Rebuilding Trust Demands Articulating a Credible Vision for the Future
Government's lack of vision hinders its ability to be trusted, and it contributes to the dissolution of the “social fabric.”
Government must clearly state stronger narratives about the future of their nations in order to build trust.
Business is obligated to partner with government to address challenges and map a clear vision for the future.
At its core, trust is forward-facing. It’s hard to trust if you don’t know where you’re going.
The Edelman Trust Barometer has documented a crisis in trust in government over the last decade. That lack of trust stems from multiple facets, the most worrisome might be the inability of most governments and politicians around the world to cast a credible vision for the future — one that would be rooted in its ethics and enabled by its competence, accounting for the challenges and fears people have around the world. This shows how trust in government isn’t just about social services delivered or markets regulated but firing the imaginations of citizens. We know this instinctively from oratorical politicians: It’s not just policy that people are connecting with, but the sense of what we are to become.
This lack of vision is hindering the ability of government as an institution to be trusted, but it is also contributing to the dissolution of the “social fabric” around the world. In the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 38 percent of respondents surveyed globally report that their government has a vision for the future they believe in. The flip side is daunting: Forty-eight percent of global respondents believe that governments do not have a vision for the future they believe in. A shared vision unifies and galvanizes citizens toward a common goal, yet 62 percent of our global respondents say that “the social fabric that once held this country together has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose” and 53 percent say “our country is more divided today than in the past.”
To rebuild trust and halt the spread of polarization, government needs to articulate and substantiate stronger narratives about the future of their nations. They must better communicate the ways they want to drive evolution and what’s in it for citizens and communities. Governments must commit to transparency and unprecedented partnership with business leaders, NGO leaders and any other unifying forces in their country.
To rebuild trust and halt the spread of polarization, government needs to articulate and substantiate stronger narratives about the future of their nations.
The Trust Barometer provides insights about who is doing that better:
Some governments — often more authoritative and centrally led — have managed to communicate a vision for the future more successfully than traditional democracies. For instance, these types of governments manage to get around 60 percent of their population to believe in their vision for the future, when only 24 to 31 percent report they don’t. This coincides with higher trust in the government overall. Some of these governments do not welcome criticism of their vision, but their success in articulating a vision is clear.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, countries in which government is largely seen as unable to offer a vision for the future fall into two categories: emerging economies that are experiencing high levels of disruption — like Argentina, Nigeria or South Africa — and traditional democracies with firm skepticism and governments have largely lost their ability to be credible in mapping a way forward — like Japan, U.K., France, The Netherlands and Italy.
In the U.S., 50 percent of respondents say they believe that government doesn’t have a vision for the future they believe in, but 34 percent do — which leads the country to be in a lower part of the index but not in the very bottom spots.
Beyond government, business as an institution has developed a strong ability to communicate a vision and rally stakeholders and citizens around it. Fifty-one percent of global respondents say they believe in the vision business has to offer, and only 28 percent do not. This coincides with the higher level of trust in business over government that we measure in 22 of the 28 markets surveyed.
People around the world also report that their employer is worthy of their trust. “My employer” might be the last stronghold of trust in what is otherwise a collection of institutions increasingly growing apart without a common ambition.
With being the most trusted institution, business is obligated to join forces with the government to address challenges and map a clear vision for the future. The Trust Barometer data highlights clear avenues to do just that.
Public-private partnership and collaboration is deemed to be the most effective way to address the issues countries are facing (four times more likely to yield optimal results than when business acts alone). Business needs to help better articulate how these initiatives fit into a broader, inclusive and unifying vision for the future.
The vision needs to be grounded in reality. CEOs have an obligation to call out when it is not and to advocate for evidence and science-based hypothesis vs. unrealistic or biased assumptions.
To lend credibility to the vision of governments, business needs to set a high standard for collaborating with diverse voices and fostering dialogue between parties that increasingly refuse to sit at the same table.
When possible, business needs to reassure people about the reality of economic threats and the way they can be mitigated. Re-skilling, job opportunities, fair pay, inclusive workforce, limitation of the environmental impact and moral tax behaviors all contribute to placating some of the divisive forces at work in societies around the world.
Our ability to create a joint roadmap for navigating the current challenges will condition our success in mobilizing the collective energy and forces of our nation. This demands trust between all institutions and players: Government, Business, Media, and NGOs.
The time to initiate and amplify that virtuous cycle is now.
Antoine Harary is Global President of Edelman Data & Intelligence (DXI).
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