Trust and the dilemma of self-regulation

Trust and the dilemma of self-regulation

In my role of supporting the Accredited Practitioner Register over the last couple of weeks I have joined various public events. In those sessions, one word seems to keep popping up, “Trust”. Most recently in two very different scenarios. Firstly, a seminar hosted by the Professional Standards Authority on promoting positive health behaviour in individuals, and secondly on recognising the perceptions of trustworthiness in the equine industry (particularly equestrian sport) in terms of promoting equine wellbeing (HETI Foundation - Horses in Education and Therapy Interactional).

In both discussions the subject of trust came up but in very different contexts. In the former, the importance of healthcare professionals developing actionable levels of trust in their relationship with service users. In the former the importance of developing public trust in the equestrian industry’s ability to effectively maintain effective and meaningful levels of wellbeing in the lives of the horses they are dependent upon.

Both of these discussions are important themes in their own right, but without disappearing down related rabbit holes, they served to remind just how fundamental trust in our interactions with others.

If we fail to establish levels of trust we will fail to engage and to deliver. Patrick Lencioni famously placed an “absence of trust” at the very foundation of his “5 dysfunctions of a team” model (Random House, 2002). Without the team simply cannot function effectively, its absence gives rise to many unhelpful and destructive behaviours.

But it is not just in workplace, as both of the referred to talks make clear.

The formula

One of the clearest definitions of trust that I have come across (or at least for the way my mind works which I acknowledge is not as is the way for everyone) in the Trust Equation defined by Charles H Green (2000, 2006, 2012). It describes trustworthiness as a build on the relative strengths of various contributing factors, Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy. I am sure that we would all recognise the value in these elements, however the important insight here is that provided by the equation’s denominator, Self-Orientation.

For this discussion I will work the idea that there is a common understanding of those terms.

As with all fractions the greater that number “below the line” smaller the resultant figure, quite simply ¼ is smaller than ½. So the greater the perception of “self-orientation” then the smaller the resultant trustworthiness. The more we are seen to be aligned to our own self interest, the less we are trusted.

The dilemma of self-regulation

So here is the question. How does the influencing denominator of self-orientation impact our trust in that regulator.

For example, my own field of Equine Facilitated Interactions is in public perception aligned to the world of equestrianism. As a field it has an obsession with self-regulation, there are bodies everywhere from the horse-racing industry to the FEI and the Olympics, and to even into the pleasure riding. It does so because it “understands horses”, but does it? Or does it understand our interest in horses. What is it regulating? And who’s interests are being protected?

Yes, we love our horses, but we quickly look away, or tie-up our tongues in justifications, when we ask things of them that we might never expect of other animals.

Or, let’s think of the regulator the Greyhound Board of Great Britain – what is it regulating? Or should we ask in whose interests is it acting. Without dog-racing the body has no meaning or value. In my experience, very few turkeys actually vote for Christmas. So what will drive such a body's decisions.

Similarly let’s consider of other self-regulated bodies, such as in the world of finance? Do we really trust the banks, or our insurers, to best serve our interests?

What is the role of a Regulator?

It is challenging for even the most impartial regulating body to earn public trust. Humans are generally cynical we quickly (rightly or wrongly) perceive vested interests. For all an organisations best efforts regulation which works solely around the internal dynamics of a market, whether it involves pound notes or horses, is destined to be compromised.

To quote the UK Professional Qualifications Act (2022) “Regulators carry out a range of functions in relation to the professions they regulate, including making sure individuals have the necessary qualifications and/or experience to practise the profession and taking any necessary enforcement action. A profession which is regulated by law in the UK or a part of the UK. A ‘Profession’ includes an occupation or trade, or any subdivision and specialism within a profession."

Real regulation demands genuinely independent oversight. It is much more than a gathering of well-intentioned or benevolent parties within that market.

Regulation also has an eye not to the industry, but to those who engage the services provided by that industry. Is the person-in-the-street's interests really being catered for? Is that or those necessary for the delivery of that service (e.g. the animals or environment) really being cared for as best as they can be?

Trust is essential in society at every level of interaction. It is (as we know) hard to establish and easy to lose. If a body is to establish itself as regulating activities or professions then their must be commonly accepted trust in its actions and interests. It needs to be recognised and widely acknowledged as objective and independent.

It's one to think about isn't it?