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Do you count as a trustworthy expert?



In this day and age experts’ pronouncements often have as much weight as celebrity Tweets.

That results in general public mistrust, doubt, and skepticism, reflecting in policies, laws, and measures with low or no capacity to cope with the complexities of our world.

The reason this happens is an overload of information and our own inbuilt biases. Even if we get proof, it is hard to get out of our beliefs once they are firmly in our heads.

The only way to get the foot in the door in such a mass confusion and ineffective policies is enabling experts to continuously, while selected leaders come and go, utilize fact-based, new knowledge in decision-making processes.

Very recently, in the peak of the public climate debate, a politician from the Austrian Alpine region, an area economically dependent on winter tourism, took out the snowfall projections models and presented it to the audience.

He was very calming, stating that “there’s no need to worry about having enough snow.”

The problem was that he backed up his statement with snowfall projections stopping at the year 2015. That is the year before the line rapidly collapses.

His rationale was similar to stopping counting the ballots at the moment when you are in the lead.

What do you think happens when climate skeptics face with real global warming data? They “believe” the data even less. People will continue to take positions that are consistent with their pre-existing values.

As George Marshall says, climate debate “is no longer about carbon dioxide and temperature-change models. It’s about biases, values, and ideology.”

That is why you, being the expert, urgently need to build your trustworthiness.

TRUST IS MEDIUM FOR KNOWLEDGE UTILIZATION

There is a strong link between the trust in experts in decision-making processes, and the ability to put the new knowledge into use through our policies and laws.

When actors in policy and decision making processes trust experts, they invest more of their resources, such as money, knowledge, time, networks, in cooperation.

Trust in someone’s expertise also catalyzes intense interactions where the fruitful exchange of information and knowledge happens.

Such an environment vitalizes innovation and enables place-based solutions. Innovation is born by confronting different ideas and solutions. Enforced top-down integration of ideas and solutions tends to minimize that, leading to stagnation and rigid policies. Trust in experts makes vertical integration less necessary, giving more space for place-based solutions.

What does it take to build YOUR trustworthiness?

Trust is “a stable positive expectation of other actors, in which actors expect each other to refrain from opportunistic behavior even if the opportunity arises, and then take each other’s interests into account in interactions.”

Conditions that lead to those “positive expectations” have been considered repeatedly in social research for many decades.

Researching trust, to develop methods for embedding scientific knowledge in urban governance networks, I went through more than 500 sources about that topic. I wrote down around 50 criteria leading to trust in collaborative decision-making processes. As a set, three characteristics of a trustee appear to explain a main portion of trustworthiness.

Here they are, by order of importance:

Competence.

The term “competence“ stands for possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity. It is the condition sine qua non to be perceived as expert people believe.

People perceive you as a competent expert either if you can prove or demonstrate the technological “know-how,” measured by “the extent of technological support” provided or received, or “know-what,” which stands for factual knowledge, and “know-why,” i.e., scientific knowledge.

Ability to help.

Although the potential trustee may be highly competent, that feature does not guarantee their ability to take action or cause an operation, which is the second condition to be seen as trustworthy.

“Ability” refers to power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, or financially within some specific domain. The increasing right combination of those capacities will significantly get you more trust from peers and clients.

Accessibility.

Just knowing someone has relevant knowledge, or that they can help, does not guarantee that anyone will share their knowledge or information with you in a helpful way, or show you enough trust to lead a project.

A strong access-enabling social network is often critical to ensuring trust. It enables effective information sharing and problem-solving in a sufficiently timely way, and every effort put in widening your network is the best investment in your trustworthiness.

To sum it up, if you want that your knowledge has an impact, you:

Prove that you have knowledge.

Show that you have resources that can make a difference.

Make sure actors can reach you, and you can reach others.

While I’m thinking about how to take my advice, let me leave to Marcus Aurelius to close this piece of text for me:

Trust is built slowly.

Trust is destroyed quickly.

Trust can make complex things possible.

The absence of trust can make simple things impossible.

Trust powers relationships, businesses, nations.

Trust is as precious as it is fragile.

What do you do to increase your trustworthiness?

Let me know on Linkedin, or via contact sheet on antoniabogadi.com.

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