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Trust, the foundation of the “world thereafter”

Etienne Grass
April 30, 2020

We continue with our ‘Words of the Day After series with an emphasis on: Trust.

Putting nearly three billion people into lock down, the Covid-19 pandemic has had huge consequences: the digitisation of socialisation.

Every single day, nearly 40 million French people are connected on social media. These exchanges are meaningful and numerous. Provided that the technology can analyse it with sufficient depth, accuracy, and privacy parameters, social media offers unparalleled access to people’s feelings, doubts and hopes.

An analysis of social media reveals one clear sign/ question in particular: the way the epidemic has been managed and how we will come out of the crisis forewarns of a crisis of trust among “citizens, consumers and employees” with regards to public and private decision-makers. Throughout this crisis, people have been handed more responsibility: complying with the lock down, independently organizing tasks as important as professional life or their children’s education, finding digital and local solutions for everyday needs. Social media has also played a part, early on, to spread a certain number of false narratives. Instructions issued by authorities have been questioned, their apparent transparency and their efforts to justify on-line their ex-post positions.

The initial analysis conducted on social media confirmed, in a nutshell, the hyper-awareness developed by the French.

In the face of adversity or risk, their ability to develop unique collective actions and their high demand for autonomy at every level has grown.

The demands on the leaders of today and tomorrow will only increase especially since “trust”, as a  concept, has been an issue in France for a long time. Our country is used to falling short in this area, as described in the World Values Survey, in terms of trust expressed in institutions, schools or businesses. According to Gallup, at the start of the epidemic, over 80% of the population in Germany and the United Kingdom expressed their trust in their health system and public decisions. In France, the level of trust was lower, at 71%. Yet trust is so important when it comes to health. At the individual patient level, it is the first element of effective care. On the collective scale, this link between trust and health is weakening. Today’s suspicion towards vaccines is a dramatic illustration of this: one French person in three does not trust vaccines, compared to one in ten 30 years ago.

Many surveys have been carried out to analyse the links between the level of information  French people have on a subject – GMO, nuclear energy, for instance – and their level of mistrust. This relationship has the shape of a valley: for non-experts, any additional information is first a source of stress and therefore a loss of trust. Only after having reached a certain level of expertise do we see the trust begin to build again.

This “valley of mistrust” brings us to view health and democracy in a different light. It warns against good educational intentions.

It also helps understand the reflex of self-censorship that strikes some scientists at the time of publishing their work – aware that the initial effect of informing may be to create doubt. Lastly, it highlights a paradox of our “hyper-technical” society, which demands “hyper-trust”: once a new technology becomes part of our daily lives, we must let go, whatever uncertainties remain as to the associated risks. These dilemmas increasingly distance the citizen from public action. And sometimes, such as with vaccines, trust is broken without any apparent rationality and the citizen firmly demands to take back power.

For tomorrow’s leaders, the ability to restore trust with the population is decisive.

It’s for the long-term, and it will require new trends to be integrated into processes and organisations. One can list of instance : relocation of value chains, valuation back of proximity, reconsideration of front line jobs, thoughtful management of digital interfaces thanks to which citizens have acquired a newly-found autonomy and – in part – overcome the economic and social consequences of the crisis. More widely, this large project of trust will require new cultural reflexes – sincerity, humility, alignment between words and actions, a cooperative spirit and reflection on a new form of democracy that brings stakeholders together around these matters and breed common good.

This article is an English adaptation of a post initially created in French.

Note: Capgemini Invent has formed a partnership with BLOOM, a company that is an expert in marketing intelligence and social media analysis via artificial intelligence. Objective: to address the French market concerning brand strategy and reputation risk management and to help businesses with the coherence of their Corporate Social Responsibility policy (CSR)*.


Bruno Breton 

CEO , Bloom