Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Time, Trust and Participation

If someone came up to you in the street, and you had a packet of crisps in your hand, would you let them have one?

If you wouldn’t share your crisps, why not?

Maybe because we generally don’t share things with people until we know them (or we’re just plain greedy/hungry).

Maybe because we don’t generally share things with people we don’t trust – you don’t tell someone a secret unless you know you can trust that person not to then tell your secret to everyone they’ve ever met...

In this very simple scenario, the two dimensions that clearly affect sharing are knowing someone and/or trusting them. The fact that degree of trust in information, individuals and technology and length of time people have known one another can affect knowledge sharing shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

If we are to engender trust and encourage participation in online communities, then:

  • On the time side – we need to develop relationships, sustain them, and not assume that people who don’t know each other will share.

  • On the trust side – we need to be honest and transparent in our dealings with people, trust is a delicate thing – who is going to trust someone who keeps things back? Who is going to trust a system that isn’t secure. Who is going to believe information when the last thing they read was untrue or inaccurate?

  • On the relationship side – trust is developed between people, organisations can only leverage relationships that are trusting.

As Kevin Dwyer from Build Your Own Business notes
Trust is personal. It is between two people. When organisations “trust” each other it is a result of trust between individuals in the organisation.

An interesting article from WeMedia says
From the consumer's perspective, it's easy to place trust in an established institution such as The Wall Street Journal or even MTV, but how does the audience learn to trust a stranger (or group of strangers), to evaluate the information they are providing, and to collaborate with them?

Thinking primarily about business based communities, it seems to encourage participation, we need to more fully understand how we can cultivate trust whilst at the same time acknolwedging that it takes time to build.

Maybe the first step is to assess readiness to share in terms of trust. Hsu, Ju, Yen and Chang from Taiwan have developed
a very interesing model (sorry, can't find a free link to this paper) based on Social Cognitive Theory which measures multi-dimensional trusts.
  • Economy based trust – based on economic benefit or violation of trust ie the termination of a relationship or the likelihood of retribution
  • Information based trust – knowledge based trust, the belief that behaviour is predicatable and and uncertainty is reduced
  • Identification based trust – parties understand one anothers wants and mutual understanding is developed

They found that certain trust dimensions have a positive effect on others ie

  • Economy based trust has a positive effect on information based trust.
  • Information based trust has a positive effect on identification based trust

Taking the crisp sharing scenario as an example:

  • Economy based trust – sharing must give you some sort of benefit ie not being hit
  • Information based trust – to share you believe what you expect will happen – and they won’t give the crisp to their dog
  • Identification based trust – you share because you can see they are hungrier than you
To examine the level of trust someone has toward a particular group or system would help identify the barriers that continually prevent sharing. Individual differences are clearly important in understanding why some people share quickly and without pontificating, whilst others need to see individual benefit to take part.

I feel this model may help us to understand what it is we need to do to encourage diverse participation in our online communities. All we need to do then is work out how to help people move from where they are to where they need to be to effectively share and learn.

Shouldn’t be too hard...

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