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Enlightened trust: An examination of trust and distrust in governance – conditions, effects and remedies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EnTrust (Enlightened trust: An examination of trust and distrust in governance – conditions, effects and remedies)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2022-07-31

Public and political debates increasingly express concern about the erosion of trust among European citizens, and that this development might threaten the foundations of a cooperative, stable, sustainable and solidary society. This trend has progressed substantially in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent economic, social and governance crisis it has unleashed. To confront these developments, it is indispensable to produce in-depth knowledge about trust and distrust in governance, and to increase the understanding of all actors involved in order to propel those actions necessary to develop and safeguard sustainable democratic forms of social co-existence. For this purpose, the EnTrust project develops a clear and coherent understanding of what forms and levels of trust or distrust are conducive to a resilient and vibrant democratic society, and which risks and challenges need to be addressed.
EnTrust’s main goals are to deepen our understanding of the dynamics of trust and distrust in governance, and to help establish a starting point for citizens and governance actors to improve trust relations. Based on this twofold ambition, our project has five core objectives: 1.) to develop an interdisciplinary and multidimensional theoretical framework on the dynamic relationship between trust and distrust in democratic governance in the European context; 2.) to present a comprehensive dataset that measures trust and distrust in governance at various levels (individual citizens, organisations, the mass media and the public sphere(s)) and with regard to different governance actors (political governance actors, economic and financial governance actors, experts and scientists); 3.) to map and compare different cultures of trust and distrust and their development and interlinkages over time in different European countries and at EU-level; 4.) to identify and elaborate best practice models of promoting trust and responding to distrust and present evidence-based, practice-oriented recommendations for policymakers, public authorities, civil society actors and other stakeholders, and 5.) to proactively promote the uptake of the project’s outcomes, increase the knowledge of various actors, and help citizens and governance actors to foster a well-functioning democracy.
During the first year, EnTrust researchers worked on three research-related work packages. Under WP1, EnTrust teams reviewed existing conceptual-theoretical and empirical knowledge from a multi-disciplinary perspective, using the insights gained to develop a comprehensive model of trust and distrust in governance. EnTrust produced its first paper “Enlightened Trust: A Conceptual Framework of Analysis for the Examination of Trust and Distrust in Governance” (D1.2) and prepared a book manuscript entitled “Trust and distrust in governance – A multidisciplinary account” to be published by a leading academic publisher. Moreover, desk research was used to create a systematic literature database to be exploited throughout the duration of the project and beyond and to feed a database on determinants and consequences of trust and distrust across countries, governance actors and levels. In addition, EnTrust developed and published the project’s responsible research guidelines (D1.1).
Under WP2, EnTrust researchers prepared and completed empirical fieldwork to study trust and distrust at the street-level of public policy. Across seven European countries, we conducted and analysed qualitative semi-structured interviews with frontline workers of social welfare administrations and citizens who are clients of these public administrations. Based on this empirical material, research teams started to draft country reports that will deliver cross-country comparative data about levels, forms and conditions of trust and distrust at the stage of public policy implementation at the local level and in direct interaction between frontline workers and citizens.
In addition, research teams prepared WP3 devoted to the role and relevance of new democratic social movements in creating and re-producing trust and distrust in political institutions and scientific expertise among active citizens. In particular, we worked towards the identification of new democratic social movements to be selected for focus group discussions with core members and movement followers, drafted the guidelines for focus group discussions, conducted pre-test interviews and engaged in training activities.
As a cross-cutting activity, EnTrust engaged in dissemination, communication and exploitation activities. For this purpose, it made use of the project’s website and its Twitter account “EnTrust Project” and the Facebook page “EnTrust project”. We published our first European Policy Brief and organised two online events with experts and stakeholders. In June 2020, we officially launched the project with a high-profile European policy dialogue entitled “Trust and distrust in governance: What is at stake?” (hosted by Katarina Barley, Vice President of the European Parliament). In November 2020, we organised a policy learning roundtable with parallel workshops entitled “Trust & Distrust in Governance: The Role of Media, Science and Civil Society”. In addition, EnTrust members participated in other discussion and dialogue events to which we had been invited.
Previous research has focused on trust only, following an implicit judgement that trust is a ‘good’ ingredient of social order and political governance while distrust is its ‘dark’ side. At the same time, it has privileged an atomistic analysis assuming that trust is a disposition or attitudinal resource individuals either have or lack, and has been centred mostly on standardised surveys. In contrast, EnTrust aims to study trust and distrust as distinct, equally relevant and interrelated phenomena. Moreover, it takes account of the interdependencies and reciprocities of trust and distrust in the relationships between citizens and governance actors, and applies a multi-methods approach combining survey-based statistical analysis with experimental research and qualitative, interpretative research tools. Furthermore, EnTrust provides a systematic analysis of different forms, levels, and targets of trust/distrust in seven European countries (Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Serbia), allowing us to compare trust and distrust in various economic, institutional and social contexts, and to ascertain the conditioning factors patterning these differences.
EnTrust is geared to generate important insights about trends and developments, determining factors and potential consequences of trust and distrust in governance in order to detect risks and opportunities for democratic governance, and will elucidate the dynamics and mechanisms at work when the relationship between trust and distrust takes a substantial turn. Our ambition is to identify and develop best practices and role models of trust building and dealing with distrust and to deliver evidence-based policy recommendations and guidelines that enable societal and governance actors to improve existing initiatives and remedial actions. By conducting research on the trustworthiness of science and expertise within public opinion, organised civil society and the public sphere, EnTrust will also help restore and improve public confidence in the scientific community and in expert knowledge.
EnTrust's conceptual model for the analysis of trust and distrust in governance
EnTrust project logo