Trust, Belief, and Willingness to Act

Building climate change-related software solutions with trust in mind

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In This Issue

  • Trust, Belief, and Willingness to Act

  • Demos & Deep Dives

  • Thanks & Recognition: Ontario Tech University INFR4611U students and faculty

  • This Month's Webinar Links (Premium)

Trust, Belief, and Willingness to Act

Barriers to Action

As part of our ongoing research, we are designing and prototyping a climate change impact planning software that helps individuals take personal action to avoid, mitigate, and recover from climate change impacts.

Examples of recommended actions might include steps to recover from home flooding damage, or advice on how to prepare the family for a speedy evacuation during a forest fire.

When we started the initial software solution design work, we thought the main task was to show how an individual would be personally affected by climate change, then present them with a set of practical actions they could take to prepare, adapt, mitigate, and recover. The information would be provided by what we called "Trusted Authorities".

So in this particular software prototype there were two main types of users - Individuals and Trusted Authorities - with a direct communication link between them.

This was our naive approach before the pandemic started...

Recent global events have significantly weakened social cohesion and trust.

They have shown how difficult it is to change peoples' minds and convince them of scientific findings, or to take an action they are resistant to, even if is in their own self interest!

And of course these events have underlined that the very definition of "Trusted Authority" is contentious and depends on who you talk to, and what you talk to them about.

Communication Barriers

A major theme of our climate change-related software development work has been identifying communication barriers between individuals and authorities.

For instance, when we spoke to Canadians all over the country we asked them what barriers stopped them from taking climate change action. In our OASIS sign-up welcome gift, we share their feedback with you.

Here are the top three barriers:

  1. Citizens feel overwhelmed by the volume and variety of information

  2. Trusted authorities have difficulty directly collaborating and sharing information with citizens.

  3. Citizens receive information that isn't personalized for their needs

Last week we spoke about how important it is to not cause despair.

Choosing to emphasize "local environmental conservation" evoked positive feelings and (in many people) a sense of control and ability to take positive action. Emphasizing "climate change" evoked negative feelings, despair, and a sense of lack of control and individual agency.

So, to encourage individuals to take positive action, trusted authorities should attempt to overcome the communication barriers by directly engaging the individuals without overwhelming them, by providing personalized information that they can act on.

This implies that there is a direct communication between these authorities and individuals who will trust them and act on their guidance.

But wait...

Does such trust always exist? And, when it comes to climate change guidance, who can be trusted?

What is a Trusted Authority, anyway?

In order to proceed with the interviews, we first had to have a basic definition of what a "trusted authority" even was.

The definition could not be based on a particular role or organization. As our participants pointed out frequently, political and socio-economic factors often determined what was said about climate change (or not said). Sometimes a recent election radically altered (worsened) an authority's communication and approach to climate change topics.

So, the definition clearly had to be based on the actual behaviour and actions of the authority, when it came to communicating information and guidance to individuals about climate change topics.

Here is our working definition.

Trusted Authorities are:

  • individuals or organizations; and

  • have exceptional, targeted knowledge and expertise of global warming and climate change issues, impacts, resilience and policy measures; and

  • can be reasonably expected to provide unbiased, apolitical advice; and

  • accept the currently-available scientific understanding of global warming and climate change, as described in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports."

Researching Trust and Collaboration Frameworks

The definition was a good start.

But we knew we needed a "trust and collaboration framework" – a set of processes that we can use to identify and verify the “trusted authorities” and the recommended actions they provide.

When it comes to producing climate change actions we think trusted authorities from different organizations will have to work together in a particular region; therefore we also need a framework for them to collaborate amongst themselves (for example to request and receive feedback on recommended tasks, and perhaps to obtain some kind of "official" approval before information is publicly shared).

We asked Ontario Tech University students of "INFR4611U Trust Systems" course for help researching such a framework.

Led by Professor Stephen Marsh, the course explored these issues and obstacles in insightful and fascinating ways. They contributed greatly to our understanding and made numerous useful suggestions.

