Work on Values When Shaping Public Institutions: “What’s Trust Got to Do with It?”—Experiences from Scandinavia

  • Benedicte Tveter KivleEmail author
Open Access


Values work appears in the shaping of structures as well as in the shaping of cultures in organisations. In this chapter, the author elaborates on mechanisms of values work, based on textual analysis of articles concerning trust and trust-based management in three Scandinavian popular scientific journals. The findings indicate that trust is ‘worked upon’ in the shaping of structures within public organisations, and not in an homogenous manner. Competing concerns for trust and distrust in public sector are manifestations of differences between institutional logics. The variety in understanding concerns related to trust in public institutions illustrates the ambiguity within values. Yet this ambiguity makes it possible for actors to agree on the importance of trust yet differ fundamentally on the understanding of what it means to structurally perform and strengthen trust.


Values work Trust-based leadership Public administration 


In this chapter, I elaborate on trust as a value in the public sector and how it is worked upon while structuring Scandinavian public organisations. Based on textual analysis of articles in three national popular scientific journals in the Scandinavian countries during the last decade (2007–2019), I propose patterns for values work in the shaping and reshaping of public structures.

Good governance, that is finding the best structures for public organisations, is constantly questioned and discussed by politicians, academics, bureaucrats, ‘think tanks’, labour unions and others who have an interest in this issue (Bozeman, 2007; Garofalo, 2011; Jørgensen & Sørensen, 2012). The understanding of values in this debate is important, because values and structures are intimately connected. Institutional theorists argue that (public) institutions are (public) organisations infused with values (Garofalo, 2011; Selznick, 1957; Van Deth & Scarbrough, 1998). But values are not only carried out or enacted by individual leaders or collective actors, as Selznick proposed more than 60 years ago (Scott, 1981; Selznick, 1957). They are also carried out through the choices done behind specific formal structures are materialised values, and the choices of formal rules, goals, the division of labour and the hierarchy of responsibility and power are (always) based on values (Kaarbø, 2017; Scott, 1981). Some values may be treated as ‘God-given’. For example, the value ‘efficiency’ or slogans like ‘more health for every penny’ might give the impression that cost-efficient structures are neutral and rational, when in fact, they are highly normative. Hence, values work is taking place within the shaping of formal structures and should be possible to detect. Values work in these shaping processes has to little degree been studied before. This is exactly what I do in my text analysis.

The Value of Trust in Public Institutions

With initiatives for trust-based management (TBM) in public organisations, the value of trust is explicitly promoted and materialised in management and structures (Nyhan, 2000). In Scandinavia, starting around 2005 in Denmark, TBM was introduced as a public governance model, with ‘trust’ as the first keyword, followed by ‘trust model’, ‘trust reform’ and ‘trust delegation’ (Bentzen, 2016; Kuvaas, 2017; Preisler, 2016). TBM in the public sector is an operationalisation of steering paradigms like new public governance and public values management (Garofalo, 2011; Ocasio, 2008), based on principles from these frameworks. After decades of heavy reliance on private market-inspired New Public Management (NPM) models and reforms, these alternatives to organising the public sector in Scandinavia have reached the arenas of political decision (Garofalo, 2011). In this way, trust-based initiatives both challenge existing dominant values and priorities and propose specific practical solutions.

Values are normative conceptions of the desirable, values are not directly observable, but are evident in moral discourse (Van Deth & Scarbrough, 1998). Values are materialised through practices, though they are often perceived as values only after a practice has been instituted (Aadland, 2010). Values are not constant entities. For example, love, respect and efficiency are desirable but are interpreted and expressed differently according to their contexts at any given time (Espedal, 2019). In this book, we explore how values are worked on within institutional contexts, claiming that values are deliberately ambiguous and that they must remain ambiguous to maintain their relevance across contextual settings.

