Tuesday, 10 November 2015


We need trust – and to be generally disposed to think positively about the other person – if we are going to take risks, innovate and act without needing to know every fine detail first.

Stop right there. Actually, that statement only applies to one kind of trust. Trust means we can rely on predicting someone's behaviour in a given situation. I can trust some really horrible people - because I know they will always be horrible in a certain type of situation. I can act on that belief with a high degree of certainty. And that kind of person is much easier to deal with than the person whose behaviour I cannot predict.
However, as we carry on, I'm going to assume we're talking about the positive kind of trust.

Well placed trust means risk-taking is a really positive experience, and when things go wrong (as they always will at some point when we take risks), we don’t immediately shift into ‘shift-the-blame’ or ‘told you so’ modes.
Misplaced trust is dangerous. Risk-taking based on that trust is a reckless act. I've done it. It hurt. It still hurts 10 years on.

How do I know in advance whether my trust is well placed or misplaced?

  • Look at the past. Has the person or organisation been transparent, reliable and competent? Do they steal ideas, pass the blame buck or talk better than they deliver? Or do they have a track record that makes me believe I can trust them?
  • Look at the present. Do others trust them? Sometimes we need to trust against other people’s opinions. But crowdsourcing trust is always a good idea.
  • Look to the future. Are there outside pressures that are going to compromise a trustworthy person/organisation's ability to be trustworthy in the future?


Trust isn’t about trusting someone’s position in a hierarchy, their status, training or job title.

Trust isn’t about the wealth or power of an organisation.

Well placed trust is built on track record and careful observation of behaviour.

So look out, I’m watching you!


  1. Hi Anne

    First things first, just wanted to say cheers for posting this! Considering I’m not an expert on this, yet somehow speaking about this at Bara Brith Camp, having a response to my post has been a really useful way of checking my thinking and seeing if I’m on the right track. I may still not be – that’ll be up for you all to decide at Bara Brith Camp!

    In terms of your first point about trust being partly about predicting behaviour, this is one of the facets that Professor Searle spoke about, and it certainly applies to negative behaviours too! The other facets were around competency and benevolence, which nicely links to what you’re saying – we’re not going to trust someone to do good things if we don’t think they’re a good person.

    When it comes to hierarchy, the further away people are perceived to be, the lower the levels of trust. Whilst this is based on hierarchical relationships within an organisation, I think parallels can be drawn to trust between organisations and people, as people who access services are usually more remote from the structure of the organisation than the people within it. This is where co-production comes in I think – if true co-productive principles are used, then there is no hierarchy and trust has a better chance to thrive. Public services clearly aren’t there yet though, as the Auditor General said in his speech to WLGA’s conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYR5rB9CyLE).

    A great example of building trust is the Mayor of Torfaen, who is communicating transparently about his work as an elected member on Facebook (https://goodpracticeexchange.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/how-social-media-can-help-elected-members-to-communicate-with-their-community/). Some of the comments on his Facebook are outstanding (like on his expenses - https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1643184552583398&set=a.1381152358786620.1073741828.100006756065191&type=3&theater). It really shows how it changes the dynamic of the relationship between people and public services.

    I love your point on well-placed trust as a positive experience. Amy C Edmondson’s Spectrum of Failure (https://hbr.org/resources/images/article_assets/hbr/1104/R1104B_A.gif) shows failure isn’t very often blameworthy, yet we still treat it as such. An embodiment of lack of trust!

    In terms of building trust, Professor Searle spoke about the concept of a trust bank, where an organisation is able to build trust over time over time and is able to use it to manage change effectively. But Professor Searle cautioned us against neglecting our trust building processes. She used a Dutch proverb – “Trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback”.

    Hope this all makes sense, I’ve cobbled it together on an afternoon with a vague WiFi connection!

    Look forward to continuing the discussion at Bara Brith Camp,


  2. Your post put me in mind of TRIFoRM, a project I ran about how and why people do -- and do not! -- trust technologies. Not the same as person-to-person trust, of course, but still important. You can see a bit of information about it here: http://www.itutility.ac.uk/2015/07/27/taking-triform-out-to-the-community/