Citizen participation and public trust in Costa Rica

According to the UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report (UNDP, 2013), Costa Rica has the lowest percentage of citizen participation in civil society organisations in Latin America. In line with data of the Public Opinion Survey Project for Latin America (LAPOP, 2012), only 41.0 % of the population take part in organisations such as parents’ associations, village committees, professional associations, sports groups and parties or political movements. This sharply contrasts with the levels of engagement in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia, which range from 91.8 % to 75.9 % (UNDP, 2013). Table 4.1 presents levels of citizen participation in the LAC region.

Table 4.1. Levels of citizen participation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Countries with the highest levels of citizen participation





Dominican Republic






Countries with the lowest levels of citizen participation

Costa Rica










Source: BBC Mundo, “El pa^s con menor participation ciudadana de America Latina”, Nefer Munoz, america latina costa rica politica (accessed 28 October 2013).

The National Household Survey for Costa Rica 2013 finds that the largest number of people participate in co-operatives1 and solidarity associations2 (5.6% and 5.2%, respectively), while the percentage dips as low as 2.8% for unions and 2.0 % for community associations (INEC, 2013). The NDP 2015-18 also states that “in Costa Rica there is a predominance in the participation rates of men over that of women in almost all organisational forms” (MIDEPLAN, 2015). The exceptions are trade unions and community associations, in which a similar proportion of both sexes participate. The NDP also notes that levels of participation vary geographically: in the the Central region, the number of citizens participating in solidarity associations and trade unions is above the national average (6.0% and 5.2% respectively), while in peripheral regions cooperatives are the most common organisational form, especially in Brunca (9.1%), Huetar Norte 7.2% and Chorotega (4.6%) (MIDEPLAN, 2015).

As mentioned above, citizen participation is strongly related to trust in public institutions. Box 4.1 presents data on trust in public institutions in OECD and the LAC region.

Box 4.1. Trust in public institutions: OECD and LAC region

As is the case in a great number of OECD member countries all over the world, people in the region are increasingly losing their trust in public institutions and the political system. Levels of trust in government dropped from 53% to 40% between 2010 and 2014 (Gallup World Poll, n.d.), more than three times the average decline across OECD Members for the same period (45% to 40%). According to the 2015 Latinobarometro, government approval ratings across the 17 countries fell from 60% in 2009 to 47% in 2015. A decreased share of citizens call themselves politically “centrist” as opposed to “left wing” or “right wing”, with the percentage dropping from 42% in 2008 to 33% in 2015. More and more people in Latin America seem to be losing faith in civic institutions. In 2013, 42% trusted the government, whereas today only 34% indicated that they do. Latin American citizens have rated state bodies like the legislature, courts and political parties as their least trusted institutions ever since Latinobarometro started to collect public opinion data in 1995.

Source: OECD (2015a), Costa Rica: Good Governance, from Process to Results, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi .org/10.1787/9789264246997-en.

Levels of trust in government in Costa Rica have dropped from 53% to 40% in the past five years - more than five times as much as the average decline across OECD members for the same period (42.5% to 40%; Gallup World Poll, 2014). The Catholic church ranks as the most trusted institution (64.7%), while the political parties and the Legislative Assembly are the institutions with the lowest levels of confidence from the public (31.5% and 37.9% respectively) (Alfaro-Redondo and Seligson, 2012). Even though the country ranks better than other Latin American countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI), this perception has also worsened in the last few years (Transparency International, 2014). From 2010 to 2014, Costa Rica dropped six positions in the CPI (47th out of 175 countries in 2014).

Open government policies can be an important instrument to increase trust. A first step that the government of Costa Rica could take is to make a more direct and explicit link between the national OG policy and this goal.

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