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Successful natural resource management built on trust


Two people sitting on a small deck. According to Marc Stern (left), shown talking with a village resident while conducting fieldwork in Ecuador, trust between multiple stakeholders is essential to building the types of collaboration necessary to effectively govern natural resources.

Feb. 15, 2016 – Trust is an important driver of collaboration, conflict resolution, and enhanced group performance in the business world as well as in the management of natural resources. “One thing we can be sure of in ecosystem management is that we don’t know all the answers,” said Associate Professor Marc Stern. “Therefore, collaborative learning and innovation is particularly important.” Stern explains that trust between government agencies, environmental groups, industry, and local citizens is “necessary to effectively govern natural resources.”

Four forms of trust may play a role in building resilient collaborations for natural resource management. “The first we call dispositional trust — some people are predisposed to be generally trusting or generally distrusting,” Stern said. The other three forms are the results of actions. Rational trust is based on the expected benefits of an action, affinitive trust develops primarily through social relationships and is more personal than factual, and action-based trust involves faith in the system of procedures or rules. The best collaborations work with a combination of all three forms of actionable trust. While there are no magic trust-building tools, its growth can be encouraged through consistency, collaboration, and an open and informal relationship. Additionally, long-term relationships foster more trust than short-term ones.

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