As more and more public governance challenges are characterized by simultaneous high complexity and high value conflict, also called wicked problems, extant governance theories fall short. Trust is considered to be important for the legitimacy of government, democracy and public authorities. In the transition from government to governance, the role of trust has gained more prominence. In bureaucracy, trust is under studied. It is assumed that those performing public administrative roles will follow rules applicable to their role and thus may be trusted. In New Public Management, the underlying neoliberal theories assume people will maximize their self-interest with guile, which makes them worthy of distrust. The controls implemented in NPM are often institutionalized distrust, cf Power’s Audit Society. In New Public Governance (cf Osborne) relations are recognized as crucial and the central role of trust is acknowledged. But NPG is weak on conceptualizing process of trust building and repair in public collaborations, networks, service delivery and coproduction practices.
I identify three, related, conceptual confusions in how trust is conceptualized in the public administration/management, political science and regulation literatures:
- Trust is doing nothing, while in fact trust is hard work.
- Low trust equals distrust, in other words trust and distrust are two ends of one continuum. But trust and distrust are two distinct concepts. As Lindenberg (2000) said, you first need to take away distrust before can build trust. In particular large population surveys about trust tend to only measure and interpret low scores of trust as the presence of distrust. Both trust and distrust need information to be high; when you have no information about the trustworthiness of another party, you will tend to be relatively low on both trust and distrust.
- Trust and control are substitutes: when you trust, you refrain from control; and when you control, this signals distrust and therefore you do not trust. But research shows that trust and control can strengthen each other, when certain conditions are met. Thus trust and control can be complements.
PhD research projects
Silvan Hijlkema (Veiligheidsregio IJsselland), Community and safety in crisis: social capital and trust (start 2011); co-supervisor (supervisor Hans Boutellier, VU University).
Marianne van der Veen (Onderwijsinspectie, Education Inspectorate), The influence of stakeholders on school boards (start 2014), co-supervisor (supervisors Willem Trommel (VU University) and Inge de Wolf (Maastricht University)).
Publications on public governance
Van de Walle S. and F.E. Six (2014). ‘Active trust and active distrust as distinct concepts: A comparative approach to why studying distrust is important.’ Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis special issue on Corruption, Trust, the Public Sector and Public Policies, 16/2: 158-174.
Lawton, A. and F.E. Six (2011). ‘New public management: lessons from abroad’. In D.C. Menzel and H.L. White, The state of public administration: issues, challenges, and opportunities. New York: M.E. Sharpe, p. 409-423.