This blog post was provided by the IPR Street Team and courtesy of Edelman. 

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer was unveiled at The World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland earlier this month. The annual global report, which is conducted by global communications firm Edelman, measures people’s level of trust in government, business, nonprofit organizations (NGOs), and the media.

In this year’s report, a general lack of trust was found regarding these four societal institutions, despite a strong global economy and near full employment in the past year. Global capitalism was also revealed to be under fire by a grand majority of those surveyed.

Three crucial factors were found to play increasing roles in this trust paradox:

  1. income inequality
  2. uncertainty about the future
  3. a sense of unfairness

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer exposed a dramatic divide in the online population surveyed between an “informed public” (representing 17% of the global population) and the “mass population” (representing 83% of the global population). The more elite and educated individuals showed more trust in institutions as opposed to the rest of the general population, revealing a “trust gap”.

Ultimately, Edelman found that people’s level of trust is based off of competence and ethical behavior. However, business was perceived to be the only “competent” institution, and NGOs were seen as the only “ethical” institution. Government and media were both perceived as incompetent and unethical.

Business was singled out as being the “catalyst for change”. With the “greatest freedom to act”, business has the ability to solve the trust paradox. It was also found that people show more trust in CEOs to initiate change as opposed to governments and political leaders. The report suggests that the following actions may be taken to rebuild trust:

  1. Pay fair wages
  2. Focus on education and re-training
  3. Embrace an all-stakeholders model
  4. Partner across institutions

An online survey was conducted from October 19 – November 18, 2019. The sample had over 34,000 participants aged 18 and above. In total, 28 different markets were studied with 1,150 respondents per market.

Key Findings
These are several of the key findings from the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer:

  • Fifty-six percent of respondents believe capitalism does more harm than good.
  • Fewer than one in three people believe they will be better off in five years’ time.
  • Government is the institution viewed as least fair with 57 percent of the general population saying government serves the interest of few and 30 percent saying government serves the interests of everyone.
  • A majority of respondents (83%) fear losing their jobs to reasons such as automation, looming recession, lack of skill, cheaper foreign competition, immigration, immigrants who will work for less, and gig economy.
  • Seventy-six percent of respondents believe CEOs should initiate change as opposed to government.
  • Over half of the respondents (61%) believe technology is developing at a faster rate than the government can keep up with.
  • Forty-two percent of respondents trust business most in retaining jobs as opposed to 32% for government, 17% for NGO, and 8% for media.

Change is Necessary
The four institutions being examined were initially created with the aim of facilitating people’s lives and improving society. Over time, however, their roles have become clouded. The study findings serve as a wake-up call for institutions and highlight the critical issues they face alongside the weak relationship that currently exists between the public and these institutions. The initial trust that was once instilled has gradually become lost and will not be regained unless real change is made.

Institutions should initiate change by focusing on collaborating with one another and prioritizing people’s fears. Two ways this could be done is by balancing competence and ethical behavior, as the report states, or by focusing on partnership– which serves as “an opportunity to build trust”. The next wave of innovation is highly dependent on the steps taken by society and its institutions from here on out.

Juliana Ortiz is a member of the IPR Street Team and an Ambassador for the PRSSA chapter at the University of Florida. She studies public relations at the University of Florida

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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