Focusing on the drivers of trust

Institutional economics has shown the important influence of high quality public institutions in achieving economic growth and managing inequality (Rodrik, 2002, 2003). Other studies largely confirm that state capacity and quality of government have strong, positive effects on almost all standard measures of human well-being, as well as measures of social trust and political legitimacy (Rothstein, 2012). In this regard, it could be argued that how power is exercised (what takes place at the output side of the political system) is equally if not more important than how access to power is organised (Rothstein, 2013). The idea that good governance generates trust by promoting fair processes and fair outcomes is an important concept in recent research.

Attempts to identify the core drivers of trust (how to gain trust or retain it) have featured trust as contingent on the congruence between citizens’ (and businesses’) expectations (their interpretation of what is right and fair and what is unfair) and the perceived and/or actual functioning of public institutions (Bouckaert and van de Walle, 2003). Numerous authors draw a broad distinction between “trust in competence” - the ability of institutions to do their job - and “trust in intentions” - the propensity of institutions to do what is right (for example Choi and Kim, 2012). Despite the complexity of the subject and variety of approaches, we can find consistency across the literature on trust in at least two key respects. First, the literature highlights two different but complementary components that matter in understanding and analysing trust: i) competence or operational efficiency, capacity and good judgement to actually deliver on a given mandate; and ii) values, or the underlying intentions and principles that guide actions and behaviours. 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.

Building on the above, this report proposes an analytical approach to citizen’s trust in public institutions, facilitating measurement efforts (based on both experience and expectations) and policy attempts to influence trust. The first step is to deconstruct trust into two key components, competence and values, closely following the broad distinction reflected in the literature between the actual outcome of an action and the intention that guided it. The second step is to identify for each component relevant dimensions that could make it amenable to policy change: responsiveness, reliability, integrity, openness and fairness.

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