The project examines recent attempts to promote trust-based management within municipal welfare services in Norway and Denmark. In public debates, "trust reforms" are often portrayed as means towards replacing excessive control measures within public organizations with trust-based management based on professional freedom, flexibility and co-determination.
A central ambition of the project is to develop a coherent understanding of how control and trust-based management within public services relate to trust between welfare professionals and to the citizens´ trust in public welfare services. Might, for example, lessened bureaucratic control and more professional freedom lead to better experiences for users that in turn might increase trust? Or are comprehensive control mechanisms and performance measurement a prerequisite for citizens trust in public services, as, for example, the advocates of the New Public Management reform movement have argued?
The first part of the project consists of a mapping of different initiatives undertaken to promote trust-based management in the two countries. Our initial interviews with key stakeholders promoting trust reforms on a national level, and with actors working with implementing such reforms in municipalities, reveal a large variety in reform types currently being implemented. To further map the prevalence of different reforms, we will conduct nationwide surveys in Denmark and Norway.
In the second part of the project, a selection of these reforms will be more closely examined to understand, among other things, how such reforms affect the work of welfare professionals and collaboration on the local level. The final part of the project focuses on the relation between municipal welfare services and the local communities they are a part of and examines the different ways trust between welfare professionals and citizens is enhanced or undermined.
The project will contribute to a better understanding of how trust in public institutions is enhanced or undermined through different ways of organizing and managing welfare services and, thus, provide public decision-makers with novel knowledge about reform options and possible consequences. Results from the project are disseminated through academic publications and through presentations, media articles and seminars aimed at decision-makers and practitioners in the municipalities.
Publications from the project:
Bentzen, Tina Ø. 2021. "Breaking the Vicious Circle of Escalating Control: Connecting Politicians and Public Employees through Stewardship" Administrative Sciences 11, no. 3: 63. https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci11030063
In the wake of New Public Management reforms, the role of trust in the public institutions of the Nordic welfare state has been politicized and entered the public debate in a previously unprecedented form. The proposed study is designed to map and investigate how this new political interest in trust is currently being translated into political, administrative and professional practices within municipal welfare services in Norway and Denmark. The ambition of the study, however, goes beyond investigating how new ideas and developments within public management affect the work and output of public organizations. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach linking different theoretical approaches to the role of trust in public institutions, the project is designed to gain an understanding of the mechanisms that underpin vertical trust relations within public organizations and examine how these relate to horizontal trust relations, both between welfare professionals and between welfare professionals and citizens.
The proposed studied therefore aims to develop policy-relevant knowledge of how trust is reproduced by public welfare institutions and in the everyday work of welfare professionals, while also addressing major developments that may have an impact on the reproduction of trust. The project is organized through four different work-packages, each utilizing different methods and theoretical approaches towards fulfilling the primary objectives of the study. The main research objectives of the study are to:
• Identify and explore the emergence reforms aimed at enhancing trust in public organizations.
• Identify and explore the mechanisms relating vertical trust within public organizations to horizontal trust between welfare professionals, and between welfare professionals and citizens.