How critical is building trust in a network in achieving the purpose of the network. Here, I am referring to a network that interacts across web 2.0 platforms, through lower technology vehicles and in person. Can building trust be ignored? Is web 2.0 technology sufficient to obviate the need for trust? If trust is important, then how do we build trust in a network.
A network whose purpose is the exchange of information that is in the public domain might not require much trust. Network members are free to validate information exchanged through recourse to alternative sources. A network like Linked-In where one person recommends or vouches for another requires a level of trust in the reputation of the other. A network where work having interdependencies is performed requires a fair degree of trust as does a network which focuses on building highly-valued relationships or requiring personal vulnerability.
One insight that I would like to offer is that when trust in a network is required, it can be built in accordance with two major approaches: creating trust through structure and processes and creating trust in and through relationships. These are not mutually exclusive. I know of networks where both types of solutions are useful.
Structure and Processes
When I speak of creating structures and processes to facilitate trust, I am speaking of approaches that are used for such aspects of network life as recruitment into the network, governance of the network, performing the work of the network or convening the membership of a network. These structures and processes can be built into the rules of the network or embedded in the software applications used by the network. These structures and processes govern actions within the network. In effect the network member trusts in the processes rather than in the other members. These structures and processes help to answer the question: can I trust what happens in this network to the extent that it is required to achieve the purpose of the network. These structures and processes can cover things like standards, quality and issues of reputation. These structures and processes can help make members more visible to one another which then leads to the second aspect of trust which is using relationships to build trust. Trust and relationships are iterative.
Trust as we know it in daily life is more relationship-based. Trust is the accumulation of history with another person or group of people that answers questions like: can I rely on this person to do what they said they were going to do and in the way that they said they were going to do it. Can I rely on this person to consider my interests along with their own interest? Common demographic factors like community affiliation, backgrounds and common experiences can move toward creating a perception of trust though this just lays the foundation for the risk taking that is necessary in order to establish real trust. Building this type of trust in a network is less concrete than the first type of trust.
Relationship-based trust can be built in a network through increasing visibility as in a Facebook profile. The more we know about a person, the greater the chance we may find commonalities that facilitate relationship building which in turn leads to trust. Establishing network norms through formal policy or by concretizing emergent or desired behavior falls within both of the above categories of trust building. Experiences that provide overt evidence that the other can be relied on to fulfill their promises also helps to build relationship-based trust. We find that affording people who are affiliated with an off-site or common experience where people can connect in a more personal and relaxed environment acts to build trust. I have used outside adventure-based activities in team building where people learn to rely on others for their safety which they then transfer back to the work environment.
Actions To Build Trust
Although the first type of trust can be built into the technology or processes supporting a network, the second type is more challenging. It is most easily accomplished through well-facilitated in-person encounters which can then be followed by interactions across web 2.0 applications that allow for ongoing personal connections.
My conclusion is that trust is necessary in many types of networks and can be built through these different approaches. The critical awareness is to know when the purpose of your network requires a given level of trust and then to act to attain this.