BMW i Future Thought Series - Bridging the Trust Gap BMW i Future Thought Series - Bridging the Trust Gap



We are witnessing a steady decline in trust – in governments, brands and even each other. If this is true, where will we look for community, collectivity and governance in the future? 

Research suggests that this is driven by our having less faith in the effectiveness, reliability and trustworthiness of the institutions that are designed to maintain liberty, law and order.
The latest findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey that measures levels of trust across 28 countries, show that trust in governments, businesses and NGOs is at its lowest since the survey began in 2001. Specifically, over two-thirds of the general population do not believe in the power of political leaders to tackle their country’s problems.



This breakdown in trust may not be a bad thing. When people trust less, they enquire more. Researchers at think tank Ipsos MORI describe an ‘end to deference’, where people are less willing to accept information and ideologies that are presented to them by leaders of society.

“With the end of deference, people are asking questions about the relevance and efficacy of big institutions, and their ability to negotiate the complexities of our interconnected world,” says Bobby Duffy, managing director of Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute. “This trend is prevalent in the young. We find that they have less of an automatic connection and do not readily buy into big institutions.”

Mobile Interface


The end of deference is ushering in a new pursuit of trust, truth and change among teens and young Millennials. Crucially, this pursuit is becoming a key part of how they express themselves.

This link between activism and identity is manifest in figures such as Elizabeth Farrell, a 19-year-old Londoner who goes by the moniker Glacier Girl. Farrell describes herself as a ‘visual environmental activist’ on a mission to inform the cohort she describes as the ‘iGeneration’ about the dangers of climate change, urging them to ‘remember the glaciers’. Her work encompasses furniture and fashion that subverts mainstream branding to bring climate change to the fore. However, most of her impact comes from her presence on social media, where she has thousands of followers on Instagram and Tumblr.

“As digital politics and activism becomes more important, we will see young people turning to that as the principal way they engage with the political process,” says Carl Miller, research director of think tank Demos. “But digital activism becomes most important when it is translated to offline outcomes.”

Data city


We will see these offline outcomes becoming more prevalent as we move towards the future. Technology has the potential to facilitate a greater degree of self-governance, shifting power from the institutions to the crowd.

This is already happening in Australia with technology start-up MiVote, which proposes a ‘redesign of the democratic model’. It enables members to vote on individual policies rather than be limited to voting in elections. The app notifies users about issues that will be discussed in Australia’s parliament and sends them information packs assembled by impartial researchers. Users are given a number of detailed options that they can vote for, and the most popular are put forward by MiVote representatives to the Australian parliament.

The ability to govern ourselves in a scenario of direct democracy might be enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI) in the future. In his speculative film Inside the Black Box (Supervised Learning) artist Tom Pearson envisages a world in which people use online ‘data doubles’ – AI versions of our own personalities – to work quietly in the background, voting and campaigning in the digital sphere on our behalf. In the film, the artist introduces viewers to his own data double named George: “He went off to vote daily with an agenda, a sovereignty based on information and pure numbers. I assumed that he was doing a good job...”



The question of trust in society is a complex one. With each generation, unprecedented events often undermine the confidence we have in institutions, organisations and the systems that support them. However, according to Duffy, a less deferential society that does not pander to the whims of the establishment is generally more open-minded and unprejudiced.

“In a society that is non-deferential, there is usually a greater tolerance for diversity and lifestyle. This wouldn’t exist if we were deferential to big institutions that said there were particular ways to live,” he explains. “This expands to religion, or lifestyles imposed by big corporations and governments. So we have a greater comfort in people making different choices, a greater level of tolerance, and a more questioning outlook.”

As we progress towards 2030 and beyond, tolerance and a questioning outlook will prove vital tools in creating the best kind of future for our society.

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