The influence of network structure on trust


M. Max Evans, Faculty of Information, The University of Toronto
Anthony K.P. Wensley, Rotman School of Management, The University of Toronto
Knowledge Media Design Institute, University of Toronto, Canada

Abstract: In this paper we explore the emergence of trusting relationships within Communities of Practice. It has been argued that trust can be viewed as an organizing principle (McEvily, Perrone, and Zaheer, 2003). However, we focus on the view that trust is an essential pre-condition for the sharing of knowledge. The goal of the paper is to discuss possible connections between social networking principles, network structure, and trust within Communities of Practice.

In the paper we define and subsequently analyze the concept of trust and develop arguments relating to the existence and strength of trusting relationships within Communities of Practice. The theoretical arguments propose relationships between the characteristics of trusting relationships and two network characteristics: homophily and closure. The general research question that underpins this paper is:

To what extent do network principles determine the level of trust among members within a Community of Practice?

It is important to note that in our analysis we focus on a specific type of social network which has been termed a Community of Practice. Communities of Practice have been argued to be critical elements in the creation, refinement and sharing of knowledge (Dugid, 2005; Wenger, 1998; Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder, 2002).

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