The shift of Trust in institutions from West to East continues, as the emerging economies of Brazil, China and India begin to translate their economic strength and authority into tangible Trust numbers. Meanwhile, the US – now officially a sceptical nation – dips to a new Trust low, pretty much alongside Russia. Together with the UK and Ireland, the US sees a (not unexpected) freefall in Trust for its Banking Sector since 2008 (with Ireland scoring an all-time Barometer low of 6% in this regard).
Trust continues to fragment across multiple sources of authority, multiple media channels and via a thirst for multiple pieces of communication to get a trusted message embedded and believed. While Trust in the CEO bounces back (up in nearly every major economy, according to the 2011 findings), (s)he is not ‘in it’ alone. In times of Crisis or on specific issues, the 5,000+ global respondents clearly expect others (Experts, Academics, NGOs) to stand alongside him/ her as credible spokespeople. Overall, NGOs score well and ‘most trusted’ of the four major institutions of Business, Government, NGOs and Media. Of these, once again, Media is the big loser.
A further trend, first noted in 2009 and 2010, sees a dip in peer-to-peer trust, as friendship takes a bit of a hit. This is a consequence maybe of The Zuckerburg Effect – an exponential rise in the number of (on-line) friends creating more distance (and, ergo, less trust) in the core friendship itself. Maybe ‘friends’ are there to validate opinions, rather than originate them?
To equate this last point with a diminution in citizen power would be mis-leading, however. The fragility of trust – and the fact that it remains perilously vested across so many groups, authority sources and channels – offers a huge opportunity for the citizen as actionist and activist. As argued in the first edition of Citizen Renaissance, the inexorable rise of digital democracy drives accountability as well as transparency – and thus the power of the citizen to hold CEOs, NGOs, Media, Experts and Spokespeople to account will inevitably increase.
This is validated by a more-or-less 50/50 response to the question on the relative health – or otherwise – of the Milton Friedman principle: that the social responsibility of business is to maximise profits. While those surveyed may have been equivocal in their answers, when prodded deeper, it becomes clear that the wider interests of all stakeholders must be placed ahead of the narrow interests of the few – and that businesses are deemed to hold a responsibility to employees and communities far greater than that towards their shareholders alone. This detectable, long-term shift may not be the complete answer to the necessary inversion of the Wants & Needs relationship, nor to the supplanting of ‘consumerism’ with active citizenship, but it is a decent start.
The citizen may need to become more nuanced and his/ her approach more diffused and dispersed, but the power and the need for accountability should, optimistically, remain undimmed – and the path to constructive activism maintained. We are getting there.