Like any value, trust is ambiguous and complex (Khodyakov, 2007). Trust is both reflexive and intuitive, conceptualised as strategic, symbolic, relational and institutional (Aadland, 2010; Julsrud, 2018). It can generally be defined as ‘a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another’ (Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998). This psychological state of positive expectations is most often desired and valued. A general trust, also called horizontal trust, is a precondition to acting socially (Giddens, 1984). In fact, theorists will argue that it is not possible to act without relying on positive actions from the surroundings (Julsrud, 2018). Distrust and scepticism, on the other hand, are seen as an intention to accept no vulnerability, basing every action on negative expectations of the intentions or behaviour of others; this is something few would find desirable in its purest form. A balance between naïve expectancy and suspicion is often viewed as the most realistic approach to social settings (Giddens, 1984).

Trust in institutions is distinguished from interpersonal trust, although the two are closely linked (Fukuyama, 1995). Trust in public organisations involves holding positive expectations towards public systems (Bozeman, 2007). Trust within public organisations is also associated with positive interpersonal expectations of other actors within the structures. Hence, trust in the context of public organisations includes the development of trustworthy extra- and intra-organisational relationships (Khodyakov, 2007). This complexity is also found in the TBM models.

The public sector depends on trust to function optimally (Bozeman, 2007; Fukuyama, 1995). Values in public organisations are principles which must be followed or standards which must be met by public organisations while they regulate or produce services. The public ethos is a moral basis of values such as professional independence, accountability, transparency and security under the law. All these values are based on the assumptions that government is in pursuit of the public interest (Bozeman, 2007; Byrkjeflot & Engelstad, 2018; Jørgensen & Sørensen, 2012). Hence, public trust is connected to the people’s positive expectations of intentions or behaviour by public systems and the people representing these systems (Rousseau et al., 1998). However, which values that dominate in public institutions at any given time are changeable. This valuation is, rather, a dynamic movement among the architects, the stakeholders and the decision-makers within the public sector, placing more or less emphasis on values across time and space (Jørgensen & Sørensen, 2012).

According to research and international ratings, Scandinavian societies are among the most trusting societies in the world, due to historically stable rule (Andersen, 2018), well-functioning public institutions (Rothstein, 2013), high social capital and strong civil societies (Fukuyama, 1995; Putnam, 2001). When trust is reintroduced as a value in shaping public management (Nyhan, 2000), this occurs in an already trusting environment, though some stakeholders, as we shall see in the examined material, fear that trust is decreasing in the Scandinavian societies.

The Context: Models and Reforms on Trust in Scandinavia

The value of trust has been materialised through the implementation of TBM in different forms in all three Scandinavian countries during the last decade (Preisler, 2016; Trust-Delegation, 2018). Trust as a managerial value in governmental institutions was reintroduced as part of the solution for reshaping the public sector (Bentzen, 2016; Nyhan, 2000). Although local contexts may provide a variety of facets, certain overall characteristics characterise TBM.

TBM concerns both interpersonal trust among organisational actors and formal structures which can enable, or at least not counteract, trustworthy relationships. TBM aims at giving space to employees to take on the responsibility for and control over tasks in their own work situations (Nyhan, 2000). Following the principles of transformational leadership, rather than attempting to raise efficiency through control and incentives, the focus is on performance based on agreements and a high level of trust between the parties concerned (Bass, 1990; Jensen & Svendsen, 2014; Julsrud, 2018). Employees are assumed to be experts in their own fields; they have special knowledge of all aspects of their working situations and processes and have a vested interest in optimising them. By seeking the employees’ input and advice and by rewarding good ideas, managers harvest this invaluable resource pool. The reasoning is that if the employee has experienced to be a positive impact at her workplace, it heightens her sense of pride and co-ownership and encourages her to take on even greater responsibility (Jensen, 2014; Kuvaas, 2017). As Jensen (2014) remarks, ‘When employees are encouraged to offer input and suggestions, and it is safe for them to speak their minds and even to make mistakes, a distrustful, heavy-control, “zero-defect” culture is avoided’. TBM is made possible by administrative systems, such as incentive systems and expedient control, systems that embody positive expectations from (most) co-workers. Professional co-workers do not oppose control as such; thus, they often request control systems which provide predictability and stability in their work. But the control must enable the professionals and not hinder them from doing their job.

