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trust government

How do you build trust in government?

Remember when WikiLeaks uncovered how the United States spied on its own citizens and even wiretapped the phones of close allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Societal trust in government is a fragile thing. A government can do everything in its power to be transparent, accountable, and responsive for decades and one incident can tarnish its reputation for years to come, both internationally and with regard to its own population.

Add to that the fact, that trust is very hard to quantify and extremely subjective. If I’d ask you “Do you trust your government?” it could be that you voted for the opposition party and thus answer that you don’t trust the government. Alternatively, it could be that you look beyond party politics and reply “I trust the institutions which our government has at its disposal”. As you can see, trust in government is a really hard subject to study and I’d argue that there is still a lot of academic research to be done. Still, there are a few indicators that are reasonably well-documented – so let’s talk about them!

Trust in institutions merits more research…

As you can see, there are many different ways of asking questions about trust while the citizens’ answers are very hard to properly map. Still, this has not stopped organisations around the world from trying to measure trust in governments anyway – and I’m grateful that this is the case. One of the most laudable efforts was made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, better known as the OECD. They straight-up asked people in the OECD’s 37 member countries about their confidence in their own government.

Depending on your outlook on life, the results may be more or less unsurprising. The OECD average confidence in government lies at 45% which, given the political polarisation in many countries is not as terrible as it might seem. Wealthy and stable democracies such as Iceland occasionally rank low (at around 37%) while citizens that see their country as comparably corrupt can still show reasonably high levels of trust in government, such as Portugal (at around 56%). For the record, Estonia sits close to the OECD average at around 43%.

…the topic is relevant for e-Estonia as well…

Just a few months ago, the e-Residency team received the results of a survey in which Estonian residents would be asked about trust in e-government and knowledge about e-Residency as a service. While the findings about e-Residency are quite insightful, I’d like to focus on the general topic of trust in e-services.

In a nutshell, 82% of respondents said that they trusted the digital services provided by the Estonian government. This was complemented by 76% of survey participants who said that they felt proud of the fact that Estonia is known as one of the most digital societies in the world. Interestingly, both statements were shared across all age groups which also hints at the notion that Estonia has less of a digital divide than other countries. The question, of course, is: Why is the gap between the OECD’s and the e-Residency team’s surveys so big when it comes to trust?

…and that’s where you come in!

From where I stand, the short answer is this: Estonians can disagree on policies and distrust parties or individual politicians, but e-government services mean that the trust in the underlying structures remains strong. I would compare it to a justice and law enforcement system that might not always act the way you like it but whose integrity and objectivity you deem beyond reproach. And this makes quite a bit of sense – digital services are readily available for everyone in the country, the quality of service is the same for every person, and it’s really hard to bribe a computer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, does Estonia rank quite well in corruption rankings, always in the company of countries like Germany and Japan.

But I would argue that there is still a lot more work to do. Academic researchers should test whether there is any causality between e-services and perceptions of trust in its various shapes and forms. If I had the time, I would do my Ph.D. research on this topic. If you are an aspiring student and want to delve deeper into this area, feel free to shoot me an e-mail via florian.marcus@eas.ee

Stay curious! 🙂

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Today, e-governance and e-services have become a necessity in every country. e-Estonia Briefing Centre – the gateway to Estonian expertise in e-governance, invites you to connect with the Estonian IT companies directly responsible for the successful functioning of the e-state even during a pandemic. Get in touch with us to set up your custom virtual programme with the best partners you could get: business.e-estonia@eas.ee

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