Credibility in Politics

The Quest for Credibility in Politics and Public Administration

Manifestations, Drivers and Implications

Source: Tilburg School of Politics and Public Administration

In politics and public administration, ‘credibility’ seems to have become an increasingly wanted, scarce and thus highly valued, commodity. An elected politician like president Obama is admired by many because of his credible appearance. Some communication formats used by governments are criticized for lacking in credibility. Participation policies are appreciated to the extent in which they appear to be credible in the eyes of those who should participate.

How, when and why has credibility become such an important asset? What does credibility in politics and public administration entail? What does it depend on? What are the characteristics of credible governance arrangements? When is political or democratic leaderschip credible? What does credibility mean to citizens and civil society? In other words: what are the manifestations, drivers, and implications of the quest for credibility in politics and public administration? In the coming years, the Tilburg School of Politics and Public Administration will seek answers to questions like these through interaction research in various public domains. Interaction research is focused on interaction – highly appropriate for a relational concept like credibility – and executed in interaction – cooperating with the real world that we intend to understand and act upon.

Credibility is related to, but not the same as acceptability. To be acceptable, a policy or format, a politician or another policymaking actor in the public domain, needs to have a minimum of perceived effectiveness and legitimacy – this is what we know from previous research. To be credible and as such more sustainable, (speech) acts and artefacts in politics and public administration seem to need additional performative qualities that include things like rhetoric, timing, appropriateness, charisma, eloquence, responsiveness, and vision. Especially in network society, characterised by more horizontal forms of accountability, there seems to be a twofold challenge: to regain and maintain the credibility of politics and public administration, and to encourage credibility in other crucial actors in the public domain such as businesses, societal institutions and citizens. What can we learn from efforts in the public domain to deal with this challenge – this is what we intend to find out in our research of the coming years.

Two research tracks will be followed: one investigating the quest for credibility in multilevel democracy – democracy at different, but interrelated, levels of governance – and one examining the quest for credibility in public-private governance – i.e. governance at the intersection of the governmental and (quasi)non-governmental spheres.

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