Different models of TBM and trust-based managerial structures have been introduced into the public sector in Scandinavia. For example, such principles were put into practice in the municipalities of Helsingborg (2007) and Copenhagen (2009), and through an agreement between the Danish government and the biggest unions in the country (FTF, AC and OAC), seven principles of good public management were signed in 2013 (Preisler, 2016). The seven principles were as follows (author’s translation):

  1. (1)

    Management of the public sector shall focus on overall purposes, goals and results;

  2. (2)

    Dialogue, openness and clear goals shall be the basis of task solutions;

  3. (3)

    Leadership and management shall manifest and consider trust and responsibility;

  4. (4)

    Development and the professional freedom to act shall be based on well-documented knowledge;

  5. (5)

    Tasks shall be solved based on knowledge about what works;

  6. (6)

    Leadership and engagement shall promote innovation; and

  7. (7)

    Public services shall actively draw on citizens’ own resources.


In Sweden, the so-called Trust Delegation was appointed by the government in 2016 (Trust-Delegation, 2018). They conducted research and projects for the purpose of collecting knowledge about trust in the public sector. Their final report will be presented at the end of 2019. In Norway, the trust model was politically introduced for the Oslo municipality in 2017 through a social democratic political statement emphasising trust and openness and the reduction of detailed control mechanisms (Johansen, 2017).

Overall, TBM structures seek to strengthen trustworthy extra- and intra-organisational relationships: trust between the citizens and public organisations, between managers and employees within public organisations, and among subgroups and departments within the organisations (Bentzen, 2016; Khodyakov, 2007).

However, promoters of TBM meet resistance from external as well as internal actors. The realism in basing management and administration on trust is questioned. Bureaucrats and professionals working in public sector may find it insulting when politicians insinuate that public sector needs more trust. Many insiders working in the sector experience and practice trust every day, so why would they need a trust-reform? In this context of dispute and confrontation about shaping the managerial structures of public sector, the value of trust is worked upon.

Trust is discussed, promoted or denigrated by stakeholders, analysts and decision-makers while they discuss the shape of structures in public sector. The examined material gives insight into how stakeholders work on trust in different and sometimes conflicting ways. I see trust being dealt with through defined mechanisms of values work (Gehman, Treviño, & Garud, 2013) and draw patterns of the competing processes of values work (Jackall, 1988; Thornton, 2012). In this way, I highlight values work in the shaping of structures, and not only in the culture, within organisations.

Theoretical Perspectives: Values Work and Institutional Logic

The work on values is operationalised into four mechanisms (Gehman et al., 2013). The four mechanisms of values work are described as (1) pockets of concern, (2) knotting of concerns into networks, (3) performing value practice, and (4) circulating values (Gehman et al., 2013). Inspired by practice theories, Gehman et al. based their model on empirical data from a vast range of actions and decisions taking place over a period of almost a decade. The researchers observed how actors changed an unwanted dishonest business college culture into a culture based on honesty and honour. The authors stated that values practices are observable and processual and unfold within time and space (Gehman et al., 2013). In a similar way, work on values is understood as ‘sayings and doings in organizations that articulate and accomplish the desirable in relevance to right and wrong action and behaviour’ (Espedal, 2019).

Values work starts with the unstructured and loosely linked identification of concerns, the ‘pockets of concern’. These are constructed into patterns, connecting the pockets together in wider networks of keypersons, named by Gehman and colleagues as ‘knotting of concerns’. Generators for knotting concerns could involve formal meetings or informal talks. I presuppose that generators for knotting concerns could also involve discussions going on in newspapers and journals; arenas where keypersons can present concerns of distrust and promote new trust practices. The knotting enables the formulation of new value practices and eventually ‘ends’ in new patterns of value practices. When values are practised in specific contexts, they are confronted by practical possibilities or practical obstacles, such as competing value practices (Gehman et al., 2013).

