17 December 2012


Baroness O’Neill when in New Zealand two years ago gave the Royal Society Aronui addresses about trust. ‘A question of trust’ was her topic when she delivered the Reith Lectures in 2002. She gave a BBC talk last weekend on ‘Trustworthiness before Trust’ in which she explored the difference between trust and trustworthiness.  Trust of course is something that people extend to others. Those who are trustworthy earn that trust.

Everyone likes to think of themselves as trustworthy.  Baroness O’Neill addressed the question of ‘How can we make it easier to judge trustworthiness?’.  She believes that this is a matter of personal judgement.  We develop trust in people after assessing their competence, honesty and reliability. We may trust people to do some things but not trust them to do something else.

Most of us see through organisational claims to trustworthiness and transparency.  That is why it is the commitment of individuals to values that is always important. Organisational spin is readily forgotten. Where the conduct of senior managers lacks integrity, trust in their organisation will be diminished. Officials who do what they say they will do, and are honest about what they cannot do, will be seen as trustworthy and gain trust.

The State Services Commission promotes the ‘6 trust elements’ as a tool for maintaining trustworthiness. The extent to which these 6 trust elements have been implemented by agencies was assessed in 2007 and in 2010 by the State Services integrity survey. The 6 trust elements are that

  • Agencies have integrity standards
  • Agencies promote those standards –‘talking the talk’
  • The integrity standards are integrated into the agencies operations – ‘the way we do things around here’
  • Managers model the standards –‘walking the talk’
  • Consequences for breaching the standards are known by agency staff
  • Agencies act decisively when breaches occur.