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“Our world is suffering from a bad case of ‘Trust Deficit Disorder’” stated António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2018. In recent years, there has been more and more talk of a ‘crisis of trust’. Does it matter if citizens trust the institutions or NGOs that serve them? What are the levels of trust in different institutions or organisations of the people that Oxfam projects work with? How can trust or distrust affect citizen action?

This paper discusses trust in organisations and institutions as one of a multitude of factors that can influence the success of projects that aim to mobilise citizens to engage with duty bearers. First it considers the existing theories and evidence on the effect of trust on development outcomes, in particular active citizenship, in order to demonstrate the challenges in interpreting and acting on information on trust. It then considers evidence from Oxfam’s own projects, based on a comparative analysis of trust and civic action data from 14 projects in 11 countries. It finally provides recommendations for project staff on how to investigate, interpret and act on observed levels of trust amongst their target group.

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