Faith in the Future: Further action is needed to build greater trust in Finland

Cathedral on the Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland, 2 July 2020. Banner image: Shutterstock/Finn stock

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Finland is a country that enjoys high levels of trust. Trust indicators show a good average, but below the surface the picture is not quite so rosy. Trust in public institutions is lower outside the Greater Helsinki area; in terms of social groups, it is greatest among those with a higher level of education and a more positive future outlook. If these gaps in trust grow wider, Finland’s prospects of coping well with major challenges that lie ahead, such as climate change and the transformation of work, will diminish.

The Ministry of Finance commissioned the OECD to carry out a review of public trust in government in Finland. The aim of the review was to gain insights into the current state of trust and, in particular, to identify opportunities to improve it.

Read: "Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions in Finland" and visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub to browse hundreds of policy responses

OECD Governance on Twitter: "Strong public trust has been key to Finland's  successful response to #COVID19, but this #trust cannot be taken for  granted, it must be preserved & built on. New

Figures on trust provide an important source of information and help generate discussion, but this is not enough. We need information about why people do or do not trust government. Is government doing the right things? What should it do differently, or more of? What should it stop doing? Government should not simply observe trends in trust but also do its utmost to ensure that trust in government remains high. The job of government includes consolidating and building on the trust displayed by citizens, enhancing their safety and security and encouraging their faith in the future. This is particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to be so during the recovery.

As indicated by the OECD's framework for understanding and measuring trust, trust is affected by the values and principles guiding government actions, and by the ability of government to function effectively and produce services that people need. If we want to nurture trust, we must ensure that there are sufficient policies and rules in place to protect the public interest and reduce the risk of corruption. The treatment of individuals and businesses must be consistent and equitable, both in decision making and implementation. Information must be shared in a way that is accessible and usable for people. Government actions and plans must be transparent. A broad range of approaches must be used to engage with stakeholders. Public services must be accessible, efficient and user-oriented, and they must respond and adapt to people's needs and expectations. Government must also have the capacity to minimise economic, social and political uncertainty, and to act consistently and predictably when responding to such uncertainty.

Since, on average, trust is high in Finland, the aim must be to pinpoint the weaknesses that require particular attention and investment, as well as identify and maintain the aspects that people trust the most.

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The OECD review shows that the level of trust varies across the different institutions of government. The drivers involved vary as well. The report also reveals a “participation paradox”: trust in, and satisfaction with public institutions is high, but people’s confidence in their ability to influence the actions of these institutions is low.

The COVID-19 crisis has presented new challenges for government and trust around the world. The survey commissioned by Finland is a valuable addition to the international debate, and other countries can learn from its strengths and weaknesses. International co-operation is important for further developing measures of trust and building knowledge on the subject. The OECD Trust survey, to be fielded in other 19 OECD countries in the fall of 2021, will provide international benchmarks on what drives people’s trust in different countries, helping others to navigate the complexities of restoring confidence in institutions.  

Citizens’ trust in public institutions is important, but the trust of public institutions in the country’s citizens is perhaps even more so. Expanding the dialogue between different participants in society, and especially between government and citizens, is of paramount importance.

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Integrity  Trust  Reimagining Democracy 

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Katju Holkeri & Elsa Pilichowski

Head of Unit, Governance Policy Unit, Finnish Ministry of Finance; Director, Public Governance Directorate, OECD

Katju Holkeri is currently the Head of Unit for Governance Policy Unit in the Finnish Ministry of Finance. The unit’s responsibilities are open government, steering systems, trust, general governance policy, civil service legislation, ethics, leadership policy and leadership support, knowledge management and international co-operation in governance policy. Ms Holkeri is the current chair of the OECD’s Working Party on Open Government. She also served as the chair of the OECD Public Governance Committee from 2010 to 2012 and before that as a vice –chair for four years and again as a vice-chair from 2015 to 2019. Previous tasks include for example acting as vice chair for the programme and research advisory group of IIAS from 2009 to 2018.

Ms Elsa Pilichowski is the Director of the Directorate for Public Governance (GOV). Ms Pilichowski has more than 20 years’ experience dedicated to public governance in OECD and Partner countries. She joined the OECD in 2000, in the Public Governance Directorate where she worked until 2012, leading projects and teams on Agencies, Public Employment and various governance and indicator issues. Ms Pilichowski then moved to the OECD Global Relations Secretariat as deputy head of unit for the Eurasia region and in 2014 to the Office of the Secretary-General (OSG) where she was Advisor and then Counsellor to the Secretary-General on the strategic and corporate agenda of the OECD.  Prior to joining the OECD, Ms Pilichowski held positions of Research Assistant at the World Bank.