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Prosperity and trust

We live in a world where trust scores in the negative rather than the positive.  No institutions stand out as being trustworthy.  Poor performance across multiple sectors has allowed bad news to influence attitudes, and fake news has captured the moment to make a bad situation worse, but there is hope, as long as someone seizes the moment.

The Edelman Trust Barometer annually reflects the attitudes of the public towards four institutions - government, media, business and non-government organisations (NGOs).  Their annual global survey captures trust at a moment in time and has done so for almost 20 years. When their headlines read ‘a polarisation of trust… a world of distrust…’  and ‘global trust index remains at distruster level’, you know something is bad.

If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a read, although in a world where charities are criticised for mistreating the people they are supposed to help; when business is extracting profits from communities they do nothing to support; government corruption allegations emerge across every continent, and when media is the news, the results should come as no surprise. 

Around half the general population are distrustful of business or NGOs, and three in five distrust media and government.  Trust levels have stayed broadly the same as last year, suggesting that all institutions are slow to react or are failing to get to grips with what needs to change.

Fake news has become a prevalent force over the last twelve months with at least three major nations claiming election results to have been affected by fake news.  One significant shift this year has been the re-instatement of the technical or academic expert over ‘someone like me’ – as evidence has shown that fake news spreads quickly across social media platforms.  Whilst last year, these three groups were scored equally on credibility.

Some organisations have highlighted the risks caused by fake news, and at least one organisation has identified that fake news relating to immunisation could contribute to a large-scale pandemic.

The distrust in news providers has created another trend as around half the population have become disengaged from news channels altogether.  Media is now the least trusted institution.  Between 60 and 70% of respondents see news organisations driven by audiences, speed of reporting, and ideology over factors such as education, accuracy and honesty.

Somewhat ironically, as media generally struggles with trust, the journalists themselves have shown the greatest increase in credibility – although at 39% they are only trusted slightly more than governments and are below Directors and CEOs.

Where do these facts leave risk managers and leaders of organisations? 

Plenty of organisations continue to adopt a head in the sand approach – accepting that many actions they take would be viewed unfavourably by the communities in which they operate.  The nature of the information age is that secrets don’t seem to stay secret for long.

Several organisations are defensively adapting – changing their practices to promote and encourage honesty, taking greater steps to promote their values or principles amongst their organisation, and more quickly addressing poor behaviours.  After the financial crisis, we saw several organisations change their behaviours.  Following the more recent scandals relating to international charities we have seen significant organisations such as UNICEF admitting to problems and others openly declare changes to policies.  Many organisations have been forced to take this action.

A small minority of organisations will be seeking to capitalise on trust as a differentiator.  They will recognise the perceived value that shareholders, customers, and insurers place on trust.  Those organisations will be looking at what they do well, and how they do it.  They will be looking to demonstrate why their techniques work, and what that means to those with vested interests.  They will be uniquely placed to do that because they do not have anything to hide.  In today’s world, that makes those organisations priceless.

For more information on the Edelman Trust Barometer visit

Written by John Huckstepp M.Sc., SFIIRSM, CFCIPD, Tech.IOSH, author of the 2018 IIRSM Futureproof Programme and speaker at the IIRSM Conference 2018.


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