Enlightened trust: An examination of trust and distrust in governance – conditions, effects and remedies

Lead Partner: Universitaet Siegen

Duration: February 2020. – january 2024

Local Project coordinator: Jelena Vasiljević

Team members:  Irena Fiket, Gazela Pudar, Zoran Pavlović (Filozofski Fakultet), Jelena Ćeriman, Sara Nikolić, Ana Đorđević


EnTrust will provide novel insights into trust in governance and measures to support sustainable and democratic societies in Europe. The project has five overarching objectives:
a) Develop a multidisciplinary theoretical framework to understand the dynamic relationship between trust and distrust, in order to promote new forms of enlightened trust in democratic governance;
b) Provide a comprehensive empirical dataset based on mixed methods and geared to measure how trust and distrust are constructed at individual, meso, and macro levels in relation to governance actors across local, national and European levels;
c) Systematically compare and map trust and distrust across European countries to understand context-specific forms of trust and distrust, their conditions and consequences;
d) Develop role models and best practices enabling to promote enlightened trust; and
e) Engage in active exploitation, dissemination and communication activities to reach the highest possible impact of our findings.
EnTrust consists of an interdisciplinary and well-integrated consortium of seven research teams from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Serbia with expertise in sociology, psychology, political science, media and communication studies, as well as a civil society practitioner active at the EU level. The work plan will generate novel theoretical and empirical insights on the basis of interlocked methods, including in-depth interviews and focus groups with citizens and governance actors, analyses of online and social media content, as well as a representative population survey and various experiments. Moreover, it will make use of innovative instruments to secure a high level of dissemination, exploitation and communication. Our goal is to provide tangible and viable recommendations for policymakers, civil society actors and the scientific community to improve trust relations.

Our main goals are to deepen our understanding of the dynamics of trust and distrust in governance, and to help establish a starting point for citizens and governance actors to engage in remedial action. This twofold ambition translates into different objectives committed to furthering knowledge and capacitating action:

A. To develop an interdisciplinary and multidimensional theoretical framework on the dynamic relationship between trust and distrust in democratic governance:
This is done through complementing contributions from sociology, political science, psychology, ethics and philosophy. We will scrutinise existing definitions, theories and empirical evidence of trust and dis-trust, and thereby gain new understandings of the analytical, empirical and normative underpinnings of their relationship in the European context. Doing so will establish a solid foundation for future theoretical and empirical work on ‘enlightened trust’ and for the construction of a new trust-enhancing narrative for European governance.

B. To present a comprehensive dataset that measures trust and distrust in governance at individual, meso- and macro levels and with regard to different governance actors:
We will collect systematic empirical data on the individual level of citizens and organisations, as well as from the mass media and the public sphere(s) across various European countries. At the same time, we will collect systematic empirical data on distinct targets of trust and distrust (i.e., policy actors, experts, financial institutions) at the different levels of governance (local, national, EU). For this purpose, we will use complementary methodological approaches that allow us to generate the necessary datasets and exploit the insights from various disciplines.

C. To produce a mapping of different cultures of trust and distrust and their development and interlinkages over time:
We will provide a better understanding of the causes, interrelations and dynamics of trust and distrust in governance in specific national contexts and at the European level. This includes elucidating different constellations and trends of trust and distrust over time, and identifying critical junctures and scenarios that may influence the well-functioning of democracy and effective governance. To this end, we will make use of a rigorous comparative research design capable of capturing the diverse local and national experi-ences and contexts in different countries (the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Serbia) and at the EU-level.

D. To identify and develop best practices of trust building and dealing with distrust: We will identify best practices of trust building and dealing with distrust and generate new role models, for instance, by offering advice for dealing with misinformation, providing in-depth insights into new and alternative democratic citizens movements and participatory practices in online deliberations fora, and by developing a train-the-trainer module for policymakers. Based on best practices and role models, we will present evidence-based and practice-oriented recommendations that enable policymakers, public authori-ties, civil society actors and other stakeholders to improve existing initiatives and practices.

E. To engage in dissemination, exploitation and communication activities that will further the uptake of the project’s outcomes, and help citizens and governance actors to promote well-functioning democracy:
Our aim is to disseminate and exploit our findings and insights, and to communicate and deliberate with various target groups, namely policymakers, practitioners and civil society, the general public, as well as the scientific community. For this purpose, we will develop tangible and applicable recommendations and instruments tailored to increase the knowledge and performance of various actors.

