Ivan Krastev’s TedTalk on Trust, Transparency & Democracy

While I’ve not blogged about my interest in politics – not partisanship- this TedTalk by political theorist Ivan Krastev hit the jackpot with me:

trust, politics and how transparency is not the solution!

And, it’s funny… well, some parts are funny others are daunting and a little depressing. I’ll let Mr. Krastev do the talking and invite your comments below but I just wanted to point out a few points that resonated with me.

First, Krastev points out how individualistic our society has become. It reminds me of the research on the importance of joint goals (which can be a national political vision or a departmental objective) and joint problem solving so people feel they matter in the process.

Second, the wired world – curation in particular – enables us to ghettoize ourselves so that we are exposed only to what we already believe. When we do this we are unable to understand other perspectives and are unable to see their trustworthy intent or benevolent actions. And, come on, do we really believe that people who don’t share our views wake up each morning with the intent to do horrible things in our organizations, our communities, our countries? I think things are a bit more nuanced than that. To quote Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand than to be understood.”

Third, the point about brain science that reveals people don’t want to hear about policy so messaging has become more about manipulation than building credible, rational arguments is really important because if your organization is more about spin than ethics, you are contributing to this problem. Moreover, we need to be aware of manipulation like this and denounce it. A good place to start looking are ‘cutesy’ names for legislation. You’ll know you’re onto something when you hear someone say “How can you be against the “Ice Cream for Children” legislation?”

Finally, Krastev says:

The push for transparency is not the key because it becomes “management of mistrust”.

In this scenario the electorate and media become Big Brother and create an environment that does not attract the most civic-minded people to public office. As I’ve written  before it’s also a tax on people because managing mistrust requires expensive oversight. To this, Canadian public administration expert, Donald Savoie, also writes extensively about how the advent of Access to Information Legislation in Canada has not added transparency but has created an environment where policy experts cannot commit their recommendations or thorough analyses to paper and consultants try to keep data and recommendations to ambiguous slide decks in case any content might be taken out of context.

This means that in an environment of distrust we are

  1. not getting the best advice;
  2. in a system that costs more;
  3. where we cannot attract the best people and;
  4. that does nothing but breed more distrust.

[PS. Sadly, this is NOT the funny part]

I hope you enjoy this piece and I would love to know what resonated with you. What solutions do you think hold the most promise for restoring trust in politicians, democracy and public institutions?

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

9 thoughts on “Ivan Krastev’s TedTalk on Trust, Transparency & Democracy

  1. A lot of what Ivan Krastev said resonated with me, too, but the obvious point about lack of transparency also needs to be made – it’s the cover for everything from incompetence through to corruption, criminality and the abuse of human rights.

    The question – and it’s a difficult one – then becomes at where to draw the line. What is the Goldilocks zone for transparency?

    1. Hello Eddy,

      I love your term “Goldilocks zone”! I think “the Goldilocks Zone” can only occur when both the discloser and the disclosee have a positive intent (benevolence). Otherwise, if the person disclosing information is doing it for PR or as a legal requirements, they may try to manipulate the documents by redacting, delaying or providing an avalanche of documents which breeds suspicion and distrust. It may also curtail the amount and type of information that is disclosed retained by an organization “in case someone asks for the documents”. What a waste of time and energy!

      The person requesting the information also has to have positive intent. Unfortunately, our “gotcha” politics and journalism mean the information may be used without context, villifying the parties involved and eroding their credibility or attacking their integrity (sigh!).

      At some point though, we have to lead through trust. Trust the public to understand there’s a bigger picture.

      Here’s a great example of a “Goldilocks Zone” albeit in an extreme context. It’s the story of Air Commodore (ret’d) Leonard Birchall who showed leadership while interned in a POW camp. He started from zero trust and through transparency and behaviour marched all of his soldiers out of the camp. It’s an amazing story if you have a moment to read it.

      Birchall, Leonard. “Leadership”. In Ethics in Practice: Proceedings of the Conference on Ethics in Canadian Defence, Ottawa, 30-31, October 1997. Ottawa: PWGSC for Chief Review Services, Dept. of National Defence, 1997. p, 26-38. http://www.dep.forces.gc.ca/dl-tc/conf1997-eng.pdf

      Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat. I hope you’ll be back again.

      1. Birchall’s story is, indeed, amazing – that he survived is a miracle, let alone that he helped so many others survive too. Thank you very much for drawing it to my attention.

  2. The reason I think democracy is collapsing is because the values espoused by political parties are misguided. There aren’t any political labels which currently describe what I believe are the qualities people want, although I will describe as best I can:……..

    In my view, we need to value empowering people, creating a loving environment where everyone can make a contribution and excel, helping those who are learning to do so, or who need to learn how to do so.

    We need to develop social policies to enable non-judgement, acceptance, contribution, well-being and love. The economy would be an exchange of how well we love one another and help one another, not the focus right now whereby we concentrate on the amount of money instead of the actual exchange.

    I think trust will only be restored once a) political parties get their values from unity consciousness and genuinely want to do the best thing for everyone. b) Everyone is encouraged to contribute for the good of all.

    Transparency and openness will then come naturally. My post linked below begins such a discussion. It discusses organisations, which also means political parties.

    Idealistic I know, but who doesn’t want to live in an ideal world?

    Dominque, thanks for bringing this thread to my attention.


    1. So nice to meet you Christina,

      I agree that we need to restore politics that contributes for the good of all. It restores the benevolence part of trust. It puts the service back in “public servant”. That’s not derogatory, it’s leadership.

      I think we need vision too. There used to be vision: to build a railroad, to put a man on the moon, to ratify the Constitution, etc… now parties lead by opinion polls and are scared to set out a vision and then trust the public to chose. There’s too much debate over the people and not enough on their policies.

      Your post reminded me of the books by Adam Kahane whose most recent one Power and Love talks about coming to a common vision, grounded in empathy. You can’t really go wrong with that approach, can you?

      Take good care Christina. I hope to see you here again.

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