The Importance of Multiple Performance Criteria for Understanding Trust in Risk Managers


Address correspondence to: Branden B. Johnson, 150 E. Wynnewood Rd., Apt. 23-B, Wynnewood, PA 19096, USA; tel: 610-649-3740;


Effective risk management requires balancing several, sometimes competing, goals, such as protecting public health and ensuring cost control. Research examining public trust of risk managers has largely focused on trust that is unspecified or for a single goal. Yet it can be reasonable to have a high level of trust in one aspect of a target's performance but not another. Two studies involving redevelopment of contaminated land (Study 1) and drinking water standards (Study 2) present preliminary evidence on the value of distinguishing between performance criteria for understanding of trust. Study 1 assessed perceptions of several trust targets (councilors, developers, scientists, residents) on their competence (capacity to achieve goals) and willingness to take action under uncertainty for four criteria. Study 2 assessed competence, willingness, and trust for five criteria regarding a single government agency. In both studies overall trust in each target was significantly better explained by considering perceptions of their performance on multiple criteria than on the single criterion of public health. In Study 1, the influence of criteria also varied plausibly across trust targets (e.g., willingness to act under uncertainty increased trust in developers on cost control and councilors on local economic improvement, but decreased it for both targets on environmental protection). Study 2 showed that explained variance in trust increased with both dimension- and trust-based measures of criteria. Further conceptual and methodological development of the notion of multiple trust criteria could benefit our understanding of stated trust judgments.