Underneath this movement from isolated concerns into new patterns and practices, the semiotic tools for communicating values are present. In the circulation of values, a value practice is addressed and legitimised by metaphors, signs and symbols, implicitly representing frameworks of institutional logics. Elements from logics are identified in practices and texts through, among others, the use of root metaphors, symbols and signs (Fairclough, 2007; Ocasio, 2008; Thornton, 2012). In values work, these semiotic elements merge the framework of institutional logics and the circulation of values (Gehman et al., 2013). Metaphors, symbols and signs are known to text analytics and are tools for values work, and they aid value transfer across contexts (Fairclough, 2007; Vieira & de Queiroz, 2017). Changes and stabilities within institutions may be understood with respect to the dynamics among different institutional logics (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Sirris, 2019; Thornton, 2012). Contradicting institutional logics pinpoints the fact that the same value can be (and often is) interpreted and handled differently by different actors (Ocasio, 2008). In my study, values work, and the mechanisms of concern, values practice and value circulation are explored further.

Research Setting and Method

Research Setting

The empirical material for this qualitative textual analysis includes three popular scientific journals on public governance, situated in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The contributors/text authors are academics, analysts, bureaucrats and journalists as well as stakeholders and decision-makers in and around the public sector who present information, opinions and meanings with respect to the management and administration of the public sector. The journals have some definitional power to decide what is relevant and what is irrelevant in the pursuit of achieving ‘good governance’ and well-functioning public organisations (Bourdieu, 1994). The journals in themselves are arenas for keypersons to knot clusters of concerns (mechanism 2 in Gehman’s model). While forming the texts, contributors also knot their concerns, making sense of the situation.

One popular scientific journal from each Scandinavian country was strategically chosen. In Norway, the journal Stat og styring, or State and Governance, was chosen, while in Denmark, the digital journal, or The Public, and in Sweden, the digital version of Dagens samhälle, or Today’s Society, were chosen. All three journals were chosen because of their relevance in the discussions on public administration. The search terms ‘tillit/tillid’ and/or ‘kontroll’ (trust and/or control) on the webpages of the journals returned a substantial number of popular scientific articles and comments about TBM, altogether 101 articles, about 420 pages. The national contexts and the differences between the journals notably influence the variety of perspectives on the topics. Different concerns are given more emphasis within the different journals. For example, there is an overall emphasis on the managerial role in the Swedish journal, while in the Danish and Norwegian journals, there is more emphasis on the structures of performance management. The Danish contributions show, overall, a more direct scepticism towards NPM.

All three journals are popular scientific magazines, presenting a variety of texts in the feature genre and in the academic analytical genre. All three are arenas for discussions on public management and leadership. Danish contributions constitute twice those of the Norwegian and Swedish. The Danish journal had 54 articles on trust, while the Norwegian journal had 25 and the Swedish 22 relevant articles. This might perhaps be because the Danish are in the forefront of these debates on trust-based management. In Norway, there is a preponderance of editorial articles, while in Denmark, there are mostly academic comments, and in Sweden, there is a majority of political articles (Figs. 12.1, 12.2, and 12.3). There may be national differences as to what milieus are most dominant in the discussions on TBM. But the national differences between the texts are overshadowed by similarities across the national contexts. Many contributors refer to the other countries in their texts and look to each other across borders. So the differences are not taken into consideration to any great extent in the textual analysis.1
Fig. 12.1

Norway: Number of articles on trust devided in published year and type of article

Fig. 12.2

Sweden: Number of articles on trust devided in published year and type of article

Fig. 12.3

Denmark: Number of articles on trust devided in published year and type of article

Textual Analysis

Textual analysis was conducted on the 101 articles, using the hermeneutical principles of circular movement between subjective and objective particulars and wholeness (Lockyer, 2008; Vieira & de Queiroz, 2017). Following a qualitative content analysis approach, coding and categorisation were applied, aided by the four mechanisms of values work. This interpretative sense-making resulted in illustrative examples and a nuancing of the four mechanisms (Gehman et al., 2013). To provide an overview of the different contributions, I categorised and characterised the texts according to country, occupation/position of contributor and year of publishing (Figs. 12.1, 12.2, and 12.3). From this overview, I manually performed an analysis on all the texts. This was time-consuming, but it provided a good insight into the texts. I hermeneutically found patterns and controversies from citations and categories, disputing and confirming theoretical mechanisms of values work and institutional logics.

