More efforts needed to build trust and the resilience of democratic systems


30/06/2023 - Democracies around the world have faced a series of crises in recent years, including Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and the global COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, they have remained effective, working at scale and speed. Stepping up efforts to build trust in government and enhance democratic resilience, will help them to continue to effectively address ongoing and emerging challenges, according to a new OECD report.


Government at a Glance 2023 says that citizens generally view their governments as reliable in times of crisis and are broadly satisfied with public services. But few people see their government as responsive to their needs and wants, and many say it falls short of their expectations on representation and participation. 


For example, on average only one third of people (33%) from the 22 countries surveyed by the OECD Survey on the Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions said it is likely that their government would adopt opinions expressed in a public consultation. And only 30% felt their country’s political system allowed them to have a say in what government does.  


In line with the OECD’s Reinforcing Democracy Initiative, the report lays out a series of recommendations for ways governments can build back trust and reinforce their democracies. High levels of trust facilitate effective governance, and can improve compliance with policies, participation in public life and social cohesion.


“Governments have shown remarkable resilience in the wake of shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, but they face new and ongoing pressures, such as Russia’s continuing war of aggression against Ukraine, political polarisation and disengagement, and mis- and disinformation,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said. “Enhancing the democratic participation and representation of our citizens,  reinforcing the ability of governments to prepare for and manage crises, and protecting against threats to our democratic values, can help build the resilience of democratic systems to withstand and overcome these challenges.”


New data in the report shows an increase in participatory innovations such as deliberative processes and the use of digital democratic platforms. These hold promise for greater inclusion in decision-making but more needs to be done. While in 2020, 27 of 29 OECD countries had a central office to support public institutions on consulting citizens and stakeholders, results show that participatory practices are still often implemented on an ad hoc basis. Governments should strive to improve representation in public decision-making, especially of traditionally underrepresented groups, as well as hold more systematic, inclusive and early consultations, according to the report.


For example, improving the representation of women and younger people in politics and public institutions helps ensure policies and services are more responsive. However in 2021, women held only 36% of ministerial positions on average in OECD countries and only 41% of senior management positions in the public sector in OECD-EU countries. Young people aged 20–39-years-old represented only 23% of parliamentarians in 2022.


The report also shows that many OECD countries lack full safeguards to prevent corruption in lobbying, political finance and conflict-of-interest situations. Lobbying is a particularly unregulated policy area in OECD countries. On average across 28 OECD countries, only 38% of standard regulatory safeguards on lobbying are in place, and only 33% are implemented in practice. Legislation and transparency need to catch up drastically to protect decision-making from undue influence.


Government at a Glance 2023 says that sound spending frameworks and budgetary institutions can help ensure spending is targeted towards resilience, while also safeguarding the fiscal space to cover unexpected shocks. For example, mechanisms like green budgeting can help align public spending to sustainability goals and the share of OECD countries adopting this practice has jumped sharply, from 40 to 67% in the past year. But green budgeting could have greater impact through better public monitoring and oversight.


The report, the eight edition of the OECD’s two-yearly overview of public governance, compares OECD and partner countries in areas such as public finance, employment, budgeting, digitalisation and public service delivery. The data can be used to benchmark governments’ performance, track national and international developments over time, and monitor governments’ progress in public sector reform.


For more information, journalists should contact Spencer Wilson in the OECD Media Office (tel. + 33 1 45 24 81 18).


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


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