Should we focus on policy processes or outcomes to build trust in institutions?

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Should we focus on policy processes or outcomes to build trust in institutions?

Editor's note: This blog is the third in a series of three in which we introduce the concept of trust and how to measure it, present interesting facts from Morocco, and address the critical question of how to build trust. The findings are taken from a recently published report and the data is publicly available. Click here for the first blog and second blogs.

In the first two blogs of this series, we discussed the importance of trust for development and shared findings from our 6,000-response survey in Morocco. This blog aims to address a key topic for development practitioners and policymakers: how to build trust.

Based on the literature, trust can either be based on repeated positive results (outcome-based trust) or perceptions of a fair and transparent process (process-based trust). Outcome-based trust stems from perceptions of the outcomes of public action and the capacity of state institutions to deliver results –economic policy results or better public services. Process-based trust is determined by citizens’ satisfaction with the quality of public processes. It includes citizens’ perceptions of the transparency of information and decision-making, citizen engagement level in the decision-making process, and the fairness of policies and service delivery.

The survey data offers a cross-sectional snapshot of trust in Morocco. While it includes a large number of respondents and is quite detailed, our capability to establish causal links between variables is limited because causality links could be established through experiments and quasi-experiments. Despite these limitations, the three main findings below are robust and consistent with experimental results from the literature.

1. Policy performance matters for trust. Satisfaction with public service delivery and economic performance are correlated with trust in institutions. Individuals who are very satisfied with education services are more likely to trust institutions than those who are not satisfied at all by up to 13 percentage points (i.e., 63.2 percent of individuals who are very satisfied report trusting executive institutions vs. 50.2 percent of individuals who are not satisfied at all). Similarly, individuals who are very satisfied with the government’s efforts at reducing poverty are more likely to report trusting institutions by up to eight percentage points (52.3 percent to 60.4 percent).


Satisfaction with public education and institutional trust image.JPG


Data source: World Bank survey on trust (2021)

2. Positive interactions between citizens and public officials are associated with higher trust. Individuals who report being satisfied with the quality of administrative procedures are more likely to have higher institutional trust than those who are dissatisfied (up to 14 percentage points). On the other hand, Individuals who have had to rely on an intermediary to facilitate administrative procedures have substantially lower levels of trust in institutions (-9 percentage points) than those who did not rely on an intermediary.

3. The credibility and integrity of public institutions appear to matter more than their performance. Put differently, satisfaction with the quality of public processes yields a higher trust dividend than satisfaction with policy outcomes. Individuals who believe that policy announcements are often or always followed by actions are more likely to trust public institutions by up to 17.5 percentage points compared to those who do not believe policy announcements. Integrity is also key. Individuals who believe that gifts, bribes, and favors are always or sometimes necessary to obtain better treatment from the public administration are substantially less likely to trust institutions by over 15 percentage points. Similarly, policy efforts to enhance public integrity have a positive payoff: individuals satisfied with policy efforts to curb corruption are up to 14 percentage points more likely to trust the government.

policy credibility and institutional trust and corruption fight image.JPG


Data source: World Bank survey on trust (2021)

So, what do these findings tell us?

While the presented findings indicate the high payoffs of policies building institutional trust, trust in institutions should not be confused with citizens’ blind acceptance. Citizens with a healthy dose of mistrust, or ‘skeptical trust,’ can mobilize to hold the government accountable. Given the importance of trust for development and the general well-being of people, more work and analysis remain to be done in this area.


Mathieu Cloutier

Senior Economist, Governance Global Practice

Abel Bove

Senior Governance Specialist

Diane Zovighian

Consultant, Governance Global Practice

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