Work plan — Work packages, deliverables

Research-related work is organised in seven WPs addressing the dimensions and components of trust and distrust in governance in a focused manner.
WP1: The theoretical and normative underpinnings of trust/distrust

  1. Develop a conceptual and theoretical model of ‘enlightened trust’ that identifies the analytical and normative dimensions of trust and distrust in governance within the European context, drawing from ac-counts in sociology, political science, psychology, ethics and philosophy.
  2. Develop an integrated account of previous research and available empirical evidence on the determinants and consequences of trust and distrust in governance that specifies thresholds and scenarios.
  3. Produce guidelines for the research work regarding ethics and responsible research.

WP2: Trust and distrust at the street-level of public policy

  1. Deliver cross-country comparative data about trust and distrust building mechanisms at the stage of public policy implementation at the local level.
  2. Establish deeper knowledge on local trust and distrust building processes in the context of: a) welfare systems and policy design; b) specific national trust and distrust cultures based on institutionally embedded collective norms and values among street-level bureaucrats and citizens claiming welfare benefits or services; c) direct interactions between street-level bureaucrats and citizens.
  3. Deliver new knowledge on the processes of trust and distrust building in the sphere of support to disadvantaged social groups.
  4. Determining lessons for trust building at the stage of public policy implementation.

WP3: The role of democratic social movements in the formation of trust and dis-trust

  1. Gather data on the role and relevance of new democratic social movements in creating and reproducing trust and distrust among active citizens.
  2. Better understand whether these movements promote alternative visions of Europe and alternative ways of (re)building trust in its institutions.
  3. Gather insights on the way these new grassroots movements contest and/or promote scientific expertise, and how they contribute to restoring trust in science.

WP4: The role of the media in trust/distrust building: Information or polarisation?

  1. Establish the relationship between trust in journalism, the trustworthiness of news and trust/distrust in governance and science in different interconnected media platforms: traditional news journalism, online (social media) and alternative news media.
  2. Generate a case-specific dataset on public contestation about the trustworthiness of political and economic governance actors and scientific expertise in public debates across different media channels and countries.
  3. Ascertain the role of news media and journalism as creators of ‘enlightened trust’.
  4. Develop counter strategies against the spread of misinformation and fake news.

WP5: Developmental-psychological insight into trust/distrust

  1. Develop an analytical model on how individuals at various life stages construct their conceptualisations of trust and distrust.
  2. Identify the role of specific everyday experiences in proximal contexts (e.g., in families, schools, peer groups) that are employed by children, adolescents and adults to construct their expectations of trust or distrust in more distal political institutions and public authorities.
  3. Present analytical results of an investigation of the aspects of governance that increase and decrease its perceived legitimacy, and on developmental changes of the relative importance of these aspects.

WP6: Appraising citizens’ trust and distrust in governance: forms, determinants, effects and remedies

  1. Propose novel and more nuanced operationalisations of different forms of trust and distrust, and to generate a comprehensive dataset from a representative sample of citizens in seven countries;
  2. Identify individual-level factors, as well as their interaction with contextual factors, that may affect trust and distrust in governance;
  3. Explore the effects of political trust and distrust on political behaviour and its ideological effects on the rise of left/right-wing extremist/radical and anti-establishment parties;
  4. Identify the impact of deliberative fora realising a direct interaction between citizens and political representatives on the construction and attribution of trust/distrust.

WP7: Civilising trust/distrust: role models and recommendations

  1. Enlarge the theoretical framework of the relations between trust and distrust in governance by collecting evidence and analysing practice of policymaking at EU level through the engagement of European public authorities and EU networks of civil society organisations.
  2. Contribute to the collection of best practices in trust building and dealing with distrust by looking at the evolution of governance mechanisms and civil society responses.
  3. Develop concrete proposals and tools to address barriers to ‘enlightened trust’ development, engaging both with civil society organisations and movements and policymakers at the EU level.

WP8: Dissemination, exploitation and communication of research

  1. Ensure an effective policy dissemination of the research findings and to transfer knowledge for policy usage by engaging in policy learning, developing policy recommendations and engage in a policy dialogue with stakeholders and public actors.
  2. Ensure an effective dissemination of research findings within the scientific community and the scientifically interested community and public.
  3. Engage in pro-active communication activities in order to proactively promote and spread the findings of the project in an accessible manner to a general audience.

WP9: Management

  1. Ensure that the project tasks, milestones and deliverables are achieved on time and in line with the budget.
  2. Secure efficient communication within the consortium and with the European Commission.
  3. Submit periodic and final technical and financial reports.
  4. Observe any potential conflicts and mitigate them immediately and appropriately.


For more information visit:  https://entrust-project.eu

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