Screen capture of the program’s panelists

Trust is one of the foundations upon which the legitimacy of public institutions is built and is crucial for maintaining social cohesion. Lack of trust compromises the willingness of citizens to respond to public policies and contribute to sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19. And in the fifth installment of the World Bank’s Disruptive Debates, conducted last 29 September 2021 via Zoom, the question of citizens’ trust in general and its possible effects on government productivity were raised in the discussions on the theme of the Future of Government.

To begin with the discussion, Raj Kumar, President & Editor-in-Chief of Devex elaborated that trust has been the frequent issue arising during the Disruptive Debate series and to retort that issue, panelists will address that during the forum discussion.

How will the citizen’s trust in the government be affected?

A screen capture of all the speakers and the host in the middle of a discussion

Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa, a civil society group, shared that governments should respond to two fundamental questions that are always being asked by their citizens. The first asks whether governments have the best interest of their constituents at heart—“does the government really care about me, or are they more interested in staying in power?” The second inquiries into the capacity of the government to deliver services that benefit their citizens—“does the government have the competence to make good on your good intentions?”

Eyakuze also shared other considerations previously raised by Tim Besley of the London School of Economics and Political Science, particularly that there are three capacity components. First is fiscal capacity, which pertains to the ability to raise the necessary resources. Second is legal capacity, which is simply the legal ability to perform. He then framed the third not as a concept but as a question: “do you have the ability to provide citizens with what they need and when they need them?”

Discussing how distrust can lead to corruption, Michael Muthukrishna, an Associate Professor of Economic Psychology and STICERD Developmental Economics Group  Affiliate at London School of Economics identified the role of the dynamics of smaller social units in feeding back into even greater distrust for government. He shared that when trust in the national government fails, that’s when citizens fall back on family, friends, ethnic groups, religious communities, and even local government. This tendency results in the necessity of relying on trading favours with friends and family, effectively creating a kind of vicious loop from which a corrupt society emerges.

Jamie Boyd, National Digital Government Leader and Partner of Deloitte Canada, then shared how trust is reinforced by making citizens aware of what the government is doing. She mentions that trust has changed in the internet age and with it the context for government serving the people has as well. Trust can be cultivated through digital services and it can even be a facilitator of access to government services. For instance, Canadians can use video calls or FaceTime with government officials to validate their identity. Even in such a mediated interaction, the presence of a human element can reinforce citizens’ trust—that there is an actual person behind the management of citizens’ data, and that, ultimately, the government exists to serve people. She also points out that the digital age we are living in has brought us an unprecedented suite of tools for providing trustworthy services while maintaining transparency and accountability from the government.

How can the government rebuild citizens’ trust?

Screen capture of poll results from webinar attendees

Results from a poll conducted during the forum showed that most of the attendees trust their local government more than their national and regional governments. When asked how trust in the national government could be rebuilt, most respondents cited the need to deliver quality services. 

In response to the poll results, Sonia Cooper, a member of the Ipswich City Council in Queensland, Australia, shared that it is not surprising that citizens trust their local governments more as citizens’ engagements with the government are often through the initiatives of their local government rather than any other body of government. Local government activities tend to be more stable and easier to sustain because citizens tend to trust people they know and interact with regularly, and local government has control over citizen interaction in a way that the national government does not.

Times of crisis have emphasized the importance of the role of the public sector. Public sector employment and compensation are two fundamental government production functions that determine overall public sector productivity and service. With the government employing the majority of the workforce in most economies, it shapes the country’s fiscal sustainability, productivity, and labor market policies and standards.  

Quality data are most useful to evaluate the performance of the public sector and formulate evidence-based reforms.  On September 30, 2021, the World Bank launched the Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicators (WWBI) that covers 53 million high-quality microdata, 192 indicators, across 202 countries on demographic, size, compensation, and wage bill of the public sector to aid policy-making. Senior Public Sector Specialist of the World Bank, Mr. Zahid Hasnain, described the WWBI, its findings and potential applications. One of the WWBI findings across the globe determining that the public sector is the largest employer for most countries, especially for essential workers. He also shared how public sector workers have an average wage premium of 7.3% more than similar formal private-sector workers, however, this varies across gender, educational attainment, occupation, and industry. The public sector employs more women than the private sector with a concentration in select industries such as healthcare, education, and public administration. Women are also generally provided a higher wage premium in the public sector. This reflects a more gender-inclusive environment for women in the government although there is still a long way to go.

During the launch, Mari E. Pangetsu, World Bank Managing Director for Development Policy and Partnerships, expressed her excitement over the first unique cross-national dataset developed by World Bank Bureaucracy Lab to better understand the footprint of the public sector workforce. 

Senior Vice President Magdalena L. Mendoza of the Development Academy of the Philippines applauded the WWBI for providing an impressive wealth of analytics to better understand public sector employment and compensation. This database of indicators enables productivity assessment using the WWBI proxy indicators to create data-driven policies and reforms in the civil service. She expounded how information on the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes of public servants can enable the government to understand internal and external motivations for work discipline so that it develops a more effective incentives system and more responsive civil service reforms to improve performance and maximize productivity. According to SVP Mendoza, the Philippine civil service has gone through reforms such as rationalization, salary standardization, result-based performance management, performance-based incentives, and the dataset may be useful to evaluate if these reforms have resulted in productivity gains.  

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Other members of the panel shared their ideas on the potential of the WWBI in its application, growth, and expansion relative to pursuing public sector productivity. Tim Besley, W. Arthur Lewis Professor of Development Economics at London School of Economics, raised the value of looking into the bureaucracy as a whole system and not just through pockets of excellence whereby integrating different components of civil service can make waves of influence through global best practices. He also suggested collecting granular personnel data over career lifetimes to identify determinants in career progression, but a fundamental step needed today is to first work on proper codification and standardization of data to support analysis.

Ghana Head of Civil Service, Nana Kwasi Agyekum Dwamena, relayed how they put up systems in place to improve monitoring of human resource data analytics to develop more data-informed reforms in the public administration. Adil Zainulbhai, Chair of the Capacity Building Commission and the Chairman of the Quality Council of India, described how they have developed an Integrated Government Online Training (iGOT) Platform to provide access to learning materials from over 700 training institutions to all levels of civil servants. He continued to share their pursuit for more innovative ways in delivering these capability-building solutions amidst the heterogeneity of its 30 million public servants. He brings light to using data on what level of capability people are in, what they need to learn, what are they interested in, and letting the ecosystem work together to achieve the goal.

SVP Mendoza raised the value of the WWBI in relation to the work of DAP as the Center of Excellence on Public Sector Productivity and look forward to collaborating with the Bureaucracy Lab. In closing, Indermit S. Gill, Vice President of World Bank Equitable Growth and Finance Institutions, expressed gratitude to the Bureaucracy Lab team that has worked hard in the extensive process of data collection and its emphasis on delivering it through a transparent process. He thanked all speakers, panel members, and the audience for their active participation in the launch and looks forward to putting these datasets into the application for more innovative and responsive civil service reforms.