoretical differentiation should be made between the concepts of mistrust and distrust, as opposed to a trusting relationship. Mistrust implies that vigilant and well-informed people base their evaluations on what public institutions deliver (Devine et al., 2020[27]). In turn, distrust is associated with a heuristic response based on intrinsic beliefs or biases, which are not associated to actual performance, but often with endemic cynicism and expectations of betrayal (Thomson and Brandenburg, 2019[28]). While mistrust relates to the constructive scrutiny and control role that informed people are expected to exercise in a mature democracy, distrust often involves implicit biases, echo chamber effects and emotional aspects that are harder to overcome through policies and government actions.

Laws and regulations are issued by governments and legislators to protect consumers, workers, the environment and the like. Given that regulation is one of the most important interfaces between citizens and government, the ability of the regulatory process to engender public trust is crucial to the broader issue of trust in public institutions (OECD, 2018[29]). The disconnection between improved regulatory practice on the one hand and lower or diminishing trust on the other can have important policy consequences. When citizens have experiences with government that leave them feeling treated unfairly, they emerge from those experiences less willing to comply with regulations and with less trust in government. These negative attitudes in turn make enforcing regulations more difficult and can make the entire regulatory process less effective. It is therefore essential ensuring that as part of a sound regulatory process, consultation is taken into account in regulatory design. This means engagement, enhanced transparency and fluid communication for ensuring that citizens and businesses feel included in the policy-making process, accept regulatory decisions and, ultimately, trust their government (OECD, 2018[29]).

Moreover, the levels of trust in institutions as captured by existing indicators are very sensitive to a wide array of phenomena (e.g. changes in the economic outlook, corruption scandals involving public sector representatives, terrorist attacks, or other systemic shocks such as wars or pandemics) and tend to fluctuate over time. However, even when the effects of these shocks fade away, empirical evidence and academic literature argue that trust levels have structurally declined in many countries and that institutions are confronted with a long-lasting legitimacy or trust crisis (OECD, 2018[29]; Hetherington, 2006[30]). This case study will investigate risk factors that could be threatening the sustainability of high levels of trust in Finland.

In addition, trust remains an abstract concept encompassing several actors and instances. The complexity of trust relations are illustrated in Table 1.1. This categorisation classifies measures of trust primarily in terms of the parties involved in the trusting relationship and has the advantage of capturing a very comprehensive range of situations. This case study is primarily concerned with institutional trust, or otherwise said, trust between people and public institutions.

A key distinction is the difference between political and administrative trust. Political trust refers to an assessment of the elected leadership, while administrative trust refers to institutions constituting the core of public administration, including those in charge of policy design and service delivery, commonly composed by the civil service. Still, a key challenge for addressing institutional trust is that these dimensions (i.e. institutional and political trust) could be influenced by similar factors (OECD/KDI, 2018[31]). Academic evidence shows that the performance of public institutions could influence political trust (Khan, 2016[32]), while political corruption could have an effect on administrative trust in systems where the accountability mechanisms of civil servants are associated to their political affiliation (Dahlström and Lapuente, 2017[33]).

Institutional trust is, however, a two-way street; while the focus has traditionally been on understanding why citizens trust or do not trust government, it may be equally important to understand if governments trust their citizens, how such trust is communicated and if this, in turn, may affect citizens’ trust in government. Such reciprocity in trust relationships has become evident during the COVID-19 crisis, as many of the measures that have been imposed by governments (e.g. lockdowns, travel restrictions, teleworking) are difficult to control and to a large extent rely on people’s self-compliance.

From a public policy perspective, it is therefore key to get a better understanding of how (both interpersonal and institutional) trust influence the processes and outcomes of public policies and how governance changes may strengthen or weaken the drivers of trust. As a result, leaders and policy makers could leverage these insights to design better policies that strengthen or rebuild trust and thus reverse the deterioration of institutional trust of the past few years observed in many countries around the world.

Exploring the determinants of institutional trust helps to better understand what drives trust levels and therefore how public policy could strengthen trust. Attempts to identify the core drivers of trust usually highlight two different, but complementary, components that matter in understanding and analysing trust (OECD, 2017[23]): 1) competence or operational efficiency, capacity and good judgement to actually deliver on a given mandate; and 2) values, or the underlying intentions and principles that guide actions and behaviours.4

Digging deeper, there is also consistency in the literature regarding specific attributes that matter for trust, in relation to both the competence and values components:

  • Trust as competence: Competence is a necessary condition for trust – an actor with good intentions but without the ability to deliver on expectations cannot be trusted. The provision of public goods and services (from security and crisis management to public health and education) is one of the principal activities exercised by government. However, citizens depend on the ability of governments to actually deliver the services they need, at the quality level they expect. These expectations entail two critical dimensions of trustworthiness:

    • Responsiveness. Responsiveness reflects the core objective of the public administration: to serve and deliver to citizens as expected and needed. As such, responsiveness is about availability, access, timeliness and quality of public services.

