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The Trust Project at Northwestern University brings decades of research about this complex concept into the hands and heads of academics and business leaders alike.

The Trust Project at Northwestern University

Kellogg, Northwestern launch groundbreaking Trust Project

Results produce cross-disciplinary perspectives on the nature and understanding of trust

By Glenn Jeffers and Theo Anderson

3/1/2016 - Kellogg has launched The Trust Project at Northwestern University, which will bring decades of research about this complex concept into the hands and heads of academics and business leaders alike.

The first phase of the project, which launched March 1, features the debut of nearly 30 brief videos on the subject, bringing varying perspectives from Northwestern scholars as well as business experts. The videos are housed together on the project’s website, and are searchable by topic, discipline or contributor.

“The purpose of the project is to advance the level of discussion on trust,” says Kent Grayson, the faculty coordinator for the project and an associate professor of marketing. The project emphasizes that understanding and exploring trust have become increasingly vital as technology and globalization erase boundaries between people, organizations and markets.

Drawing from broad expertise

The project stemmed from cross-disciplinary collaborations between Grayson and others at Northwestern that started in the early 2000s, and were catalyzed by the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative's decision to invest heavily in this area. Together with others in the initiative and beyond, Grayson and a project team worked with several prominent Northwestern scholars to develop The Trust Project to showcase collective expertise on this topic in one place.

"The wonderful thing about this project is that not only is trust critically important for businesses, which deal with trust issues on a day-to-day basis with customers, suppliers, workforce and other stakeholders,” says Thomas Hubbard, Faculty Director of Kellogg's Strategic Initiatives, “it is also a topic where many academic disciplines can provide complementary insights that can help business leaders address these issues."

Two examples of the broad range of project contributors include Adam Waytz, an associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, who explores the psychological foundations of trust and how technological innovation relates to trust-building; and Kelly Michelson, MD, MPH, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who discusses the critical role of communication, especially empathetic listening, in building trust in health care contexts.

“I can’t remember the last time I was involved in a project with so many people from so many different disciplines,” says Michelson. “Even more interesting, I think, is that this project focuses on the area of trust. It is not the first topic that might come to mind for a project like this, and it wasn’t necessarily something I intended to study, but it’s a common aspect of our humanity, and something that comes up again and again in my work.”

The Trust Project is more than an academic pursuit, however. Contributors like Larry Rosen, CEO of Harry Rosen, Inc., Canada’s largest quality menswear retailer, bring practical insights that significantly enrich the project.

“Including business leaders’ perspectives brings a broader view of the ways trust plays into our everyday decisions,” Grayson says. “Not only does this interdisciplinary approach demonstrate that Northwestern is at the leading edge of academic thinking, it also highlights how academic research influences and shapes business practice.”

Subsequent phases may include new videos and other media, as well as opportunities to convene and continue the discussion.

The videos interact with viewers and allow them to explore topics according to their individual interests. Here’s an example.
A Shared Human Experience

Because trust is a basic aspect of everyday human existence, the project’s research and resulting videos are useful to more than business leaders and academics.

“Everyone who enters into relationships, whether personal or professional, makes important decisions relating to trust every day,” Grayson says.

Recognizing this common ground and bringing people together to consider the topic is essentially the project’s mission.

“I hope that when people hear about the project,” says Grayson, “they’ll say, ‘I think about trust a lot myself—I wonder what I can learn by hearing how other people think about it?’ If one of our contributor videos gets someone to think about trust in a different way, then we’ve accomplished our mission.”