Trust-Based Governance in Denmark 

Udgivet: 31-08-2016 | Redigeret: 01-03-2019

“Trust-Based Governance” is an agreement from 2013 which has an ambition to increase the quality, efficiency and work environment in the public sector between the Government and the Employers and Employees Organizations. The purpose of the agreement is to promote trust-based governance, leadership and cooperation in the public sector through seven “principles for cooperation on modernization of the public sector between public politicians, employers and employees”.

Seven principles for cooperation on modernization

  1. Governance in the public sector must focus on goals and results
  2. Dialogue, openness and clearly defined goals must be the starting point for assignments
  3. Leadership and governance must be based on trust and responsibility
  4. Development and professional autonomy must be built on well-founded documentation
  5. The solving of tasks must be based on knowledge about what works
  6. Leadership and commitment will promote innovation
  7. Public service must include the citizens’ resources


Trust-Based Governance emerged from necessity
During the 2000s it became evident that governance in the public sector had developed into a wrong direction. 30 years of New Public Management (NPM) and a focus on market-based management, goals and results together with an increasing involvement of private companies had failed. Despite ambitions of decentralization and rule simplification the tasks were getting more and more micromanaged, and unnecessary procedures, control and requirements of documentation were continuously demanding more resources. This also prevented both leaders and employees from using their professional
skills and experience in their daily work.

Simultaneously growing pressure on the public sector increased the need to develop a new governance paradigm. There are growing expectations to the service level and more complex tasks that have to be solved with limited public resources. Trust-based governance, leadership and cooperation became an answer to the question of how to put the resources to better use.

Governance must give more space to the public employees’ professionalism and experience, and it must support their work with the core tasks. Unnecessary procedures and requirements of documentation that does not make sense for the employees must be abolished. A lot of resources can be acquired and there are opportunities to get much more value to the employees’ efforts.

Trust-Based Governance must be implemented on all levels
The new way of governing, demands that politicians, top executives, public officials, managers and employees participate in translating these principles into practical solutions in all parts of the welfare state. After decades of NPM it is clear, that all parties need to act differently.

The politicians’ reaction to single cases where mistakes have been made must not automatically lead to new rules for the entire field. Public officials must involve leaders and front line workers, when designing new management tools. With more involvement they will avoid implementing tools and procedures that are in conflict with the tasks on the ground and require unnecessarily many resources.
Leaders and employees must be able to challenge the rules, controls and requirements of documentation that do not work as intended.

This requires a change of culture from the top to the bottom – from ministers, authorities, regions, municipalities and administrations to the front line workers – and that all parties engage in dialogue in a new way. The tasks in the public sector are very diverse and require different kinds of management.

Some tasks, like the payout of pensions, are best solved through established procedures while others, like the efforts for helping the unemployed, must give the employee space for tailoring solutions that are optimal for the individual citizen. Similarly eviction of children requires much more comprehensive documentation than to lend out a book at the public library. The need for procedures, control and
documentation therefore vary between different sectors – and between different tasks.

The public employers and employees founded a Centre for Public Innovation which was given the task to gather good experiences and through different initiatives to spread these experiences across the public sector in order to inspire municipalities, regions and government authorities. This inspiration led to very different initiatives. Some politicians and leaders decided to put their main focus on creating
more meaningful management, others focused on strengthening trust, cooperation or innovation.

Department for Roads and Parks in the municipality of Bornholm went from managing processes to managing results. For instance the gardeners initially had to mow the lawns every Monday and Friday which was replaced by an obligation only to do it when the grass had reached a height of 7 cm. This gave the employees the opportunity to plan and coordinate independently and they had more time to carry out other tasks. The result: More tasks were solved and they were solved more efficient.

The Social Service Administration in the municipality of Copenhagen founded an “Opinion Gathering” in order to eliminate the tyranny of unnecessary procedures and documentation. Leaders and employees now have the opportunity to challenge procedures, rules and requirements of documentation that do not
make sense. All suggestions must be seriously considered. The result: More procedures and requirements of documentation are being completely abolished (like the registration of time) or have been changed in order to strengthen the actual purpose.

The Danish Prison and Probation Service are educating leaders and employee representatives to promote trust-based governance and cooperation. They are taught methods to help them develop working processes and solutions together. The first 8 institutions that completed the course found new and better solutions to 31 specific issues that make a difference every day – for instance a better distribution of difficult prisoners. The result: The solutions are reducing time waste, the resources are being used more effectively and the cooperation across professions and units on resocialization of citizens is strengthened.

At several hospitals an effort is being made to measure the results that make a difference for the patients. Earlier the hospitals were payed per activity, which gave incentives to focus on the activities rather than results. For instance when patients who need several ambulant treatments only get one offer per day or when patients are unnecessarily rehospitalized. The result: Patients experience higher quality and the periods of hospitalization and the rehospitalizations are reduced.

In several municipalities the Home Care have abolished the so-called “minute tyranny” where the administration decides in detail how many minutes going to the bathroom, washing feet and brushing teeth takes. Now the individual social- and health service helper speaks with the elderly about how to make best use of their time together. The result: The employees are happier and less stressed out, and the citizens are more satisfied with the service.


Actions for Trust-Based Governance
A new governance paradigm requires that all parts in the public sector engage in the promotion and developing of the governance in the public sector. And still it will take several years to put an end to bad habits and well-known patterns of action in developing and implementing governance. Norway and Sweden have also taken steps toward trust based management in the public sector, so it will be
possible to learn from each other’s experiences across borders.

For further information call Christina Borries, Organization of Public Employees, (+45) 26810467.

Islands Brygge 32D, 1.sal DK-2300 København S. / Tlf.: 33701300 / E-mail: / Sikker mail: