Researchers: Trust-based governance will not solve the problems facing the welfare sector

Trust-based governance has been introduced in several Swedish municipalities and regions. However, trust is not something that can be mandated from above, according to six researchers in the fields of work science and business administration in a new SNS report.

Reliable Control and Organization of Welfare. English summary 65.4 KB PDF

Trust-based governance has in recent years aroused a great deal of interest in the public sector. This model originates from the Swedish Trust Commission, which was appointed by the government in 2016, and concerns less governance from above and more room for maneuver for employees. The hope was that this would improve conditions in the welfare sector for both citizens and employees. But as promising as it may sound, trust does not work as a governance model in practice, according to six researchers in the SNS report Reliable Control and Organization of Welfare.

“Trust cannot be mandated in organizations but is something that must be created and earned. Long-term and sustained efforts are required in these organizations to address the problems facing the welfare sector,” says Lisa Björk, PhD in work science and editor of the report.

Together with her co-authors, she here launches an alternative approach in which trust does not constitute a means of governance but rather the goal of governance. They refer to this as reliable governance and organization. A key element is that upper management should be able to demand accountability for what has been achieved in the organization. The leadership style used should be present without being monitoring or authoritarian. There is also a great deal of emphasis on good communication, which also welcomes critical opinions, as well as on sustainable working conditions and increased organizational knowledge.

“Employees at all levels in the public sector must meet reasonable requirements and be able to influence their working situation. Unfortunately, this is currently not always the case. In particular in health care and care services, we see problems with high sickness rates, a high workload and a poor working environment. This is an important reason why there is a shortage of staff in many organizations. Here, we need to see reality for what it is and realize that it is difficult and demanding,” says Stefan Tengblad, professor of human resource management and editor of the report.

The researchers want to see reliable governance and organization in the welfare sector but emphasize that it is not a question of replacing one ideal model with another. Instead, they emphasize principles for a long-term process aimed at making welfare organizations better equipped to deal with existing problems. Governance should be based on the mission, the researchers argue, in which case trust is something that emerges gradually.

about the authors

Thomas Andersson is a professor of business administration at the University of Skövde.

Lisa Björk has a PhD in work science and works as a senior developer at Region Västra Götaland.

Björn Brorström is a professor emeritus and works at the Local Government Institute (Kommunforskning i Västsverige).

Lotta Dellve is a professor of work science at the University of Gothenburg.

Annika Härenstam is a professor emerita at the University of Gothenburg and works as a researcher at Stockholm University.

Stefan Tengblad is a professor of human resource management at the University of Gothenburg.