    • Reliability. Reliability is the capacity of government institutions to respond effectively to a delegated responsibility to anticipate needs and thereby minimise uncertainty in the economic, social and political environment facing people.

  • Trust as values. When it comes to influencing trust, the process of policy making and its guiding motivations are just as important as the actual results. Citizens expect not only effective policies to improve socio-economic conditions, but also irreproachable behaviour. These expectations entail three critical dimensions of trustworthiness:

    • Openness. As a dimension of trust, openness refers to governments’ mandate to inform, consult, listen to and engage citizens and other stakeholders, by letting them know and understand what the government does and including their perspectives and insights, thus increasing transparency and accountability.

    • Integrity. In essence, public integrity refers to ensuring that public interests are prioritised over private interests in the public sector. Available data suggest that the degree to which governments can be trusted to safeguard the public interest have the most direct influence on levels of institutional trust. High standards of behaviour reinforce the credibility and legitimacy of government and facilitate policy action by government.

    • Fairness. Citizens share a growing concern that the distribution of burdens and rewards among members of society is skewed in favour of the wealthy and powerful. Fairness addresses this concern by focusing on the consistent treatment of citizens and business by government, and protection of the pursuit of the benefit of society at large.

  • Interpersonal drivers. The literature also recognizes that levels of interpersonal trust and other personal characteristics, preferences and beliefs influence institutional trust levels. Accordingly the framework and measurement tools incorporate these elements in the analysis of the trust determinants.

  • Perception of government actions in key societal trends. Finally, the framework recognizes that expectations about the future and how societal challenges are being adressed could play a role in shaping trust levels. Some of these societal challenges captured and analysed by the framework are climate change, equality of opportunity, social cohesion and preparedness for future crisis.

According to this competence-values approach, citizens assess government from the perspective of how service delivery responds to people’s needs and expectations, but also with respect to the efficacy and fairness of the policy-making process and its outcomes. Furthermore, the framework provides guidance on measuring trust, its monitoring over time and analysing the factors that may drive it in the future – in effect opening the door to an alternative set of data than the one currently available.

Questions on public trust have been commonly included in official and non-official household surveys with varying degrees of coverage. These questions often take the form of a general formulation about trust or confidence5 followed by a more or less comprehensive list of government institutions. However, it is less common to find a standard set of questions on the drivers of trust. One of the key features of this case study is to measure trust along its drivers based on a methodology developed by the OECD and presented in the OECD Trust Guidelines (OECD, 2017[35]), a previous case study implemented in Korea and six6 OECD countries fielded through the Trustlab project (Murtin et al., 2018[36]; OECD/KDI, 2018[31]).

Research based on household surveys has demonstrated that survey respondents can distinguish between three different factors: 1) political institutions; 2) law and order institutions; and 3) non-governmental institutions (González and Smith, 2017[34]). In addition, the OECD Trust Guidelines (OECD, 2017[35]) further suggest differentiating between political and institutional trust and promote the collection of data for at least three different institutions: 1) the police; 2) parliament; and 3) the civil service. In addition, the survey conducted for this case study also includes questions on the local government and the government at large.

The micro performance theory put forward by the public management literature recognises that if appropriately measured, higher quality public services could lead to higher satisfaction which, in turn, could result in higher levels of trust (Yang and Holzer, 2006[37]). In the Finnish context, responsibility for service provision lies primarily at the local level and could therefore allow testing a more direct relationship. In turn, trust in government is the most widely studied and collected indicator capturing both political and institutional elements and allowing the results to be contrasted with other sources of information on trust.

The availability of metrics on trust has resulted in a growing attitude that something has to be done to maintain or restore trust levels. In turn, maintaining a trusting relationship between people and their agencies has become a key concern for practitioners. Still, the types of actions can be taken to restore trust remains unclear. This case study operationalises the drivers of trust as recognised in the academic literature through a series of quasi-behavioural questions that could not only help to understand the relative importance of each element, but also to outline some concrete actions that could help improve trust levels. The questions presented below on each of the framework dimensions is based on the experimental module included in the OECD Trust Guidelines (OECD, 2017[35]). Table 1.2 presents the two questions included for each dimension of the competence-values framework.

