Public Trust in Government, Trust in E-Government, and Use of E-Government

Public Trust in Government, Trust in E-Government, and Use of E-Government

Shaun Goldfinch (Nottingham University Business School, United Kingdom)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch081


The author of this article examines aspects of trust in government generally, and its relationship to trust in e-government. Trust in government has been seen to have positive effects across a number of factors, including economic performance, social cohesion, and the sum of welfare. A specification of different levels of trust in government is outlined. What is the relationship between trust in government and trust in e-government? While there seems to be a relationship between the use of technology and e-government and trust and comfort in its use, recent studies have questioned a simple link between use of e-government and trust in government, and trust in e-government and trust in government generally. Somewhat conflicted findings across studies, however, suggests further research is needed.
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Trust In Government

Trust has received considerable attention across the social science literature, with higher levels of trust seen to be associated with better economic performance, social cohesion and avoidance of anomie, more effective government, and a greater sum or welfare. Trust is by no means a new notion in the social sciences and humanities - at least outside neoclassical economics with its strangely persistent assumptions of asocial ‘economic man’ - but perhaps it gained more recent attention in North America associated with the social capital research programmes of the 1980s and 1990s encouraged by writers such as political scientist Robert Putnam (1941-), and with a considerable body of work by sociologists, geographers, anthropologists and psychologists, and writings on the subject by the populariser Francis Fukuyama.

What is trust? It can be used rather loosely to mean a number of somewhat different relationships, so it is worth defining. Trust to some extent is based on the notion of what one might expect (or be confident) another actor will deliver and how they will behave, and a belief the actor will not systematically exploit one’s weaknesses. Within this broad definition given above we can see trust having various elements. Trust can be seen as ‘particularised trust’, which is the trust an individual has in others of like religion, race, or associational group – i.e. people who are known and/or are of one’s own kind. ‘Generalised trust’ is that trust an individual has that other agents can be trusted, even if they are unknown (Theiss-Moore and Hibbing 2005). This is particularly important for much online-trading, particularly such as e-bay or similar. The two are not of necessity linked – indeed an ‘in-group’ may share strong bonds, exhibit mutually supportive and selfless behaviour and high levels of trust towards other members of the in-group – but have low levels of trust, offer little support and be actively hostile to members of the out-group and the population at large.

Another type of trust is ‘trust in government’. In terms of government actions or behaviour, trust in government can encompass whether one expects a government will act more-or-less in one’s and/or the public’s interest; and/or more-or-less legally, legitimately and ethically; as well as perform its jobs adequately. A supporting belief is that this responsiveness continues even without constant scrutiny. As such, trust in government can be an indicator of a citizenship’s overall attitudes towards its political system.

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