Outcomes, process, and trust of civil servants

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The contemporary performance movement has tended to assume that a key to restoring public trust in civil servants lies in a focus on outcomes or results. But there is growing evidence from various fields that trust in people and institutions of authority often depends more on process (such as fairness and equity) than on outcomes. This finding that process matters in the formation of trust judgments appears across a wide range of settings (police, courts, work places), yet it has not been adequately recognized in the public administration literature and rhetoric on government performance - especially in an era of outcomes-based, results-driven government. Using data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), the World Bank Governance Indicators, and the UN Human Development Index, this article empirically examines the relative influence of process versus outcomes on the perceived trustworthiness of civil servants. Individual-level structural equation models are tested for the United States as well as all 33 countries in the ISSP. Country-level path models are tested using both World Bank/UN indicators and aggregated ISSP survey data. Results show that process has a consistently large effect on trust of civil servants, in some models several times larger than the effect of outcomes on trust. Although it has methodological limitations, this study should at least encourage more theoretical and empirical attention to government process, and not just outcomes, as a factor in explaining citizens' trust of civil servants. The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Inc. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com2011

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)745-760
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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