Trust and public engagement


Can distrust enhance public engagement?

Research examining the relationship between trust, public engagement and natural resource management makes the case that trust is closely linked to public engagement. Yet a number of scholars are finding that certain kinds of distrust are helpful and constructive in processes of public engagement by providing would-be participants with the motivation and determination to get involved.

This research seeks to clarify this apparent disjuncture in the trust literature by examining the multi-dimensional nature of trust as it relates to public engagement on energy-related issues in Canada. Based on a national on-line survey (n = 3000), and using a binary probit model we explore the determinants of public engagement on energy issues. Of these survey participants about 70% participated in at least one form of public engagement over the last three years.

With a focus on variables that measure types of trust, skepticism and knowledge of energy issues our study identifies several key insights. First we observe that more public skepticism (e.g., a belief that government information is biased and one-sided) and more public knowledge of energy issues are associated with more public engagement. Also, as trust in government regulators and the energy industry decreases we observe an increase in public participation. This research signals a need to clarify our assumptions about the relationship between public trust and public engagement on environmental issues.


Parkins, J. R., Beckley, T., Comeau, L., Stedman, R. C., Rollins, C. L., & Kessler, A. (2017). Can distrust enhance public engagement? Insights from a national survey on energy issues in Canada. Society & Natural Resources30(8), 934-948.