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Earning Trust: Where We Get It Wrong

When I first saw the results of our trust research a decade ago I was convinced the researchers got it wrong.

Surely the data sets must have been switched.

I was so heavily vested in the belief that all decisions related to food and agriculture should be based on science that my tunnel vision caused me to miss the obvious: Science tells us we can do something, but society is asking if we should. That’s an ethical question based on values – not science.

Those in food and agriculture are very skilled at answering the “can” question, but much less accomplished answering the “should” question – a disconnect that creates a trust deficit.

Answering the “Should” Question

Today, consumers are crowd-sourcing knowledge. They pick up disparate pieces of information from myriad sources and synthesize it to shape opinions and beliefs based on their values. Sharing information about science and economics may inform but has little impact on how people feel and what they believe – their values.

Values are grounded in firmly held beliefs, not fact-based information. Our trust model from The Center for Food Integrity shows the path to building trust begins by demonstrating you share the values of your stakeholders. Sharing values addresses the “should” question.

One of my favorite quotes summarizing the research findings on trust comes from Jack Bobo, formerly with the U.S. State Department. “If people trust you the science doesn’t matter … and if people don’t trust you, the science doesn’t matter.”

When Science Matters

This doesn’t mean science and data aren’t important. They are crucial to proving claims and supporting conclusions, especially when dealing with technical stakeholders. However, the trust research findings do mean that you aren’t given permission to introduce science and facts until you’ve demonstrated you share the values of stakeholders interested in the issue.

In fact, our research shows that simply sharing facts with someone who has conflicting beliefs galvanizes their position and works against finding common ground. Theodore Roosevelt had it right: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

The path to building trust starts by identifying and connecting on shared values, demonstrating that you care about what matters most to your audience on topics like food safety, animal care, environment and community.

That’s how to get it right.

Charlie Arnot
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity
From Arnot’s book Size Matters: Why We Love to Hate Big Food