UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Professor Jo Chataway leads review of trust in public institutions around COVID-19 policy

25 January 2021

Professor Joanna Chataway chaired a working group that produced a new report on Trust in Public Institutions as part of the UK Government Office of Science’s Rebuilding a Resilient Britain programme.

Parliament crop

Trust has emerged as a crucial factor in effective policy responses to the challenges posed by COVID-19, with the question of how to encourage and promote trust directly linked to the issue of trustworthiness. To help deepen our understanding of the different dimensions of trust and trustworthiness, and its influence on framing policy options and decision making, Professor Jo Chataway, Head of Department in UCL STEaPP, was selected to lead the work of a Trust in Public Institutions working group as part of the UK Government Office of Science’s Rebuilding a Resilient Britain programme.

The Rebuilding a Resilient Britain programme of work was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the government’s response to the crisis is informed by the best possible evidence and engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders. The programme brings together researchers, funding bodies and policy makers to identify evidence and uncover research gaps around cross-cutting Areas of Research Interest (ARI). These ARIs were divided into nine themes, which were addressed by nine Working Groups consisting of researchers, funding bodies and policy makers.

The report produced by the working group for Trust in Public Institutions identifies existing evidence, gaps in the evidence base, and seven key messages around the dynamics of trust and trustworthiness from the multiple perspectives of individuals, institutions and different social, cultural and economic groupings.

The seven key messages are:

  1. Changing behaviours and attitudes towards the government and COVID-19, and role of the media and scientific community in influencing these.
  2. Supporting trust in public institutions and professional and scientific advice at a time of crisis, including attitudes and behaviours towards professionals and how public trust in democratic, religious, and social institutions is evolving in different countries and communities.
  3. How will fear of pandemic resurgence affect the willingness of publics to accept greater surveillance?
  4. Importance and prevention of cybercrime and misinformation.
  5. Importance of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor and a strong science system to produce and deliver robust evidence.
  6. Improved knowledge management systems.
  7. How can government priorities be influenced by the evidence of the effects of different policies on the wellbeing of the people?

Additionally, Professor Graeme Reid, Honorary Professor in UCL STEaPP, chaired the working group on Supporting Lower Carbon Local Economies. The report published by this working group focuses on the relationship between economic development and the global environment. This includes the opportunity to develop a post-COVID society that can help meet key challenges around net-zero, levelling up, and a more equal society without dampening opportunities for talented and energetic people.

The full reports from the Areas of Research Interest and the Rebuilding a Resilient Britain project can be downloaded from the Universities Policy Engagement Network website