Panel 5: Trust in Public Administration

Chaired by: prof. dr. Geert Bouckaert (KU Leuven), prof. dr. Steven van de Walle (EUR) & dr. Frédérique Six (VU), &

Theme: Trust in Public Administration

The balance between trust and distrust is shifting – yet again. The move towards public sector reforms inspired by the New Public Management (NPM) from the 1980s on introduced a series of innovations that might be argued to be based on mutual distrust between public sector actors (Van de Walle, 2010). NPM-style reforms created a situation where trust was regarded as naïve, highlighting its dysfunctional aspects. More recently, trust has been rediscovered as a functional phenomenon facilitating interactions, reducing transaction costs, and creating innovation. At the same time, public distrust towards government and public administration has remained solidly on the agenda.

Trust can be considered as a feature of relationships of individuals, of organisations and of institutions that affects their interactions in a supporting way. According to Coulson, ‘trust describes a relationship which can be between two or more individuals, between individuals and an organisation, or between several organisations’ (Coulson, 1998, p. 31). Since there are many relationships in many directions, it is necessary to reduce the complexity and cluster these relationships. Bouckaert (2012) distinguishes between three clusters:

• Trust of citizens and organisations in government and the public sector (T1);

• Trust of government and the public sector in citizens and organisations (T2);

• Inter‐organisational and inter-personal trust within government and the public sector (T3).

T1: Trust of citizens and organisations in government and the public sector

In public administration we have seen a sharp increase in attention for the public’s perception of government, and trust more in particular. Such research ranges from country studies (Christensen & Laegreid, 2005; Marlowe, 2004), over multivariate explanatory models relating trust to a number of government processes and outputs (Van Ryzin, 2011; Vigoda-Gadot, 2007), to more sophisticated multi-country analyses of trust, looking at country-level explanations for differences in trust (Kim, 2010; Van de Walle, 2007; Vigoda-Gadot, Shoham, & Vashdi, 2010). In this trust relation between citizens and government, it has often been assumed that outputs matter and that distrust results from low government performance. Research has however shown that the process by which services are being delivered or policies are being implemented is at least as important. Trust is thus at least as much influenced by procedural justice as it is by outputs (Van Ryzin, 2011).

T2: Trust of government and the public sector in citizens and organisations

While citizens’ trust in government has received a lot of attention, the opposite relation has been researched only marginally (Wu & Yang, 2011). Yang, therefore, described it as a missing link in research (Yang, 2005). Expressions of civil servants’ distrust appear dominant and are visible in officials’ unwillingness to involve citizens in decision-making, in their unwillingness to take their views seriously (Yang & Holzer, 2006), or in an overall relatively sceptical attitude toward citizens (Aberbach & Rockman, 1978). The reason for such distrust can be multifaceted, ranging from negative prior experience, over a belief that citizens aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable to play a role, to a conviction that citizens have profound negative intentions when interacting with government. Officials’ distrust in citizens may evoke a reciprocal reaction, leading to mutually reinforcing dynamics.

The topic of administrators’ trust in citizens has become very relevant in an age when governments want to reduce red tape and control- and inspection-related burdens. Innovations such as labelling or self-regulation require a great deal of trust in citizens’ and companies’ willingness to follow the law. Replacing extensive control systems by trust-based arrangements requires a total change in officials’ thinking, and may prove to be very hard without a better understanding of administrator’s trust in society. Or is the assumption that trust and control are substitutes outdated (Six, 2013)?

T3: Trust within government and the public sector

Some scholars argue that recently, we have seen a move towards trust-based management and steering concepts in public administration (see e.g., Choudhury, 2008). This is visible throughout the public sector (Bouckaert, 2012), and comes at a moment when the public sector is moving yet further away from traditional bureaucracy to governance arrangements (Grey & Garsten, 2001). Misztal (1996) has argued that the additional complexity associated with these arrangements necessitates increased attention for trust as a governance mechanism. It can therefore be argued that the increasing attention for trust-based management in public administration is motivated in part by the search for pragmatic and efficient solutions to cope with the increasing complexity of contemporary society, and in part by the unsatisfactory results of incentive-based (NPM) instruments, which might be argued to enforce attitudes of distrust within government (Bouckaert and Oomsels, 2012).

Trust between actors in collaborative arrangements has been associated with a long list of virtues, such as better performance (Klijn, Edelenbos, & Steijn, 2010), lower transaction and control costs (Fukuyama, 1995), better compliance (Davies et al. 2011), better and easier conflict resolution (Das & Teng, 1998) and more exchange of information and knowledge (Beccerra, Lunnan, and Huemer 2008). In the particular case of Flanders, Buttiens and Verhoest (2011) have argued that inter- organisational trust was a central factor for the success or failure of different government-wide coordination initiatives.

Link to NIG sub-themes

As the following table shows, this theme cross-cuts the four sub-themes of the NIG conference. The following table illustrates the scope of this panel using a number of examples, without the intention of being limitative.


T1: Societal trust in government

T2: Civil servant’s trust in society

T3: Interorganisational and interpersonal trust within government

Multi-level governance and Europe

Citizen (dis)trust in different levels of government

Different levels of government’s (dis)trust in citizens

(Dis)trust between public sector organisations at different levels of government

Multi-actor governance and complexity

Societal actor’s (dis)trust in public actors in collaborative multi-actor arrangements such as public-private partnerships or participatory policy processes

Civil servants’ (dis)trust in societal actors in collaborative multi-actor arrangements such as public-private partnerships or participatory policy processes

Dis)trust between public actors in collaborative arrangements, cross- sector policies or horizontal governance

Political institutions and democracy

Institutional sources of citizen’s (dis)trust in government

Institutional sources of government’s (dis)trust in citizens

Institutional sources of interorganisational (dis)trust in government

Public management

Public management strategies aimed at increasing societal actors’ (dis)trust in government

(e.g. the effect of openness of

information policies on societal trust in government).

Public management strategies aimed at increasing civil servants’ (dis)trust in societal actors (e.g. codes of conduct for civil servants, the impact of performance management on civil servants trust in societal actors)

Managerial strategies aimed at optimising interpersonal or interorganisational (dis)trust in public administration (e.g. leadership, interpersonal communication, etc.)

This panel welcomes conceptual, theoretical and empirical contributions employing quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method methods that study T1, T2 or T3 trust in relation to the four sub-themes of NIG. Papers in English are strongly preferred.


Presented papers may be considered for a special issue of the International review of Administrative Sciences and the Journal of Trust Research, of which are edited by the organisers. The colloquium will also propose a special issue of a Dutch language journal (Bestuurskunde or VTOM), and work towards a joint book in its 3-year operational activities.Contact

Peter Oomsels

KU Leuven Public Management Institute Parkstraat 45 bus 3609, 3000 Leuven - Belgium T: 003216.323273

Email list:

To subscribe to the email list, send an empty email with subject “subscribe NIG TrustinPA” to



Aberbach, J. D., & Rockman, B. A. (1978). Administrators' beliefs about the role of the public: The case of American Federal executives. Political Research Quarterly, 31(4), 502-522.

Beccerra, M., Lunnan, R., and Huemer, L. (2008). Trustworthiness, risk, and the transfer of tacit and explicit knowledge between alliance partners. Journal of Management Studies, 45(4), 691-713.

Bouckaert, G. (2012). Trust and public administration. Administration, 60(1), 91–115

Bouckaert, G. and Oomsels, P. (2012). Bestuurlijk vertrouwen binnen de overheid: een onderzoeksagenda, Vlaams Tijdschrift voor Overheidsmanagement (VTOM), 2012(1),17-26 Brugge: Die Keure / La Charte.

Choudhury, E. (2008). Trust in administration. Administration & Society, 40(6), 586-620.

Christensen, T., & Laegreid, P. (2005). Trust in government the relative importance of service satisfaction, political factors and demography. Public Performance and Management Review, 28(4), 487-511.

Coulson, A. (1998). Trust and contract in public sector management. In A. Coulson (Ed.), Trust and contracts: Relationships in local government, health and public services (pp. 9-34). Bristol: The Policy Press.

Das, T. K., & Teng, B. S. (1998). Between trust and control: Developing confidence in partner cooperation in alliances. The Academy of Management Review, 23(3), 491-512.

Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. New York: The Free Press.

Grey, C., & Garsten, C. (2001). Trust, control and post-bureaucracy. Organization Studies, 22(2), 229- 250.

Kim, S. (2010). Public trust in government in Japan and South Korea: Does the rise of critical citizens matter? Public Administration Review, 70(5), 801-810.

Klijn, E. H., Edelenbos, J., & Steijn, B. (2010). Trust in governance networks: Its impact and outcomes.

Administration and Society, 42(2), 193-221.

Marlowe, J. (2004). Part of the solution or cogs in the system? : The origins and consequences of trust in public administrators. Public Integrity, 6(2), 93-113.

Misztal, B. (1996). Trust in Modern Societies: The Search for the Bases of Social Order. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Six F.E. (2013). ‘Trust in regulatory relations: how new insights from trust research improve regulation theory’. Public Management Review, 15/2: 163-185

Van de Walle, S. (2007). Confidence in the civil service: An international comparison. In K. Schedler, &

I. Proeller (Eds.), Cultural aspects of public management reform (pp. 171-201). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Van de Walle, S. (2010). New public management: Restoring the public trust through creating distrust? In T. Christensen, & P. Laegreid (Eds.), Ashgate research companion to new public management. (pp. 309-320). Aldershot: Ashgate.

Van Ryzin, G. G. (2011). Outcomes, process, and trust of civil servants. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory,

Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2007). Citizens' perceptions of politics and ethics in public administration: A five- year national study of their relationship to satisfaction with services, trust in governance, and voice orientations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 17(2), 285.

Vigoda-Gadot, E., Shoham, A., & Vashdi, D. R. (2010). Bridging bureaucracy and democracy in Europe: A comparative study of perceived managerial excellence, satisfaction with public services, and trust in governance. European Union Politics, 11(2), 289.

Wu, J., & Yang, Y. (2011). Does public servants' trust in citizen raters really matter? evidence from mainland China. International Public Management Review, 12(1), 1-21.

Yang, K. (2005). Public administrators' trust in citizens: A missing link in citizen involvement efforts.

Public Administration Review, 65(3), 273-285.

Yang, K., & Holzer, M. (2006). The performance-trust link: Implications for performance measurement. Public Administration Review, 66(1), 114-126.