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Trust ecology and the resilience of natural resource management institutions

Marc J Stern, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech; Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability
Timothy D. Baird, Department of Geography, Virginia Tech; Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability


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The resilience of natural resource management (NRM) institutions are largely contingent on the capacities of the people and organizations within those institutions to learn, innovate, and adapt, both individually and collectively. These capacities may be powerfully constrained or catalyzed by the nature of the relationships between the various entities involved. Trust, in particular, has been identified repeatedly as a key component of institutional relationships that supports adaptive governance and successful NRM outcomes. We apply an ecological lens to a pre-existing framework to examine how different types of trust may interact to drive institutional resilience in NRM contexts. We present the broad contours of what we term “trust ecology,” describing a conceptual framework in which higher degrees of diversity of trust, as conceptualized through richness and evenness of four types of trust (dispositional, rational, affinitive, and systems based), enhance both the efficacy and resilience of NRM institutions. We describe the usefulness and some limitations of this framework based on several case studies from our own research and discuss the framework’s implications for both future research and designing more resilient governance arrangements.

Key words

adaptive governance; functional redundancy; institutional resilience; natural resource management; trust

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087