Saturday, February 07, 2009

Post-GovCamp Thoughts: What is Trust?

Rather than re-cap my sporadic notes from UK GovWeb Barcamp '09, I thought I'd try to pick out some of the more intriguing thoughts that occurred to me during the day. This is the first, and you should be able to track them through the "ukgc09" label below...

What is Trust?

Everyone agrees that Trust is Good. But can we really leave it at that? Trust in what? Why? And how? There are, I think, different answers to each of these, and those answers depend - or inform - the type of political system in play.

Trust seems to overlap a lot with Transparency these days. But I'm not sure it's as simple as that. Take a simple analogy - would you trust your friends, even if hey didn't tell you what you were doing? In fact, wouldn't you have to trust them if you couldn't see what they were doing? Is that the definition of trust? And if so, then...

a) Can we really talk about "trust" in a political system that encourages transparency? Does transparency come about precisely because we can't trust our politicians?

b) Why do we trust our friends, or others that we deem to be "trustworthy"? If we want to trust our politicians (because, let's face it, we don't just want to watch over them all the time like some kind of nanny - we want them to get on the job we've entrusted them with), then how do we go about it? What systems do we need in place to build that trust?

Maybe Trust is a judgement, based on experience, character, reputation. Sometimes we get it wrong, and someone pulls the wool over our eyes. Sometimes we need evidence to start trusting someone again. But I'm not convinced that rushing to more "openness" and transparency is necessarily the best answer. We just need to be more careful about who we trust, and ask why our eyes were covered. And we need to force politicians who do betray our trust to prove they can be trusted again, but not through openness.

We have openness. And yet we still have no trust.

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