2020 Trust Barometer: Ethics and competency, Groundhog Day and ‘trust Darwinism’

Ethical drivers are three times more important to company trust than competency, according to the newly-released 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer (Australia) research report.

According to Edelman:

For 20 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has gauged trust by asking: “How much do you trust this institution to do what is right?”

Taking account of the general population’s overall lack of trust and a pronounced sense of inequity, this year’s Trust Barometer sought to understand what shapes the public’s view of “to do what is right.”

Edelman says the analysis identified that trust is built on two key drivers: competence and ethical behavior.

In Australia, no institution is seen as either competent and ethical

According to Edelman: “Business was viewed as the only competent institution, holding a 56-point edge over government.

“NGOs are seen as the only ethical institution leading by 21 points over business. Government and media are viewed as neither competent or ethical.”

But let’s get to the heart of the matter. According to Edelman:

Despite a year of strong global economic performance, trust in the four institutions measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer – government, business, NGOs and media is stagnant, with no institution climbing into trusting territory.

Are we at flashpoint?

The institutions of business, government media and NGOs currently find themselves at flashpoint as far as public trust is concerned.

The term ‘digital Darwinism’ was popularised some years back by author Brian Solis. It means where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses can naturally adapt. Solis writes in WIRED: “This sets the stage for a new era of leadership, a new generation of business models, charging behind a mantra of ‘adapt or die.’”

Which leads me to ponder: Are we experiencing some kind of ‘trust Darwinism’?

The public is evolving in their expectations of “what’s right” faster than business and government can adapt.

I’ve been tracking the Edelman Trust Barometer for some 10 years now. It’s kinda like Groundhog Day!

People’s trust in the institutions of business, government, media and, more lately, NGOs, continues to fall, or certainly, it treads water. It’s like a broken record. We see some movements one way or the other, but the bottom line always seems to be same:

WE DON’T TRUST BUSINESSES! (Nor government, media and NGOs for that matter).


It’s becoming a bit of a joke. Is there a way through this sad state of affairs?

Edelman sees building partnerships as a way to help restore trust.

“It’s time for us to act and for institutions to work together,” the firm says.

According to Edelman:

This year we asked people to tell us how well each institution is doing on a long list of issues that are challenging society. One of the most consistently low scores for NGOs, business and government is on partnership, with each institution not seen as a good partner to the others. For three out of four of the institutions – NGOs, business and government – Australians feel that partnering with the other two could be a trust-building opportunity.

Will this work? Maybe, maybe not.

Have the various parties got the wherewithal to genuinely partner with each other without trying to control said partnership, or take the kudos if a collaborative project is successful, or conversely, duck-shove blame on to the other party if the project turns out to be a dud?

I’m not so sure.

I reckon this time next year, we’re going to see more of the same as far as trust is concerned. #GroundhogDay



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