Public Sector Reputation 2018 | Opinion: Does our public sector measure up?

By Grant Bell, Group Account Director, Colmar Brunton

The Labour-led coalition government has embarked on an ambitious policy platform. Its public sector agencies are critically important partners in taking the lead on public engagement and implementation of change. For the Government’s programme to succeed, these organisations need to have the confidence of the public. So how do they measure up in the eyes of everyday Kiwis?

Trust in the public sector
To set the context, let’s begin with institutional trust. The OECD recommends measuring trust on a zero to 10 scale where zero equals not at all and 10 equals completely. If someone gives an organisation a score between seven and 10, we say that person ‘trusts’ them. If they give a score of zero to three, we say they ‘distrust’ the organisation. If they give a score between four and six, we say they are indifferent or neutral.

Colmar Brunton has just released the results of its Public Sector Reputation Index for 2018. As part of the Public Sector Reputation study, a representative sample of 2,000 New Zealanders were asked to rate certain groups or institutions using the trust scale. Those groups (with their scores in brackets) were:

  • ‘People they know’, so family and friends (82% trust, 2% distrust)
  • ‘The police’ (68% trust, 8% distrust)
  • ‘Most people’, we’d call that the general public (53% trust, 10% distrust)
  • ‘The New Zealand Parliament’ (27% trust, 29% distrust).

Our Parliament being polarising is consistent with recent global findings. For example, one of the key conclusions of The Leaders Report published by WPP Government and Public Sector Practice last year was “citizens fear change, distrust globalisation and disregard politicians.”

But in New Zealand, this disregard does not extend to the wider public sector with 41% saying they ‘trust’ the civil service and only 8% ‘distrust’ it. For New Zealanders, this is strategically significant.

Given there is a high level of trust in the public sector generally, the Public Sector Reputation Index then delved deeper into the performance of individual public sector agencies and found a consistent result.

This year the Index benchmarked 45 national public sector organisations against the four pillars which contribute to reputation – leadership and success, fairness, social responsibility, and trust.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand took the top spot for the third year running.

There were two notable newcomers, MetService and Tourism New Zealand, included for the first time and coming in at second and fifth respectively. The Department of Conservation held on to last year’s spot of third, and New Zealand Customs Service gained two places, moving up to fourth.

With the global RepZ framework used in the survey, an index score of 105 or higher is considered ‘superior strength’, and organisations that achieve this score are considered to have a more resilient reputation, which means when things go wrong people are more likely to view adverse events as one-off occurrences.

Our results show that public sector performance in New Zealand is healthy, with 33% of the organisations scoring 105 or higher. In addition, New Zealand public sector agencies are strongest at ‘Trust’ and ‘Leadership’, with 38% and 36% of our public sector agencies scoring 105 or higher in these pillars respectively.

We also found that reputation is driven in one of three ways: through personal experience; through information received via the media; and through general impressions or ‘hearsay’ about the agency. Most agencies strongly gravitate to one of these influences and those whose reputation is driven through the media have a greater chance of having ‘superior strength’ across the pillars and RepZ, compared to those whose reputation is driven by perception or experience.

The Public Sector Reputation Index shows that New Zealand’s public sector agencies are trusted leaders. Their reputational strengths should be respected and used constructively by government in the process of connecting, communicating and implementing policy change with everyday Kiwis.

About the Colmar Brunton Public Sector Reputation Index

The Colmar Brunton Public Sector Reputation Index was launched in 2016 in response to an increasing demand from public sector agencies to understand how they are perceived in relation to others. It is based on the global RepZ framework, developed by Colmar Brunton’s parent company, Kantar Millward Brown, and used in 40 countries.

The 2018 Index involved conducting 2,000 online interviews. The survey was a nationally representative sample by age, gender, household size, income, ethnicity and region.

Colmar Brunton Public Sector Reputation Index 2018 – Top 10
1. Fire and Emergency New Zealand
2. MetService
3. Department of Conservation
4. New Zealand Customs Service
5. Tourism New Zealand
6. New Zealand Defence Force
7. Statistics New Zealand
8. New Zealand Police
9. Maritime New Zealand
10. Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand


For more information about the Public Sector Reputation Index please contact:
Grant Bell
Group Account Director
Colmar Brunton

For media enquiries please contact:
Alida Shanks
Marketing and Communications Director
Kantar New Zealand
Phone: +64 21 782 502