Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Generalized Trust in Multi-Organizational Policy Arenas: Studying Its Emergence from a Network Perspective

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Generalized Trust in Multi-Organizational Policy Arenas: Studying Its Emergence from a Network Perspective

Article excerpt

This study tests hypotheses linking the structural characteristics of policy networks to the feelings of trust of their members. A social capital perspective suggests that actors in denser networks should trust others more, while an alternative "centrality" approach suggests that trust may be a byproduct of the occupation of key positions in the group. The author tests these expectations with data mapping policy networks in twenty-two estuaries in the United States and finds that centrality is a better predictor of trust. This opens room for questioning the real value of trust as a necessary ingredient in the solution of collective action dilemmas.

Keywords: trust; estuaries; policy networks; centrality; density; collaboration; information control

Social scientists have generously exposed the benefits of trust for interpersonal and interorganizational relationships, which include the improvement of information flows (Gnyawali and Madhavan 2001), the reduction of uncertainty overtime (Kollock 1994), and the decrease of the costs of transactions in political interactions (Bromiley and Cummings 1995; Scholz and Lubell 1998), among others. Particularly in the study of collective action dilemmas, the role of trust in the emergence of cooperative behavior has been carefully addressed (Coleman 1990; Lubell 2007; Ostrom 1990), and some have deemed this attribute a "necessary condition" to reaching agreement when multiple visions collide (Sabatier et al. 2005). However, there is still a surprising lack of research directed at uncovering whether levels of trust are affected by the structure of the policy networks in which actors are embedded.1 In other words, we know much more about the positive effects of trust than about its determinants.

This work extends the ongoing line of research linking collective action and trust by studying how actors trust others depending on how they relate to them. The predominant vision claims that actors participating in denser networks obtain more information about the behavior of other members in the group, which in turn should increase the overall levels of trust (Coleman 1988, 1990; Putnam 1993, 1995). In this article, I narrow this argument by focusing on the relationship between ego density and trust. In network analysis, the network of a given actor - an "ego" - is formed by the nodes connected with this ego. Ego density refers to the percentage of ego's contacts that are linked to each other. A second approach, however, suggests that trust might be a byproduct of the occupation of positions of centrality in the overall network. It would not be those who gather greater information about their partners who trust others more but rather those who control the flows of "unique" information between other nodes in the network. Of course, if trust emerges as a consequence of occupying central roles in a network, then researchers might question the role of trust as a needed ingrethent to solve collective action problems. After all, this "rationalized trust" would be a reflection of the feelings of invulnerability of the powerful central actor rather than the result of the emergence of dense, cooperative structures needed to end collective action dilemmas.

To empirically test the applicability of these two different visions, I observe organizational behavior in networks of twenty-two estuaries of the United States. An estuary is the physical place where the fresh water of a river meets the salty water of an ocean. The ecological complexity of the natural system usually requires the concerted actions of multiple types of users and regulatory authorities (Schneider et al. 2003), which provides an ideal setting to study how trust develops.

The next section defines trust and describes what a policy network is, introducing the hypotheses Unking trust to the density of networks and the positions of centrality that actors occupy in those networks. Later sections describe the research design (including issues of data collection, measurement of variables, and estimation techniques), present the results, and discuss their implications. …

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