Trust in organisations

“Boeing in 2018/9 after the crashes of two 737 Max 8 aircraft was
following a popular playbook:

  • First, deny any problem; then
  • sow doubt about claims that your products or practices cause harm.
  • Once the problem becomes undeniable, endeavor to deflect responsibility for the problem,
  • when deflection is no longer tenable, try to minimize or localize the problem eg blame lower-level employees”

Gives other examples of George W. Bush and Abu Ghraib camp (abuse attributed to
“a few American troops”).

Purdue Pharma – in response to  public criticism and lawsuits for its irresponsible opioid marketing strategy – tried to be seen as part of the solution rather than the cause of the problem.

Trust is based on perceptions of that institution; in contrast, trustworthiness is a quality we attribute. Trying to boost trust without addressing underlying reasons for the loss of trustworthiness are unlikely to succeed, and usually perceived as inauthentic.

You can measure trust (by asking people about their perceptions and beliefs) but not trustworthiness, which is more nebulous. 

We tend to talk about trust as being a one dimensional thing but there are probably different kinds of trust – (gives example of a successful financial advisor who has had multiple divorces – you might trust them for financial but not relationship advice). Do they have knowledge, skills, resources (often quite specific) to perform what you have entrusted them to do?

Trustworthiness on the other hand is built around questions of reliability, honesty, and integrity. If you have reliability trust in someone, then you believe that person does (or will do) what they say they do (or
will do).

Along with integrity, there are the values of fidelity, care, and benevolence—relates to putting others’ interests ahead of one’s own. Which raises the question, “whose interests are being privileged?”

So called crisis management experts talk about “optics” – public perception – and respond to it by “public performativity” of trust building in terms of use of language and symbolic actions.

Marks suggests you compare one kind of crisis he calls “opsis,” (ancient Greek word for “appearance” as used by Aristotle for one of his six elements of tragedy, often translated as “spectacle”) with institutional sepsis. “Just as medical sepsis in the human body is a critical condition that endangers life, the loss of an
institution’s integrity and trustworthiness is another form of sepsis—ethical sepsis—that poses an existential threat to the institution. A problem even when the loss of integrity and trustworthiness has not yet come to the attention of the public.

Gives vaccine hesitancy as another example – numerous and varied causes, including misinformation, but note strong ethnic patterns at time of Black Lives Matter campaign and NHS being called “institutionally racist”. Suspicion of corporate interests in public health messages too.

[Jonathan H. Marks, Hastings Centre]

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