In addition, the survey implemented as part of this case study also incorporates questions on other factors associated with trust as identified in the academic literature. For example, it includes questions on internal and external political efficacy, satisfaction with services, and voice and participation. A novel feature about the instrument implemented in Finland is the inclusion of a battery of questions on sustainability and perspectives about the future encompassing crucial aspects for the Finnish society, such as environmental sustainability, social cohesion, the resilience of public institutions and ensuring equality of opportunities in life. A detailed description of the survey is found in Annex A.

The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically raised the relevance of trust between citizens and institutions. The very constraining and uncertain character of policy alternatives during the pandemic requires broad support from the population to be efficient; hence, trust is a key element of analysis. Indeed, evidence shows that the efficiency of public policies and measures designed to address the COVID-19 crisis has been affected by levels of public trust (Bargain and Aminjonov, 2020[38]). Furthermore, results from a nationally representative survey conducted in Denmark showed that trust is positively correlated with people’s willingness to practice physical distancing (Olsen and Hjorth, 2020[39]). It is therefore of paramount importance to maintain trust levels for improving the effectiveness of measures taken to mitigate the health and economic effects brought about by COVID-19.

At the same time, lack of trust in government has not only reduced the ability of countries to respond to the crisis, it has also undermined the legitimacy of public institutions, nurturing political polarisation and favouring populist movements (Devine et al., 2020[27]). The economic and social tolls of the pandemic may erode people’s confidence in public institutions further (Ananyev and Guriev, 2019[40]) especially for the most vulnerable segments of population in terms of income, education and jobs (Goubin and Hooge, 2020[41]). Preliminary evidence shows that trust in government increased shortly after the virus outbreak and government responses to the crisis (Haavisto, 2020[42]). This type of spike in trust levels is often observed after major shocks and are labelled as a “rallying around the flag7” effect. However, more recent data show an erosion of trust in government and public institutions in many European countries (Eurofound, 2020[43]).

This study makes use of an innovative Citizens’ Pulse Survey carried out in Finland in 2020 that gathers citizens’ feedback on how the government was handling the crisis and at the same time monitors levels of trust in public institutions following the COVID-19 outbreak. While on average trust levels remained high, between May and October 2020 a negative trend is observed for most institutions followed by a rebound in early 2021 (Figure 1.5). This difference is statistically significant for most institutions of political and administrative nature (i.e. government, civil service, parliament and political parties). The negative trend is also observed in the case of law and order (i.e. the police and the courts) and service provision (i.e. the health service) institutions. Trust in the media also experienced a significant decrease throughout this period. The same trend is observed for trust in the banks and the media. Later, a general rebound in trust levels is observed between October and January 2021, which could be attributed partially to the good handling of the “second wave” of the COVID pandemic. However, as the pandemic perpetuates and the rollout of vaccination is progressing slowly trust decreased again in April 2021.

In a similar way to other European countries, new infections were increasing rapidly in early October and a strong second wave was feared. However, in contrast to other countries where new lockdowns were required, the spike was controlled and the society has largely reopened. An effective test and trace system around the “Corona Flash” smartphone app has been put in place. The app has been downloaded by about half of the population, the largest figure for such apps in Europe (DW, 2020[44]). Furthermore, the debate between functionality and privacy that has hampered the application of such apps elsewhere has only occurred tangentially in Finland. High baseline levels of trust have been associated with little resistance to this and other government measures (DW, 2020[44]). In addition, restrictive measures in Finland have been comparatively milder than in other European countries which could help explaining the rebound in the last quarter of 2020 and early 2021. According to results from mid-April 2021 trust levels decreased again while in late April, further softening of restrictions at place has been announced by the government.

While the changes in trust levels during this period are particularly volatile as a result of the enormous socio-economic shock that COVID implies and a high degree of constant uncertainty, the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis and how it will be handled still have the potential to impact trust levels persistently. In the months and years to come, levels of trust will be influenced by how resilient the Finnish society will be and the public governance tools put in place for absorbing and surmounting the socio-economic effects of this systemic shock and allowing to adapt to the new conditions.

To a large extent, the effects of COVID-19 are still uncertain and will depend on whether or not there are new waves of the disease and how long it takes to vaccinate a sufficiently large segment of the population to generate collective immunity. All in all, this is reflected in expectations by the Finnish society, as, in December 2020, 61% of the population considers the uncertainty about the duration of the situation as one their main concerns. As restrictions softened during the summer months and the situation was seeming to return to normal, this concern became less prevalent (16 percentage points less in June compared to November), although its prevalence remained practically unchanged between August and November.

