Ten takeaways on trust in today's world

by Sophie Lawrence

by Sophie Lawrence


On the 9th October I attended the The Crowd Forum in London and heard a world-renowned expert on trust, Rachel Botsman, give an inspiring talk titled 'Who can you trust?'

Here are my ten takeaways from the talk:

1.     Trust is highly contextual. We can trust people and companies for different things and in different ways. For example, you can trust Ryanair to offer consistently low prices on airfares, but you can’t trust that they treat their employees fairly.

2.     Certain so-called ‘trustworthy signals’ can hide the truth. Take the example of Rachel’s childhood nanny. The nanny wore her Salvation Army uniform, glasses and carried a book to her interview – all signals of trustworthiness. It later emerged she was the leader of a sophisticated drug network!

3.     The networks of trust have evolved over time from being local, to institutional and now distributed in their shape, catalysed largely by technological advances. With this change there has been a shift from closed, centralized top-down structures, towards transparent, decentralized, bottom-up ones.


4.     The landscape is changing. The institutional mechanisms that were developed to enhance trust, e.g. professional memberships and risk frameworks were not designed for the technological age, where networks and collaborative platforms are proliferating.

5.     Trust is a process. It is the filler that binds the known to the unknown state, giving us a confident relationship with the unknown and making us prepared to take a leap of faith.


6.     Have we given up on trust when we need to be transparent? Do we need to disclose everything to be trusted?

7.     We are increasingly outsourcing our trust to algorithms. Our pursuit of efficiency has the potential to be the enemy of trust. For example, do we always have the necessary time to evaluate trustworthiness before we hand over our personal data to a company?

8.     We are witnessing a big leap in trust with technology, from trusting our technology to do something for us, to our technology starting to decide things for us. The next iteration of Amazon’s personal assistant robot Alexa will be able to give an opinion on which outfit should be worn by taking photos and comparing styles online.

9.     There is a lack of accountability in new distributed platforms. Regulatory mechanisms need to be designed to support the change in the system, rather than increasing the load of compliance on the existing system.

10.     A balance needs to be struck between computational efficiency and a human touch. This might mean a re-think of our obsession with scaling the size of businesses in the new technology age; staying small can still mean significant impact.


Our recent research with Generation Foundation explored the nexus between purpose, authenticity, trust and value - and how to signal this to stakeholders. Read the report here

Graphics are from Rachel Botsman