An Opportunity to Build Legitimacy and Trust in Public Institutions in the Time of COVID-19

5 Pages Posted: 19 May 2020

See all articles by Stuti Khemani

Stuti Khemani

World Bank; World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Date Written: May 4, 2020


Legitimacy in the time of COVID-19 can be understood as the ability of leaders to win compliance with new public health orders because people share a widespread belief that everyone is complying. This perspective, building on the logic of game theory, which can help explain strategic interactions among large numbers of people in a society or polity, yields a powerful insight: that governments in developing countries, as the first line of defense against a life-threatening disease, have received a windfall of legitimacy. On the one hand, this legitimacy windfall can be wasted, or worse, used to intensify divisive politics, grab power, and install government at the commanding heights of the economy and society, even after the pandemic recedes. On the other hand, for reform leaders and international development partners that are motivated to improve governance for economic development, the crisis presents opportunities to build trust in public institutions. In this task, international organizations have a comparative advantage precisely because they are not part of domestic political games. But this dynamic may require changing how donors typically approach corruption in developing countries (in the context of financial assistance to countries with institutional weaknesses that predate the crisis); it may also necessitate change in how reform leaders in countries use the advantage of external partners to exert pressure for reform. The availability and strategic communication of credible, nonideological, and nonpartisan knowledge could enable societies to change a vicious cycle of high levels of corruption/low levels of trust to a virtuous one of high levels of trust and low levels of corruption.

Keywords: Health Care Services Industry, Public Health Promotion, Health Service Management and Delivery, Educational Sciences

Suggested Citation

Khemani, Stuti, An Opportunity to Build Legitimacy and Trust in Public Institutions in the Time of COVID-19 (May 4, 2020). World Bank Research and Policy Briefs No. 148256, Available at SSRN:

Stuti Khemani (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States


World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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