Deliver on promises, do the right thing: Building trust in a global trust crisis 

The results are out and the findings are cause for both concern and action; the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer has revealed continued global pessimism around the conduct and competence of those institutions it measures — government, business, NGOs and media.

And while NGOs were seen as more ethical, and business more competent, no institution was considered both, with the mass population in 69 per cent of the 26 countries surveyed, indicating distrust.

Globally, there’s a feeling of injustice, inequity and a strong desire for change.

In Australia, the sentiment has endured for the past 10 years, with 47 per cent of the general public distrusting our institutions — figures on par with the US, but above the UK at 42 per cent.

Supplementary findings released in Australia this week show further decline in our nation’s Trust Index — in the last three months alone, a nine point drop in fact (from 68 to 59 points in the ‘informed public’); the result largely attributed to the recent bushfire crisis.

An increasing wave of trust inequality and the emergence of “two trust realities” is also revealed between what Edelman calls the ‘informed public’ (wealthier, more educated and frequent consumers of news) and the mass population, with the latter being far less trusting of our institutions.

Australia recorded the largest trust inequality globally, with a 23-point gap, between the informed public and mass population. While the gap narrowed to 14 points in supplementary findings, it remains high and within the realm of ‘record trust inequality’, alongside countries like Italy, Spain and Russia.

A deeper dive into the findings

Societal leaders not trusted to address challenges

There is a crushing lack of confidence (66 per cent) that societal leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges. Instead, those most trusted are scientists (80 per cent), and ‘people in my local community’ (69 per cent), with religious and government leaders receiving the lowest trust levels, along with the very wealthy.

Alarming distrust in Government

By far most concerning is the high levels of distrust in government across 65 per cent of the countries surveyed. In Australia, we marginally trust local and state government more than federal, but it’s, perhaps surprisingly, a close call (only five points ahead).

Government is generally considered to be the most corrupt and biased (52 per cent versus 33 per cent who believe it isn’t) and lacking in purpose (47 per cent versus 34 per cent who believe the contrary). To add to this, 50 per cent feel government does not have a vision for the future they believe in, 61 per cent believe it does not understand emerging technologies enough to regulate them effectively and 57 per cent say it serves the interests of only the few.

Business considered most competent

Business generally fared more favourably and is considered most competent and highest in terms of innovation and driving economic prosperity.

It was also trusted across most sectors (aside from financial services) although experienced the greatest drop in trust rating in the technology sector.

Why trust matters

With ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose considered three times more important by consumers than competence (76 per cent), simply put, trust is good for business.

Trusted companies enjoy more active, loyal customers and advocates, thanks to their social license to operate.

Moving forward, building trust

The findings highlight overwhelmingly that consumers are savvier than ever before. They recognise — and are quick to call out — poor behaviour from institutions and demand far greater accountability.

Sentiment globally, and here in Australia, call for government and business to be more ethical, more transparent and to work in partnership with each other and the non-profit sector to deliver real results to people and communities.

Yet for this to occur, they must embrace new ways of thinking, new ways of doing and actively demonstrate higher levels of competence.

In short, they must deliver on what they promise and do the right thing.

Leaders also have an important role to play here, with consumers now expecting CEOs to take a leading role on wider social issues, the top three being: training for jobs of the future, ethical use of technology and automation’s impact on jobs.

From our perspective

Whether it’s business, government, NGOs or media, the 2020 findings highlight the complexities faced and echo the challenges we regularly see:

How do we establish strong, ethical business practices?
How can we share data and build better partnerships?
How can we engage more effectively with the communities we serve?

Data is not the new oil, it’s the new uranium”

Jarrod Ball, Chief Economist, CEDA

As the Edelman report suggests, consumers are now calling on CEOs to take a greater lead in the ethical use of technology. So, while regaining trust will require collective, global change, it’s possible to take the lead from where you stand. And in many respects, we can expect to see CEOs become powerful agents for change.

But it requires strong commitment, clear direction and a collaborative approach. Digital technology and the data it generates is no longer just the responsibility of the CTO or CIO. Change must start at the top. And it’s not enough to develop governance and ethical frameworks that sit nicely on the virtual ‘shelf’; boards need assurance that organisations are being managed appropriately.

As the quote suggests, data is the modern-day equivalent of nuclear power — manage it well, and it can be the life-blood of your whole organisation. Manage it poorly and it can blow up your entire business in a number of hours, with negative repercussions for years to come.

Data can no longer remain the purview of IT and analytics departments. For organisations to effectively move forward and navigate the complex challenges they face, good business practice and good data practices must be viewed together, as one in the same.

Liz Jones Associate Director