Measuring Trust in Uncertain Times

by: Colleen Dane, Director

UPDATE: On May 5, Edelman released an interim update on their trust barometer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – answering some of the questions raised in the blog below. In short? In the face of the pandemic, trust in institutions has taken a significant leap in Canada by a 10-to-20 point increase. That’s an all-time high. Government has gone from least to most trusted institution in the country. Also a key takeaway? Increased trust comes with increased responsibility – we expect more of our institutions. Canadians have higher trust in media than other countries reported. What’s consistent to the January survey? People are worried about their financial security (now more specifically related to COVID-19). We also still agree that collaboration raises everyone involved. Read more here: Can’t wait to see what the next update shares!

why trust matters

The world at large has adapted many things as a result of COVID-19. The way we work, care for families and friends, how we socialize, shop, eat and travel. Has it changed the way we trust? Perhaps that will be a key finding in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer.

If you’re not familiar with it, Edelman Intelligence – a global insight and analytics consultancy – launched an annual survey in 2000 that reports on the public’s degree of trust in its institutions. In early 2020, before all of our worlds were tilted, they released their 20th report. This report’s release is something I look forward to each year (because I’m that kind of girl!) and it was no disappointment.

Why does the barometer matter to us as communications professionals? It’s an insight into how people feel about the information they’re receiving, andcan add perspective into the hurdles your message is facing. The barometer is a global report, so it won’t help with your direct community, but it will help give perspective on the foundations of communication, and how the world is feeling about them.

The 2019 report showed some thoughtful updates, some of them which raise concern:

  • More than half of the people who responded do NOT feel they will be better off in five years’ time than they are now.
  • The gap between the “highly informed” who generally trust government and are more frequent consumers of news, and the “mass population” is growing each year.
  • Not one of the four ‘institutions’ (NGOs, business, media and government) is seen as both competent and ethical.

While those feel dire, there are some glimpses of how we can help:

  • The highest degree of trust is found in scientists and those that live in your local community – the closer, and the more factual, the better.
  • People trust their employer more than they do government or media. Employees expect to be included in planning.
  • Partnerships between organizations raise trust in both participating parties.

These are nuggets or opportunities that can help us understand the filters that our community sees things through. Even on a wider scale than the media filters we talked about back in 2019. And understanding them can help us do our part to improve dialogue.

So what will the public say about the four institutions, and their sense of trust, when asked for the 21st annual report next year, covering their feelings about 2020? We are eager to see, because hearing a message, and trusting a message are two very different things.

What do you ZINC about the Edelman Trust Barometer? Send us a note at with your thoughts/ideas.