Textual analysis does not attempt to identify the ‘correct’ interpretation of a text but is used to identify which interpretations are possible and likely (Lockyer, 2008). Textual analysis of popular scientific journals provides information about central influencers’ deliberate attempts to make their opinions and situational analysis heard. The clear, well-formulated texts give us a peek into the authors’ thought-through world view and identity and, I presuppose, a difference in underlining institutional logical rationales. The texts do, in this way, illuminate interesting mechanisms of values work and competing institutional logics, even though the material lack data on the informal day-to-day work.


The 101 articles were published within a range of eight years, from 2011 to 2019 (Figs. 12.1, 12.2, and 12.3). The peak in 2016 correlates with political initiatives for TBM in Oslo and Sweden. In Denmark, the first PhD on TBM was also published at this time (Bentzen, 2016). Contributors were either academics or bureaucrats either on a local or a central level, many were journalists with an academic education, and some represented political think tanks, adding political colour to their arguments. Most of the authors (95/101) promoted the idea of TBM in the public sector. The six contributors who did question the models proposed were therefore given extra attention, to elaborate on alternative perspectives on trust.

Values Work Mechanisms

The texts mirror the four mechanisms in Gehman’s model (Gehman et al., 2013). The lack of trust is identified in malpractices and dysfunctional systems in public organisations (mechanism 1). The concerns regarding distrust are ordered by stakeholder according to overreaching descriptions of the root causes of malpractice. Some contributors turn from describing the challenges to suggesting new practices within public organisations, built on trust, preferably models of TBM. They point to possible positive outcomes of these practices. Other articles deal with possible obstacles associated with the TBM-models (mechanism 3). To various degrees, the authors utilise semiotic tools to underline images of trust in public organisations. The use of semiotic tools aids circulation of the discourse on trust (mechanism 4). Hence, the mechanisms of values work are evidently present, traceable through the texts.

There are also examples of texts which contradict a homogenous process of values work. Even if one agrees with some of the concerns, there is ambiguity among the stakeholders concerning what are seen as causes of the observed dysfunctions and distrust. Concerns about distrust are disputed and questioned. The contributors also differ with respect to what practical implications the concerns on trust should have. Below, I present how promoters of TBM and critics towards TBM, describe their attitude towards (lack of) trust in public institutions, as well as their contradicting views on possibilities lying in new and old value practices.

Pockets of Concern and Competing Understandings of Root Causes

The texts show how descriptions of concerns substantially differ. The differences continue when the stakeholders present the stated concerns into wider understandings of the root causes of malpractice and distrust.

Many texts point to concerns about a lack of trust, reflecting the fact that values work, besides seeking the ‘good’, also involves avoiding the ‘bad’ (Gehman et al., 2013). While Gehman et al. point to dishonest practices in a business school, for example cheating on exams, my material shows numerous examples of distrust in what is described as a dysfunctional public sector. One Danish editor-in-chief expresses his concern this way; ‘It is hard to be employed in a system which has erased all trust from the citizen and the abilities of the coworker. (…) It enforces powerlessness, and powerlessness enforces rejection’. Many of the examples themselves refer to examples of systematic distrust and overexaggerated control.

Trust and distrust are explicitly mentioned or implicitly implied through associated concepts, such as a lack of cooperation and communication or badly performed services. Professionals show concern about how people are treated in public services, and some express how residents in an elderly home, for example, are treated as ‘milk that has gone bad’. The professionals are concerned about the relation between professionals and the receivers of public services. The description of systematic misconduct underlines the need to strengthen trust through the way in which public organisations are organised.

