Truth, Trust and Transparency

It is our view that concerns about truth, trust and transparency and how they are interconnected underpin some of the greatest challenges modern businesses face. This is happening across sectors: governance, investors, asset managers and all members of the investor ‘chain’, insurance, accountancy, CSR, media and PR, as well as business more broadly. We believe that unlocking innovations and effecting change will only happen if we collaborate across industry and by working together with civic society.


We hear much about the demise of the trust between business and society. This had led to concerns about the way that businesses are being run, and the spawning of an industry of rules, governance, standards and compliance. The setters of reporting requirements have good intentions. But is reporting resulting in better practice, or has it has just created a box-ticking façade? Are companies being truly transparent about the right things? Whilst leaders and legislators may take some comfort from an increase in reporting, the general acceptance of ESG ratings and a plethora of other assessments, the question still remains: Does increased transparency increase trust in business, and if not, why not?

We might reflect that trust can’t be demanded, nor does it come from being transparent. We develop trust in each other as a consequence of our actions and the relationships we build up over time, and is something that is earned. As a business then, trust might be earned by rewarding loyalty, by always delivering results – financial or otherwise. But this can backfire, too. At one end of the scale it can lead to deception of self and of others. As pointed out in Dr Zhivago:“Those who wield power are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility that they turn their backs on truth”. And it means that when we discover new truths – for instance 2018’s report from Transparency International that reveals the lengths business go to influence the rules in parliament – trust in businesses and politicians alike suffers.

At the same time, validating information is becoming a lost art. Markets have reduced the number of analysts who take the time to get underneath and understand a company, newspapers and the media no longer prioritise fact checkers who are employed to vet stories for accuracy before publishing, and instead people are awash with frequently unvalidated information on the internet, from a range of sources, which are rarely challenged.

As consumers it becomes more difficult to trust what is true or not: The problem with fake reviews is that they look exactly like real ones. Information and how it is shared has become politicised, and we need to ask who researches information? Who owns it? Who verifies it? Who sets out to prove or disprove it and how?

Getting to the ‘truth’ means identifying areas of misinformation, disinformation or obfuscation.

We live in an era dominated by information, and increasingly complex information flows, something which makes it harder to determine ‘the truth’. Large corporations are not simply providing information to a single set of shareholders who make an objective view based solely on the information they receive. They sit amidst a web of interlocking information outlets and sources. Here too one might stop to ask whether information-crammed annual reports are hiding the truth – whether good or bad – in plain sight; whether ESG scores tell us enough of significance about the way results have really been achieved. Even when reporting does include ‘the truth’, that truth can be obfuscated or spun.

Are we just seeing the organisation’s ability to position what they are doing in a good light? And for those that are doing ‘good’, how do they cut through the noise and cynicism? How do we as companies and professionals increase truth and transparency to show what good we are doing, in a way that increases trust in our organisations? And how do we as consumers distinguish between corporates who are truly working to make a difference and those who make out like they are.

Our concern about all of this is that it becomes increasingly difficult to discuss these challenges in public fora. We need to create spaces to discuss the complex challenges and decisions that face business and society, and the challenges that are created by a drive for truth, trust and transparency.


Aims

  • To form an alliance of leaders, who are committed to exploring these complex issues and finding solutions
  • To better understand how truth, trust and transparency are affecting our day to day lives and businesses’ ability to be a force for good, by bringing together people from across the ecosystem in highly participative and innovative ways.
  • To develop impactful and high quality thought leadership, drawing on our innovations and research
  • To create a Truth, Trust and Transparency Summit in 2019 at which the findings from our research will be shared with a call for further action.

 

 


Tomorrow’s Company will be holding a Truth, Trust and Transparency roundtable on the 29th January 2019. Click here to view the event, or email Claire Dobson: claire@tomorrowscompany.com if you would be interested in getting involved.


Image credits to Francesca Fitzgerald

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