Published on Data Blog

What the world thinks, and why it matters

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To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.
― George MacDonald

Ah, to be a scientist or a doctor. Then, you could walk the streets with your head held high!

Maybe not so much, if you’re an advertising executive.

This, according to a new IPSOS global poll that looks at how different professions are trusted in 23 countries.

Overall, the latest news on trust differs profoundly across constituencies, countries, and the globe; hence, it’s almost impossible to conjure up one narrative about trust. For instance - to say with certainty that trust is up, or down, or just remaining fairly consistent over time, does not allow for enough nuance related to gender, country, and socioeconomic variables. There is also evidence of dramatic differences between decision makers and the general public.

A spate of recent polls across the globe provides some insight to help us better understand where the world stands on trust, including brand new data from the 2019 Ipsos Global Influence Report on behalf of the Halifax International Security Forum (PDF), the FY ’19 annual World Bank Group Country Survey Program, which annually surveys the views of nearly ten thousand influencers and decision makers in approximately forty developing countries on development and the institution, and the new World Bank Group Global Influencers Barometer, a public opinion research poll conducted in thirteen OECD countries with opinion leaders, influencers, and decision makers. Some of the findings may surprise you.

First, why does trust matter?

Trust has an impact on so many of the decisions we make, from purchasing decisions, to choosing an airline, to changing our behaviors, to supporting reform (and ultimately, reform-minded decision makers). For instance, we’ve seen what happens when concerns are raised about automobile manufacturers doing what is right (Volkswagen). We’ve witnessed the consequences of safety procedures that aren’t fully trusted by consumers (Boeing). And when authorities in power aren’t trusted, the consequences can be dire. Consider an Ebola outbreak and the devastating consequences of citizens not following strict guidelines that will help stop the spread of the disease, because the public simply does not trust the source of information. Finally, when citizens lose trust in the sanctity of their election systems, they may disengage and choose not to participate, leading to fewer voices demanding accountability from leaders.

In our client countries, governments must be trusted by citizens to build sustainable support for change and reform. It is unlikely that citizens will support reform that requires, say, increased tariffs and/or shifting behaviors, if they don’t trust that the government is working to ensure improved services and delivery (and then see results).

The Bank Group needs to be trusted by governments and key partners/stakeholders in the developing countries that it supports, so that effective and meaningful collaboration and partnerships can take place to support better country outcomes. The institution is trusted at different levels on a number of criteria, including its expertise, understanding of the political economy, innovativeness, accessibility, and responsiveness, to name a few. But, in the end, trust remains a critical underpinning for all of these attributes.

The World Bank Group also must be trusted within its authorizing environment to do what is best for borrowing countries.

Understanding the degree of trust that stakeholders have in other groups, organizations, and institutions matters as well, in the low and middle income countries that the Bank Group supports. Imagine an electricity reform project that requires citizens and businesses to change their behaviors: turn the lights off, use energy-efficient bulbs, retrofit commercial buildings, invest in energy-efficient machines or refrigerators. Which group/organization/institution can act as a trusted ambassador, to advocate for support and behavior change, as the government works to build constituencies and backing for the program?

Findings from polls that measure trust can guide organizations’ country work. The data can help identify with whom governments can partner for maximum impact: Should governments and other players partner/collaborate with NGOs, domestic private sector, faith-based organizations, and/or technical experts to advocate for behavior change, to help see through operational projects, to build support for reform across broad constituencies? Let the polls inform this (i.e., tap into support from local experts/scientists to advocate for change in contrast to an advertising executive)!

So, whom does the world trust?

IPSOS’s 2019 Global Influence Report on behalf of the Halifax International Security Forum, released just this month, provides insight into how citizens perceive the influence of a range of institutions, including the World Bank Group. As illustrated in the chart below, amongst multi-laterals, the WBG is below the UN and EU and at least four G-7 countries when it comes to perceptions of positive influence.

In the lower and middle income countries that the World Bank Group supports, we have some clues on trust from the World Bank Group Country Survey Program, in particular, the extent to which opinion leaders and decision makers trust institutions to “do what is right”.* The data show positive views of the Bank Group, but there are caveats: First, the survey, identified as a WBG activity to respondents, may bias their ratings; Second, opinion surveys regularly suggest that greater familiarity with the Bank Group is correlated with more positive views (opinion leaders are much more familiar with the WBG than citizens).

*In FY ’19 the annual Country Opinion Survey Program surveyed more than 10,000 opinion leaders (e.g., decision makers and influencers) in 40+ developing countries, exploring a range of issues related to development and the WBG’s work and engagement.

Influencers in OECD countries appear to trust Central Banks the most, while private sector, faith-based groups and on-line social media are least trusted.

Finally, illustrated in IPSOS’s latest survey of professions (surveys fielded in 23 of the world’s larger economies), we see evidence of trust in objective, evidence-based expertise.

The survey findings from different polls confirm much of what we see and experience currently in terms of trust. But some things stand out. First, why dramatically less trust for faith-based institutions across these surveys (although FBOs are very highly trusted in WBG designated  “Fragile Countries”, according to the institution’s Country Opinion Surveys)? Is there an overarching dynamic at work that explains high levels of trust in scientists and lower levels of trust in religious institutions? If we accept that the Bank Group is trusted at least at a relatively high level, can some of this be attributed to its high level of technical expertise (which always receives high ratings in Country Surveys across the globe), akin to that of evidence-based scientists and doctors? Which dynamic (e.g., drivers) explains high levels of trust in Central Banks amongst opinion leaders in many low and middle-income countries globally? Are Central Banks seen as expert stewards at an uncertain moment in time? Amongst OECD opinion leaders, how to explain the low level of trust for so many aspects of the private sector? What’s the real story behind the so-called trust lag in some elements of the media?

Finding the drivers that can answer these questions will help ensure a strategic approach to strong engagement.

In sum, the best use of this public opinion data on trust would be to tailor unique and targeted engagement strategies for country and regional circumstances, whether it’s Africa, Latin America, Europe, or Canada. There is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to trust. The Bank Group can identify strong and trusted messengers/ambassadors for the work it supports across countries, regions, and the globe. Institutions that are trusted can persuade, influence, and ultimately achieve so much more. The World Bank Group will continue growing strong, substantive, and trustworthy relationships on the ground to help improve country outcomes and build support for the institution’s Twin Goals.


Sharon Felzer

Senior Communications Officer

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