Why Trustworthiness Matters in Building Global Futures

We’re standing at a pivotal point in our collective response to the coronavirus pandemic. The first vaccine against the virus is beginning to be rolled out, with others hot on its heels, and we can begin to imagine a post-COVID future albeit tentatively.

Yet despite the incredible strides being made, hope is being tempered by hesitancy–and sometimes downright distrust–as a growing number of people question the safety of the vaccine, and even the motives behind it.

It’s easy to dismiss this resistance to the COVID vaccine as irrational thinking, a rejection of science, and an unquestioning acceptance of misinformation and disinformation. Yet it points to a bigger issue of trust: Trust in how science and technology are governed, and more specifically, how organizations earn trust through being trustworthy.

To Earn Trust, Organizations Need to be Trustworthy

Earning trust is a challenge that goes far beyond the current pandemic, and touches on pretty much every aspect of our connections with the future. No matter how compelling our science is, how transformative our technologies are, or how important our ideas of the future might be, they are only as good as the trust that people place in the organizations that develop and use them.

But how is trust developed and maintained as we strive to build a better future together?

For the past couple of years, I’ve been a member of the advisory Panel for TIGTech, an initiative supported by the World Economic Forum and Fraunhofer Institute of Systems and Innovation Research that’s focused on trust, governance and technology innovation.

TIGTech was established to explore and provide guidance on what it means for governance approaches to new technologies to be trustworthy, and how trust is earned. The focus of the work has been on emerging technologies and large institutions. Yet the findings and recommendations are relevant to anyone trying to build a better future within today’s highly complex and deeply interconnected world.

Towards a more Engaged, Collaborative and Communicative Approach to Trust & Tech Governance

Last Friday, the first major report from TIGTech was released, and it highlights the need for developing more engaged, collaborative, communicative approaches to trustworthy and trusted technology governance. It als provides practical steps toward achieving this.

TIGTech – Towards a more engaged, collaborative, communicative approach

The report is, I am very pleased to say, written for real people grappling with real challenges, and is not in the slightest academic–although the underlying foundations are academically sound. I would go so far as to say that it should be required reading for anyone who is either studying global futures, or is involved in the process of helping to build a better future.

The report eloquently focuses on clear and concise nuggets of relevant information for readers–three key findings, five things to know about trust, seven drivers of trust, and three competencies for trusted governance.

This approach makes it highly accessible. It also makes the insights relevant and actionable to a wide range of individuals and organizations. Plus, it’s deeply refreshing to have such an important document written in plain language that is easy to make sense of!

Many of the points that are made feel like common sense when you read them–yet paradoxically they can’t be, otherwise they would be more commonly found in practice.

For instance, the three key findings are:

  • Be more engaged, more visible – show your impact.
  • Detach governance from hype and ideology – focus on the public interest.
  • Get comfortable with navigating ethics and values.

And the seven drivers of trust are:

  • Intent — Public Interest (upheld through purpose, process, delivery and outcomes).
  • Competence (delivering against expectation effectively, reliably, consistently, responsively).
  • Openness (being transparent and accessible in processes, communications, explanations and interactions).
  • Respect (seeing others as equals; listening to and taking seriously their concerns, views and rights. Considering the potential impact of words & deeds on others).
  • Integrity (operating honestly, being accountable, impartial and independent of vested interests).
  • Fairness (enshrining justice and equality in governance processes, application, enforcement, and outcomes). And
  • Inclusion (being collaborative, inclusive, involving others).

These are all critically important, and should be part of any future-builders credo. But they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to earning trust. And underpinning them is a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of trust that is essential to developing and using new technologies in the public interest.

Trustworthiness is Foundational to Global Futures Building

Beyond the immediate relevance of the report to technology development and use in the public interest, reading through it, I found myself connecting the ideas it lays out to almost every situation within today’s society where trust is paramount, from communicating and engaging around science, to building a new initiative around global futures, to taking justice, equity, diversity and inclusion seriously, to being a trusted research and education establishment.

Here, I was particularly taken by the report’s exploration of “five more things to know about trust“–these should be essential reading for anyone who’s work involves demonstrating trustworthiness and earning trust.

These insights include acknowledging that trust is an outcome that’s best-achieved by focusing on others, and that it signals a hope that an organization will fulfill the expectations we have of them. They also emphasize what should be self-evident, but rarely is–that trusting people first makes them more likely to be trustworthy and to trust you back, and that trust is a spectrum, and not an either/or judgement.

And importantly, they make it clear that trust is dynamic, messy, personal, and a two-way process.

In other words, while trust and trustworthiness are critically important for building a better future, the process of earning and demonstrating them is not one if simply follow rules and procedures, or checking boxes. It takes awareness, empathy and humility, and a willingness to embrace the messiness of being human within a complex society as we strive to put others first.

This is sage advice as we stand at this pivotal point in the fight against COVID. But it’s also important as we look beyond COVID and work together to build a future that is just, equitable, and sustainable, and one which is threaded through with hope and possibility.

Which is why I’d recommend anyone with an interest in building a better future check out TIGTech, and read the initiative’s recent report on trust and tech governance.