We all have work to do 

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Trust.

For such a small word it has a powerful impact on almost every sphere of our lives from the personal, to the professional, to the global.

Like many of the most important aspects of our lives, trust is a rather nebulous idea, difficult to truly define, but easy to recognize when lost.

There is little doubt that trust in government has been declining in the English-speaking world for some time.

Data released by EKOS Research in January suggested that 59 per cent of Canadians see our democracy as sick, up 22 per cent from 2009. Asked what worries them most about our country, respondents cited "the acute decline of our democratic and public institutions."

Last week, the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer was released and in some ways it mirrored the EKOS research.

According to the survey in Canada, trust in government fell seven percentage points amongst the informed public (to 51 per cent), while globally it fell four points overall to an historic low (44 per cent), making government the least trusted institution for the third consecutive year.

Edelman, the world's largest PR firm, has been tracking "trust" globally for 14 years. The results are based on a survey of 33,000 respondents aged 25 to 64 across 27 countries, including Canada — it takes an in-depth look at trust in business, government, NGOs, and the media.

This year, for the first time, trust in business rose four percentage points to 62 per cent. Globally, it revealed the largest gap (14 points) between business and government since the study began.

A worrying figure as we approach our municipal election this November.

Many Canadians, like other peoples across the globe, do not believe in their politicians, and this is true for every level of government.

In Whistler, and I would say most small town communities — and here it's about our resident community — trust in local government would perhaps score higher on Edelman should they ask us. We see those in our local government, whether elected or staff, in the village, on the ski runs, at our kid's birthday parties. We want to trust them.

And let's be clear, there has been no reason for us not to trust them, but as Edelman's Canadian CEO, John Clinton, told CBC radio this week two things need to be apparent to keep trust — integrity and engagement.

"The two biggest things that we have seen that really drive and improve trust scores and help people trust are engagement and integrity," he said on March 26.

Our local government has worked hard at engagement — but engagement can only be truly effective if it comes with transparency. Transparency is a slippery character — government is seen to be transparent by sharing information at open houses and through web portals.

But is a government truly transparent when all information is funneled through one voice — the mayors? When senior staff is not allowed to speak on the record?

Not exactly the way to build trust. Perhaps if it were just a local citizen asking and not the media the municipality would react differently?

The Edelman report also looks at CEOs and trust. Again integrity and engagement are key to being trusted.

Clinton explained on CBC that 20 years ago CEOs could just take it for granted that everyone would trust them.

"I think what we see, is growing cynicism out there," said Clinton. "People are looking for authenticity in people, and as we become more scripted that becomes less and less, so I think people are getting more skeptical and that is what the report is showing us.

"CEOs are not very trusted.

"They really have to have a plan as to how they are going to build trust and they need to pay attention to trust. Twenty years ago... you used to believe that people would believe you, that was a given. Nowadays that is just not true. You don't have the benefit of doubt, so you have to have a plan for helping people to understand that you are trustworthy."

CEOs can build trust in themselves and their companies by communicating clearly and transparently, telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it is, and engaging regularly with employees, states the Edelman report.

In North America, family-owned and small- and medium-sized businesses are most trusted at 85 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

How did the media do in the trust report? Traditional media, such as television, magazines and newspapers remains the most trusted (70 per cent) source for general news and information, followed by search engines (62 per cent), hybrid media (55 per cent), owned media (36 per cent), and social media (32 per cent).

Looks like we all have work to do.

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