Trust matters to institutions. There is a growing recognition that if citizens do not have a rational basis to trust their public institutions, then the legitimacy of those institutions corrodes and finally collapses. Citizens will rightly feel that such institutions have lost any moral right to rule, and thus ultimately are reduced to nothing but organs of naked power.

But what, exactly, constitutes a rational basis for such trust? If our current public institutions wish to rebuild trust, what exactly is it that they need to rebuild?

The field of ‘public institutional integrity’ has been launched to answer this question. Its basic claim is that public institutional integrity is the fundamental rational basis for trust in public institutions and hence their legitimacy.

Other, well-researched aspects may also be significant for a public institution’s trustworthiness and legitimacy, such as levels of individual and institutional corruption, nepotism, accountability, open access orders, transparency, quality of government, impartiality, ethical universalism, state capture, and so on. However, the significance of such aspects should ultimately turn upon how they bear upon that institution’s overall integrity. Fixing things along these other dimensions may all be parts of the puzzle for a failing institution, but the puzzle itself is its public institutional integrity.

However, what do we mean, precisely, by ‘public institutional integrity’? Let us provide a working definition:

Public institutional integrity is the robust disposition of a public institution to legitimately pursue its legitimate purpose, to the best of its abilities, consistent with its commitments.

If we take building public institutional integrity to be an overriding imperative for institutions, then the proper overriding role of individual public officers is to do whatever best supports that imperative. In other words, a definition of individual ‘public officer integrity’ falls out of this working definition of public institutional integrity:

Public officer integrity is the robust disposition of a public officer, in the course of her public duties, to pursue the integrity of her institution to the best of her abilities.

You can find a more detailed summary about the goals of our project here.

An in-depth analysis of the Building Integrity’s novel concept of public integrity is available on our research page.