Plummeting public trust is sweeping the globe. It is infecting relations among people, between people and their governments, and between people and a range of societal institutions. We sense this erosion of trust in social media and domestic politics, in our communities, and even at our dinner tables. Distrust infuses public rhetoric and political debates, obstructing action in the public interest.

Together, this cumulative distrust is undermining the ability of social institutions to function and serve the people they are intended to benefit. And if researchers are correct that trust is easier to destroy than construct, the consequences of today’s trust deficit could haunt societies around the world for many years to come.  The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveys people across 28 countries, found declining public trust across business, media, NGOs, and government for the first time in 17 years of research.

There is no one culprit driving the widening trust gap, but leading candidates include: public- and private-sector corruption, poisonous public rhetoric, governments’ inability to provide essential security and human services, breakdowns in the rule of law, rising economic inequality, perceptions that neither individual voices nor votes matter, and the sense that elites and the powerful have rigged the system—all systems—to benefit themselves. A volatile media and social media climate, which contributes to the spread of disinformation and polarization, exacerbates divisions and a sense of social grievance.

Societies can replenish trust and social cohesion, short of social or political revolution, by taking several concrete steps:

  1. Make sure institutions are effective and deliver real benefits for people.
  2.  Develop future leaders who work for the greater good, not for themselves.
  3. Strengthen accountability and transparency.
  4. Engage citizens in solving community and societal challenges.
  5. Strengthen social inclusion.
  6. Establish real commitment.

Read the full article about how to repair declining social trust by Kristin M. Lord at Stanford Social Innovation Review.