The referred uncertainty about the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic is the second concern, followed by the concern that the society will sink into an economic recession, which was mentioned by 63% of the population in December. Their own livelihood (in economic terms), the livelihood of a family member and the likelihood of restrictions being tightened again are concerns expressed by about a quarter of the Finnish population (Figure 1.6).

Still, the assessment of the Finnish authorities’ preparedness to deal with the COVID-19 emergency remains high, at an average of 6.83 (on a scale of 1-10, and 69% of the population answering 7-10) and Finnish people are still confident about the future: 7.38 on average (on a scale of 1-10, 82% of the population answering 7-10). Such confidence could act as a key asset for speeding up the recovery process and advancing on a path of inclusive and sustainable growth in the years to come. Following a spike in June, these figures decreased until October, bouncing back again in November (Figure 1.7).

Self-reported compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions requested by the Finnish authorities remains high, around 75% in the period May-October 2020. However, while in May 67% of people trusted that the others were complying, this value had dropped drastically in October (39%) (Figure 1.8). While it is normal to observe a gap between these categories, as people tend to be more lenient when reporting their own behaviour vis-à-vis other people’s behaviour in what is known as a social desirability bias (Phillips and Clancy, 1972[46]), this result may signal a potential decrease in interpersonal trust and “unitary of response” in Finland.

Diminishing compliance may reflect fatigue stemming from a lasting situation alongside the perception that the situation worsened again as the number of COVID cases in Finland increased significantly in September and October compared to the summer months as reported by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. However, this indicator has not experienced the positive spike seen by other measures between October and November as the second wave was controlled.

The percentage of the population who reported complying with COVID-19-related restrictions decreased from 79% in June to 73% in November. In addition, those who reported that they are unwilling to comply with COVID-19 advised restrictions also report statistically significant lower levels trust in all institutions surveyed (Figure 1.9). This further stresses the important role played by institutional trust levels for enhancing the effectiveness of policies aimed at mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Finnish administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been praised as one of the best in Europe. Finland flattened the COVID-19 infection curve faster than many OECD countries and has kept the infection rate low, thanks to its swift and well-targeted policy response. Core public services have adapted and been responsive to people’s needs, digitalisation has deepened, and the transition to remote working and schooling was smooth. The government has worked to ensure that people in need get access to services by, for instance, providing computers or tablets to pupils in need and modifying old care modalities for the elderly and disabled to access them. As indicated in Section 1.3, Finland is one of the OECD countries where the use of tracing tools (apps) is the most widespread.

Over past years, the Finnish administration has worked to eliminate red tape and deregulate in service provision (EU, 2018[47]). The downside of pursuing lower regulatory density is the creation of unequal services and costly fragmentation (EU, 2018[47]). The pandemic has shed light on the importance of ensuring that high-quality services can reach all populations and all territories in plain language and that additional means are deployed to balance the field for those that could be left behind by a systemic shock such as COVID-19 and its aftermath.

Throughout the pandemic, the Finnish government has engaged in open, transparent and collaborative communications, emphasising the role of evidence, including further relying on data and experts, targeting messages to different audiences through the most relevant channels, and ensuring that they are available in different languages. As examples, the Prime Minister organised a dedicated dialogue with children to exchange on their expectations and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and the police translated messages on safety measures required to curb the spread of the disease and used diverse channels of communication, including social media, for ensuring that minority groups could be reached. In the context of COVID-19, these types of interventions present the dual advantage of supporting the effective implementation of emergency measures and satisfying the need for clear and as definitive as possible information (OECD, 2020[48]).

Figure 1.10 shows that in November 2020, around 85% of the Finnish population considered that they had been very well or well informed about the effects of COVID-19 in their life. While the number decreased between June and October, it remained above 80% in all months. To a large extent, these figures reflect the effectiveness of the administration’s communication strategy and the capacity to reach different audiences with clear and concise messages. For example, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the government of Finland collaborated with civil society, media institutions and social media influencers to reach segments of the population that are traditionally harder to access, including youth. The campaign’s aim was to support influencers in sharing reliable information on COVID-19 measures provided by public authorities. Finland has also advanced in developing innovative institutional media campaigns for reaching different segments of the population as evidenced by the communication campaign designed by the Finnish tax agency (Box 1.3).

In addition, 86% of the Finnish population considered the information provided by political leaders to be reliable, a figure that goes up to 93% for the scientific community and 97% in the case of healthcare professionals.

