Trust M

Using Trust to Facilitate Interdisciplinary Conversations

By Avanti Chajed, Johanna Ylipulli, and Anne Häkkinen

Trust has been a central element to this project from the beginning. It is, after all, in the name. So having a workshop on trust made sense since all of us in the team come from different backgrounds and have been working with our own ideas of trust. To come to a shared understanding of trust (or at least the foundation of an understanding), we had started creating a framework for trust last summer that we then revised so it looked like this:

However, the project has also moved more into thinking about integration since designing better (digital) services is about helping immigrants with integration. Services are a bridge into Finnish culture and society, as well as a bridge to building a life in Finland in all its aspects and complexities.  

Yet trust cannot be completely ignored because trust is still a central aspect of public services in Finland. Trust in public institutions and authorities is a backbone of the welfare state and is how the welfare state continues to function. 

In the workshop we didn’t come to answers to what trust is and how to understand it. The framework that formed the basis of the tasks and was a starting point for our conversations attempted to simplify trust while still addressing its many layers. 

We once again moved our simplified framework to the complex, pointing out other factors that were missing or not highlighted enough.  

Here are a few highlights from each discipline’s conversations:

From the design perspective, a few initial notions about trust were made, such as we should be designing for trust, and not intending to design trust. It was also mentioned that trust/ no trust should not be seen as a binary, but certain features (like giving time for relationships and having open channels of communication) support the emergence of trust. Design can support these features.

In technological fields, trust was related with whether the technology does what it is supposed to do. When people using the technology feel they can’t rely on how it operates, they lose trust in it. Technology may also be a facilitator of trust between people such as between immigrant and service providers. Thus technology, as the design team also discussed, can be both a mediator of trust and an actor. 

For the social sciences, discussions were on other concepts and structures missing from the framework that may also influence trust. These included risk and vulnerability as trust presupposes that individuals are prepared to take risks by being vulnerable, and that they perceive that the risk is worth taking. Trust was discussed as being connected to group identity, which highlights trust between groups; further, it was seen as relational – existing between people; and contextual – connected to cultural differences. 

While these discussions seem quite different from each other, the underlying threads were 1) the multitude of factors that shape trust and 2) how trust is not a simple byproduct but something cultivated and mediated by many things.   

From intra- to interdisciplinarity (in order to change the world)

The above discussions though highlight another important learning we had from the workshop: Interdisciplinarity. 

Each discipline brought its own perspectives into the conversation about trust but in the process, they also showed the different ways each discipline looks at the world, knowledge and doing research. There were also further differences within the disciplines that showed how they are each far from uniform in their approaches. 

For the designers, the consideration was on products and services that shape trust outside of the human interactions that the framework focuses on. They also thought about what trust means for how designers do their work. The technology fields were understandably focused on technology and its potential in building trust. Both also were focused on potentials: how could design/tech help in shaping trust in the future? 

For the social sciences, the focus was especially on structures that impact how trust forms. These included larger social structures and individual ones such as identity. They thought especially about barriers these structures may place on how trust forms. 

When designing digital technologies that have become a powerful actor in societies, we need to work intentionally to bring these disciplines together. Anne Balsamo, a cultural theorist and media designer, argues that technology and culture are inseparable. So in a way, those who engage in technological innovation are designing future cultures. 

For such innovation to work, design activities and technical development need to be carried out side-by-side with social scientific studies. Through this process, disciplines can produce in-depth understandings of the various and ever-changing human realities. 


Balsamo, A. (2011). Designing culture: The technological imagination at work. Duke University Press.