In a crisis, choices about who to trust or distrust could make a difference between life and death. Trust is necessary for cooperation, coordination, social order and to reduce the need for coercive state imposition.
During a pandemic, people need to trust:
An article in Policy Design and Practice discusses the dynamics of trust in the context of COVID-19 and policymaking.
Trust describes a belief in the reliability of other people, organisations or processes. It is necessary for cooperation which helps people coordinate action without the need for imposition. It helps reduce uncertainty in a complex world. It facilitates social order and cohesiveness. It has a strong impact on policy design, ownership and policy outcomes.
One dimension of trust is reliability which relates to the perceived qualities of an actor, such as:
This perception facilitates behaviour essential to policymaking. Actors rely on others to address:
Trust development can occur at three levels:
People rely on cognitive biases to make choices. In a process of mutual trust development, actors draw on their own:
They also demonstrate trustworthiness by developing a reputation for integrity, credibility and/or competence.
Key factors for mutual trust development include:
Repeated exchange is often key to developing trust based on a perception of competence and reliability. However, people also have to trust people they do not know which may prompt them to rely on shared expectations, interests, values or beliefs.
In either case, formal and well-understood rules help produce predictable behaviour. Informal rules and norms can also reflect the ways in which people signal to each other their credibility and reliability during repeated interactions.
People recognise their interdependence and their need to cooperate without knowing what will happen. A focus on societal interdependence resembles the study of complex systems which cannot be simply reduced into individual action. As a collective attribute, trust is applicable to the relations among people.
The article discusses three aspects of COVID-19 policy that highlight the potential gulf between trust as a requirement of political systems and distrust as an obstacle to political action.
To what extent do:
In each case, trust development processes can enable evidence-informed policy design and compliance with government policy. Alternatively distrust can prompt some policymakers or citizens to ignore expert advice and government guidance.
The table below outlines the dynamics of trust as applied to evidence and experts, citizens, and governments.
The article examines the role of trust in how the US and the UK tackled COVID-19. It found:
The importance of trust and distrust is universal and an essential part of any story of COVID-19 policy design and outcomes. Trust in government leaders is necessary for well-supported action. This fostered by:
COVID-19: effective policymaking depends on trust in experts, politicians, and the public - Paul Cairney & Adam Wellstead, Policy Design and Practice, Volume 4, 2021
Each fortnight The Bridge summarises a recent piece of academic research of relevance to public sector managers.
SIGN UP FOR THE BRIDGE
Recent Research Briefs include: