Can Distrust Enhance Public Engagement? Insights From a National Survey on Energy Issues in Canada

John R. Parkins, Thomas Beckley, Louise Comeau, Richard C. Stedman, Curtis L. Rollins, Anna Kessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Research examining the relationship between trust, public engagement, and natural resource management asserts that trust fosters positive behavior and enhanced cooperation. Yet some scholars are finding that certain kinds of distrust are helpful in achieving democratic outcomes by providing would-be participants with the motivation to engage in issues of public concern. This article seeks to clarify this apparent disjuncture in the trust literature by examining the multidimensional nature of trust as it relates to public engagement on energy-related issues in Canada. Based on a national online survey (n = 3000) we use a binary probit model to explore the connections between trust, knowledge, and public engagement. About 70% of respondents had participated in at least one form of public engagement over the last 3 years. Drawing on a two-dimensional conception of trust, we find that general trust on its own is not positively linked to public engagement. A combination of general trust and skepticism, however, is positively associated with public engagement and confirms our hypothesis that at least some concern regarding credibility, bias, and vested interest can motivate public engagement. In this sense, trust is not uniformly good for public engagement. These results signal a need to further refine our assumptions about the relationship between public trust, public engagement and environmental governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)934-948
Number of pages15
JournalSociety and Natural Resources
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


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