For instance, they helped us gain a better understanding and definition of trusted authorities, proposed different intermediary frameworks and tools, and began the definition of a trust framework based on Ostrom’s principles for managing common pool resources.

But their key contribution was identifying the need for "trusted intermediaries".

Trusted Intermediaries

It became clear from their research that the communication links are not always direct between an individual and an authority.

Where there isn't such direct trust, taking advantage of existing links between an individual and a third party could allow a chain of trust to be created. This would still allow Trusted Authorities to convey the practical guidance and collaborate, albeit indirectly.

The Ontario Tech University students called this third party entity a "Trusted Intermediary".

The Trusted Intermediary acts as a "buffer which will relate information from one party to another". In our scenario, thinking about how to encourage users to take action to respond to climate change, their main role is to gather information from the Trusted Authority and pass it on to the Individual, or provide feedback and responses from the Individual back to the Trusted Authority.

Since they are a communication link, they are also free to adjust the language they use to ensure it is understood and accepted by the Individual. However, they must be careful to ensure they are not invalidating or muddying the guidance from the Trusted Authority, nor misrepresenting the Individual's actions and feedback when reporting those to the Trusted Authority.

Again, building upon last week's discussion, the Trusted Intermediary does not have to believe in, or mention, climate change. In fact they may be more effective if they do not. However, they must not deny its existence!

We define Trusted Intermediaries as "individuals or organizations who

  • accept the currently-available scientific understanding of global warming and climate change, as described in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports; and

  • accept the knowledge, expertise, and authority of the Trusted Authorities when it comes to global warming and climate change issues, impacts, resilience and policy measures; and

  • are willing to act as a communication link between Individuals and said Trusted Authorities; and

  • can be reasonably expected to perform that task in an unbiased, apolitical, accurate, and transparent way."

Trusted Intermediaries can be community elders, faith or spiritual leaders, members of non government organizations, charities, or volunteer groups, and can even be social media influencers and celebrities.

All things considered, Trusted Intermediaries may play a critical role in the adoption of any climate change solution that needs to communicate with Individuals who may not actually trust the "Trusted Authorities".

Wrapping Up, and Future Ideas

The student research raised numerous other suggestions and ideas.

In a world awash in fake news, there is a need to "prove" that Trusted Authority guidance was not tampered with. For this purpose, block chain technology could be used.

In order to incentivize individuals to take action, some sort of reward or incentive system could be devised (we'll show an example of that in a later issue).

To ensure information is useful, a rating and recommendation system can be used to filter out what is wrong or useless, and ensure the best, most accurate climate change action advice gets surfaced to Individuals.

We will explore these ideas in the future.

Overall, the course produced an excellent evaluation of the issues, opportunities, academic research, and viewpoints. Thanks to the contributions of Ontario Tech University students, we feel we have substantially advanced our understanding of the role of trust in climate change solutions and provided tremendous value while delving into incredibly complex and sophisticated subject area.

What do you think of this topic? Do the definitions make sense? Are we missing important concepts? Let us know! 

Demos & Deep Dives

Premium subscribers can attend regular webinars where we show prototype progress, and do deep dives into newsletter topics. They can also propose and vote on solution ideas, features, data, and prototypes, which we'll iteratively build and release to benefit the community. The premium webinar links are always included in these weekly newsletters.

This month's 30-minute webinar will be held on Tuesday August 23, at 11:00 EST/15:00 GMT. Details including attendee links are shown below (for premium subscribers).

Thanks & Recognition: Ontario Tech University INFR4611U students and faculty

Today's topic was based on original research contributed by Ontario TechUniversity students from INFR4611U class. They participated in the research project "CC20- Recommend a 'trust and collaboration framework' for a climate change application.".

We would like to thank Fega Ofovwe and the other students, as well as Professor Stephen Marsh.*

You can read more about their work (and all the other research contributors) at

* For privacy reasons, we only list people who gave us permission to do so. Did you contribute to this project? Contact us to be added!

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This Month's Webinar Links

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