Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

The Role of Trust in Citizen Participation in Building Community Entrepreneurial Capacity: A Comparison of Initiatives in Two Rural Texas Counties

Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

The Role of Trust in Citizen Participation in Building Community Entrepreneurial Capacity: A Comparison of Initiatives in Two Rural Texas Counties

Article excerpt

Research has shown that citizen participation in entrepreneurial capacity building programs

improves the outcomes and sustainability of the programs. Citizen participation, however, involves

escalating effort and commitment as the level of participation increases. This paper suggests that

the extent of participation is influenced by the level of trust citizens have in the program leaders.

It appears that as the level of participation increases, the level of trust needed to sustain

participation increases because of perceived increased personal risk to the citizen. The results of

the development and implementation of programs in two rural Texas counties are used to evaluate

trust's role in citizen participation in entrepreneurial capacity building programs.


Entrepreneurship is recognized as a critical component of economic development (e.g., Formaini, 2001; Holcombe, 2003; Wennekers & Thurik, 1999). While some resent research calls into question many of the widely-held beliefs that may overstate the economic impact of small firms (e.g. Shane, 2008), the critical role entrepreneurship plays in rural community economies is well documented (e.g., Dabson, 2007; Drabenscott, Novack, & Abraham, 2003; Drabenscott, 2006; Low, Henderson, & Weiler, 2005). In many small communities, entrepreneurial activity plays a much larger role in the economy than may be reflected in national statistics (Markley, 2007). In response, many rural communities are looking for ways to encourage and support local entrepreneurs (Markley, Macke, & Luther, 2005; Walzer, Athiyaman, & Hamm, 2007; Hart, 2003). Successful programs, such as the Enterprise Facilitation program developed by Ernesto Sirolli (Sirolli, 1999) and the Home Town Competitiveness program developed as a joint effort of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, and the Nebraska Community Foundation, promote entrepreneurship as critical to economic growth. A key component of each program is citizen involvement in building community entrepreneurial capacity. The basic premise is that citizen effort and participation are necessary to build sufficient entrepreneurial capacity for individual entrepreneurs to be successful in establishing businesses (Markley, Macke, & Luther, 2005; Sirolli, 1999).

Scholars argue that citizen involvement in entrepreneurial capacity building efforts, as well as all types of economic development programs, leads to better program outcomes and sustainability (i.e. Isham, Narayan, & Pritchett, 1995; Mansuri & Rao, 2003; Narayan, 1995). Taking a broad view of citizen participation, Putnam (2000) posited that voluntary participation and civic engagement, a form of "social capital," is good for economic development and social integration. More specifically, empirical research of the micro, or individual participation level of "social capital," indicates that trust and civic cooperation (participation) are associated with stronger economic performance (Putnam, 1993; Fukuyama, 1995; Helliwell & Putnam, 1995; Kaldaru & Parts, 2005). Because of the benefits of citizen participation, this paper attempts to extend our understanding of the role trust plays in determining levels of community participation (a form of civic cooperation) in entrepreneurial capacity-building programs. The paper proposes that perceptions of trust combined with assessments of the participation risks to the individual will determine the level of citizen involvement in such programs.

A unique opportunity presented itself to study citizen participation in economic/capacity building efforts. Two rural Texas counties that were in similar economic situations requested help in developing and implementing economic strategic plans. Because the counties were rural, much of each strategic plan was devoted to entrepreneurial capacity building. …

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