But there are those who contradict the image of crisis and distrust in the public sector. Pointing to surveys among citizens and managers, researchers propose a more positive picture. One professor from Norway sums up findings from a large international survey in 2013, stating: ‘we have no crisis in Norway, Top managers are satisfied, co-workers are satisfied, and citizens seem to be quite satisfied’. So compared to other countries in Europe, the citizens of Nordic countries still express a high level of trust towards public sector. This point is promoted by some academics and politicians in the texts, stating that there is no need for more trust in public sector.

Root causes of the observed malpractice and distrust are either described as exaggerated bureaucratic control mechanisms, failures in the capitalist system in the public sector or faults in the political decision-making systems. Researchers express the importance of seeing misconduct as systematic problems and not as individuals’ responsibilities: ‘The reforms and documentation requirements produce distrust and are the seed of the whole misery’ (Norwegian academic). Hence, the blame of distrust is given to the practice of overwhelming documentation requirements. Bureaucratic mechanisms are closely linked to political decision-making, where the need to fight errors leads politicians to impose more detailed control. The need for action results in ineffective cumbersome procedures which ‘slow down the daily work without the work being faultless for that reason’ (Norwegian left-wing think-tank).

Promoters of the TBM blame the NPM principles themselves for the distrust, stating that quality contradicts the external reward-mechanisms of the market-logic; ‘Quality, long-term durability takes time. (…) It is freedom rather than reward that makes us creative at work’. Others, however, see the malpractice as a perversion of NPM principles. Defending the market-logic of NPM, they see the malpractice as ‘a result of goal management and performance measurement being implemented in a bureaucratic context, where the only response to poor performance is more rules and more metrics of compliance’ (Danish academic). The bureaucracy is to blame and not the business principles of NPM.

Others, again, raise their voices to defend the existing bureaucratic system, and state that bureaucratic control is necessary to secure trust. ‘Here is a paradox; we are the public. We have a contract with citizens about equality and predictable, continuous behaviour. (…) It is a contract that secures trust and a civilized society – and at the same time makes innovation difficult for us’ (Danish bureaucrat).

Practising Trust, Possibilities and Obstacles

TBM is promoted or disputed as value practices of trust. While Gehman et al. describe resistance, enrolment and adjustment of the honour code, the suggested practices of TBM are dealt with in similar manners in the examined texts. Promoters of TBM emphasize different possibilities that lie within the trust-based structures. The ‘added value of management by trust’ is promoted to be ‘partly savings from eliminating the monitoring of coworkers’ actions and partly the increase in the organization’s social capital’ (Danish academic). The decrease in exaggerated control builds social capital, understood as interpersonal trust. When local institutions and co-workers are managed and controlled based on a basic confidence in co-workers, ‘communication and cooperation in the organization will improve, the costs of control will decrease and space will be given for professionalism, eliminating the zero-defect culture that kills innovative initiatives’ (Danish academic).

While some promoters emphasise the decrease in bureaucratic control specifically, others emphasise the underlying paradigm shift the reshaping of public structures include. ‘The trust reform is about creating a greater connection in work close to the citizen and about solving tasks in as decentralized a way as possible. It is a paradigm shift’ (Danish think tank analyst). TBM promoters see a positive spiral, where trust and results strengthen each other. Practitioners equate practising trust in public organisations with making room for individual professional discretion. ‘Steering and managing more based on trust in employee competencies, professionalism and commitment will increase motivation while providing the necessary frontline space to unleash innovative potential’ (Swedish professional). Trust is also associated with openness and freedom of speech: ‘The trust reform presupposes – unarticulated – a work culture where management is open to criticism and where employees can speak freely’ (Danish academic).

Some of the texts’ authors do, however, uphold resistance towards the proposed new practices. Sceptics of the TBM models and defenders of existing systems of goal management claim, for example, that replacing control with trust is naïve and unrealistic. Rather, they defend the existing system as the best available option of public systems. They challenge the critics to come up with a realistic alternative. ‘What (do) the critics of goal management really think are realistic alternatives for central administration. The road through a legitimate structural administrative context is demanding, but it exists’ (Norwegian bureaucrat). In this way, the structural practice of trust is given resistance.

