The research was carried out at Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) during the period 2009-2013. Empirical survey was conducted in June-August, 2013. The results of the empirical research was used in the PhD dissertation of R. Juceviciene “Managerial Factors for Inter-organizational Trust Development”.
Trust plays fundamental role in the emergence and development of clusters. Most researchers regard trust as a key precondition for inter-firm relations and the lack of it as a key barrier to cluster development. However, there has been relatively little research on management and development of trust in clusters.
Thus, our research project aimed at finding out the factors behind the development of inter-firm trust in different stages of clusterization. A vast review of theoretical literature in the field of trust enabled us to construct the theoretical framework for the analysis of trust development in clusters.
In this research, we regard trust development in clusters as consisting of 3 different stages.
Stage 1 is referred to as “Fragmented relations” when firms have little or no previous cooperation experience. The main focus is on creation of basic inter-organizational trust which is largely based on the identification of shared business interest.
Stage 2 is referred to as “Nucleus of trust”. The major challenges at this stage are associated with the openness of the cluster by trying to avoid closed micro-network of firms.
Stage 3 – “Mature cluster” – is characterized by institutionalized trust (common norms, values and identities) when the major managerial challenges are associated with the maintenance of trust level and strengthening of the network identity.
The survey covered 37 countries worldwide and 109 experts from diverse industrial settings and from diverse experience in cluster facilitation. The respondents are members of the TCI network.
Some of the most interesting findings of the survey are presented below:
- The trust-related problems in inter-firm relations can be observed even in the generally high trust environments (i.e. overall trust in strangers, institutions), yet they are of a different nature.
- In Stage 1, trust building mainly relies on personal (e.g. support to personal acquaintance) and social factors (e.g. engaging partners into ongoing business relations; encouraging gradual opening to partners). InStage 2, trust is usually strengthened by referring to personal (e.g. personal contacts, meeting), social-organizational (e.g. openness to new members) and educational-social factors (e.g. interactive learning). When sustaining and institutionalizing trust in Stage 3, social (e.g. strengthening the cluster identity; balancing openness and rules of cluster) and educational factors (e.g. promoting interactive learning) are of key importance. Thus, we see gradual transition from inter-personal towards social and institutional factors in terms of importance for trust development as cluster matures.
- The lowest level of trust is observed in the post-Soviet countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In these countries, trust is largely of inter-personal nature, whereas in North and West European countries a more pragmatic (i.e. depersonalized) trust prevails. The respondents from later countries emphasize the role of professional characteristics (e.g. skills and competence) in trust development. In North and West European countries, trust-related problems are associated not so much with the institutional environment (as in East or South European and Latin American contexts), but with the competitive environment, conflicting strategies of firms and different managerial mindsets and values.
- The survey has shown that trust-related problems are most acute in the post-Soviet East and Central European contexts, especially in the initial stages of cluster development (i.e. lack of trust in institutions and unknown business partners). However, in the later stages of cluster development it is in the South European and Latin American countries that most trust-related problems arise. They are associated with the emergence of power differences in clusters and closed in-group relations. The respondents from these countries stress on the importance of institutional factors in resolving the problems of trust in clusters. On the other hand, the experts from more developed North and West European (and North American) contexts provide more support to bottom-up solutions in trust development.
Rita Juceviciene: lecturer, PhD in Social Sciences, Institute of Europe, Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. A visiting researcher at University of Geneva and University of Lausanne (Switzerland).
Research interests: trust, inter-organizational relations, clusters.
Giedrius Jucevicius: full professor, PhD in Social Sciences, Department of Strategic Management, Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. Graduate of Lund University (Sweden), College of Europe (Belgium/Poland), Research Fellow at Lund University (Sweden), European University Institute (Italy), University of Lausanne (Switzerland).
Research interests: innovation management, inter-organizational relations, business systems, clusters, business models, cultural and institutional dimensions of management.