Another part of the success of the COVID-19 strategy has been the use of simple and concise messages through different channels. This has further evidenced the need for using plain language when addressing the population. Behavioural communication campaigns have played an important role in facilitating the enforcement of regulations by nudging or instructing wide segments of the population to comply with the required measures. The pandemic has evidenced the importance of effective communication for helping to reach specific segments of the population and facilitating dialogue with citizens to ensure that policies and services are adapted to their needs and respond to their expectations (OECD, 2020[49]).

There are also differences in how and where people access information about public issues, as well as the motivations leading to the use of certain communication channels instead of others. Information is key in shaping attitudes and feelings towards public institutions and could therefore influence trust levels. Finland has a strong and long tradition of non-partisan independent legacy media and high levels of trust in journalism. According to the Gallup World Poll, in 2020, 95% of the Finnish population considered the media to have a lot of freedom, a figure that has remained practically unchanged over the past decade. However, new digital technologies and an increased level of connectedness have allowed alternative sources of information through social media to spur. While on the one hand this contributes to the dissemination of information, it also renders it difficult to ensure the quality and accuracy of the sources consulted. Adapting communication based on government’s knowledge of audiences, the audience’s preferred means of receiving government information, as well as their fears, concerns and expectations, is fundamental. The use of audience insights could be key in helping to communicate complex information (OECD, 2020[49]).

During the interviews conducted for this study, several interviewees mentioned that social media misinformation and disinformation could be leading to distrust towards public institutions by some segments of the Finnish population. Recent research about the consumption of Finnish populist counter-media defines user as belonging to three different profiles: 1) system sceptics, expressing all societal distrust; 2) agenda critics, who expressed politicised criticism towards media representation of selected themes; and 3) casually discontent, searching occasionally for alternative information and entertainment (Noppari, Hitlunen and Ahva, 2019[50]). More importantly, it finds that consumption of popular counter-media content is not driven by difficulties distinguishing the nature of content, but rather by an affective and conscious choice to engage with this content even when this represents unfounded and extreme views (Noppari, Hitlunen and Ahva, 2019[50]).

The April wave of the Pulse Survey included a question on the information sources people regularly used to inform themselves about COVID-19. As seen in Figure 1.11, older cohorts relied comparatively more on television and radio. In turn, about 60% of those aged 15-29 reported getting their information from friends and acquaintances, which is significantly higher than for other cohorts. Similarly, about 16% of those belonging to the youngest cohort reported finding information on online discussion forums, more than twice as many as for the group aged 30-44. This is consistent with trends identified in other OECD countries and highlights the need of working to develop compelling content and deliver it to users through their preferred channels (OECD, 2020[48]).


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← 1. In 1945, turnout to parliamentary elections was 75%, reaching a peak of 85.1% in 1962. A clear downward trend can be observed from the mid-1980s, reaching its lowest point in 2007 when only 65% of the eligible population casted a ballot. While for recent elections there has been a slight recovery, reaching 68.7% in 2019, this is still below initial levels.

← 2. This argument is coherent with the evolution of the productive structure of the Finnish economy since the 1960s when a “tertialisation” of the Finnish economy started, which has led the number of white collar service class workers to increase steadily.

← 3. Kestilä-Kekkonen and Söderlund (2016[67]) distinguish between the diffuse and specific forms of institutional trust. The latter relates to what an institution does (how the individual in question judges its operation and performance) while the former reflects what the institution is, i.e. its conformity with the values and beliefs of the individual and its place in society.

← 4. Other authors have also used the concept of diffuse vs. specific institutional trust. Specific institutional trust relates to what an institution does, and is thus related to the dimension of competence. Diffuse institutional trust, in turn, reflects what the institution is, i.e. its conformity with the values and beliefs of the individual and its place in society, and relates therefore more to the dimension of values in the OECD framework (Lehtonen and De Carlo, 2019[54]; Kestilä-Kekkonen and Söderlund, 2016[67]).

← 5. The differentiation between trust and confidence found in the English language is not common to most languages. Theoretically, the literature on trust in institutions suggested that confidence and trust tap into slightly different concepts. Trust is something one does and is more concrete, whereas confidence is something one has and is more abstract. However, the experiment found no clear-cut evidence that this distinction is mirrored in how respondents actually respond to questions. Such a distinction does not exist in Finnish, where only the term luottamus exists.

← 6. The countries fielded through the Trustlab experiement are: France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

← 7. A “rallying around the flag” effect is an observed increase in trust during sudden crises (e.g. natural disasters, terrorist attacks, epidemics) in which citizens align behind leaders and pay less attention to other policy issues for a brief period of time.

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