Circulating Trust

Trust seldom appears in an isolated way. Rather, it is given meaning through a semantic context. Images of trust, the surrounding concepts, give us mental constructions for sense-making to allow us to understand trust in public management and structures. I found metaphors and the use of key concepts which aided different understandings of trust.

Metaphors illustrating public sector are primarily used by promoters of TBM to demonstrate their concerns about existing systems. Trust is by these stakeholders seen as a promoter for purposeful work, indicating a community-logic: ‘Two people were asked about their similar work. The one answered, “I carry rocks”, and the other answered “I build a cathedral”’. Followed by the statement, ‘Without map and compass, you easily get lost’. A Swedish analyst makes this point to oppose a bureaucratic control-motivated structure.

Traces of a marked logic can also be observed through phrases such as ‘protecting the consumer’ from ill-treatment through control and documentation (Swedish liberal think-tank). Critics of the market logic, however, illustrate their concern through metaphors of a market: ‘Welfare and services are placed on shelves in a supermarket where the customer passes through with a shopping basket’ (Danish social democratic think tank). The misfit combination of supermarket and welfare serves to underline the need for a structural and paradigm shift.

The different actors’ identities, built over time, are linked to their general perception of reality. For instance, for a promoter of the market logic, attempts simplify public structures to reduce the number of rules and process requirements is interpreted as ‘an attempt to bring the NPM back to the original track of decentralized management’ (Danish academic promoter of NPM).


So, how do we know that these findings are traces of values work? The concept of values work comes from a practice perspective, based on substantial empirical research. Can I claim to find something similar through a simple textual analysis? The findings have their clear limits. However, the journal texts clearly show traces of the mechanisms in values work. I would even suggest that the arena for discussing public organisation in journals like these are arenas for knotting concerns, strengthening networks of promoters of trust-based practices in public sector (Gehman et al., 2013).

The discussions on trust may be viewed as mere examples of promotion of and resistance to change, or they may (also) be viewed as traces of competing underlying assumptions. Competing value systems, or institutional logics, place trust in different contexts, giving different meanings to a value (Ocasio, 2008). Four logics were traceable in the texts: market-, bureaucratic-, professional- and community-logic (Ife, 1997). Trust is promoted in different ways by the different logics. As Gehman quotes: ‘It’s like apple pie. Who could be against it?’ (Gehman et al., 2013). The disagreements are rather about whether there is a crisis of trust and whether it is necessary to overturn the public structure to maintain and increase trust. The situational concerns and the practical implications differ among the institutional logics. Contributors dispute whether trust is under pressure in public organisations, whether trust is secured through bureaucratic procedures which strengthen predictability, whether trust is executed through more space to perform professional tasks, or whether the best solution is to let free market-mechanisms from bureaucratic control. Hence, the work on trust happens on the arenas for discussing not only public sector culture, but also public sector structure, and it seems to happen within this landscape of competing institutional logics.


My empirical findings confirm the core argument in this book, which is that values are flexible entities and that they must remain flexible and ambiguous, so they can maintain their relevance across time and space (Espedal, 2019; Sirris, 2019). When the sense-making of trust becomes too specific, the value turns into a normative injunction and will be instantly disputed. Actors framing their understanding within different logics may agree that trust is a desirable value, but it is when trust is given situational contents that differences appear.

Further empirical investigations could provide more insights into how values work and how institutional logics influence each other. Further studies could also investigate the relative power dimensions between these logics, along with theories on paradigm shifts. How is one dominant logic position conquered by another? Gehman et al. do have great strengths in their substantial descriptions of changes in value practices (Gehman et al., 2013). My study contributes to the developed understanding of how trust as value heterogeneously is worked upon through the mechanisms of values work; shaping, reshaping and discussing concerns towards and changes within structures of public organisations.


  1. 1.

    I have translated all quotes from the texts as scrupulously as possible, from Danish, Swedish and Norwegian to English.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VID Specialized UniversityOsloNorway

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