We enter the new year in the long shadow of an enduring pandemic, with Omicron yet another gut check to a world still holding its breath. This enduring uncertainty is clear in the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds we are caught in a vicious cycle of distrust.
Many are in self-protection mode. No doubt this is sparked by the pandemic for some. For others, perhaps it is reaching the boiling point of long-held feelings of being unheard and unrepresented by societal decision makers. Edelman’s data found only one-third of the world believes most people can be trusted, fear of fake news is at an all-time high (76 percent), and globally more than half (51 percent) of respondents in the countries studied do not believe their families will be better off five years from now.
Rebuilding trust is essential to move beyond short-term survival mode to a healthy, functioning and stable society. To do this, we must focus on meeting core needs: we are experiencing a time when many are questioning if the roof over their head will withstand fires and floods, if their loved ones will be able to join their next celebration, if they know who they can rely on for trustworthy information.
Health is the cornerstone to our core needs, thereby the cornerstone to trust.
Health is the cornerstone to our core needs, thereby the cornerstone to trust. It is a right and not a privilege. As such, and to restore trust, it is essential leaders across all institutions commit to health equity principles. Our study found that though business is seen as both ethical and competent, with NGOs the only other institution in this category, it is not seen as serving the interests of everyone equally and fairly. We are at a pivotal moment to restore trust by rebuilding global and local systems that work for all.
Given the primacy of health, and that distrust as the default is a challenge to all institutions, all have trust stakes in protecting personal and societal health. Lessons can be learned from the healthcare sector, which, perhaps because of the herculean efforts to stabilize public health, saw trust increase for the first time since 2019 (now trusted by 69 percent globally):
Successful health initiatives have been those that amplify facts, nonpartisan by nature, and thoughtfully consider the needs of entire communities. A bright spot is that scientists—those driving innovation and medical breakthroughs—are the most trusted among societal leaders.
Strong healthcare campaigns ensure information is accessible to all stakeholders. They also call out and step in to correct when information is wrong. Leaders outside of health have a role to play here, as well—our Edelman Trust data shows that, across matters of trustworthy information and access to healthcare, among other topics, people want more, not less, engagement from business.
Effective leaders in health know transparency builds trust, and that trust can lead to behavior change. Government officials especially may take notice of this, as Covid-19 public health mandates and regulations evolve at the speed of science. In many cases, change reflects progress, but it often comes with confusion. People don’t just need to know what has changed; in order to trust and adopt health policies, they need to know why and how decisions were made. Transparency is based on clear, consistent communications.
Years of Edelman Trust Barometer data have found people trust those closest to them—their community, their colleagues, their employers. Trust is local because this is where we feel our voice will be heard and change can happen. Partnerships with local organizations, those on the ground and deeply involved in their communities, are key to ensure research, products and services reach those who need them most. A stellar example of this is the city of Chicago’s ImmUNITY campaign, which brings together community-based organizations and local employers to build confidence in vaccines.
Trust makes information actionable and behavior change possible, and is the key link to pandemic recovery.
Trust fuels the health of both humans and humanity. It has been the make-or-break factor in abiding by government and public health mandates, for getting vaccinated, for all the large and small shifts needed to protect life as we know it. Trust makes information actionable and behavior change possible, and is the key link to pandemic recovery: the small-scale impact of one more person believing a vaccine is worth taking has big-picture, real world benefits. This makes health everyone’s business.
Trust is not just a nice thing to have—it’s a critical determinant of human behavior and the ability to respond collectively and appropriately to our new circumstances, pandemic and beyond. We are exploring this further in an upcoming Edelman Trust Barometer deep dive on the healthcare sector, which will examine where and how health businesses can lead on urgent issues, effectively partner and lift up populations most in need.
There is a long way to go to ensure we are not leaving people behind, but we have seen that the progress of science and inclusive collaboration is beginning to restore trust. This is the path forward to returning to a healthy society.
Kirsty Graham is Global Leader of Sectors and Global Chair of Health.