Pick a topic or concepts from required readings to reflect upon (e.g., what and why something interested you; what did you find the most interesting or practical that helped you gain new insig


Each Module 2 through 7 has an associated small group discussion that should focus on discussing the course content for that Module. Each discussion will span the two-weeks of the Module. Each group member is required to make an initial post during the first week of the Module (i.e., the first Wednesday through Tuesday of the Module) and then respond to each of the other group members’ initial posts during the second week of the Module (i.e., the second Wednesday through Tuesday of the Module). Initial posts should aim to be 200-400 words and while there is no range for peer response posts these should be substantive and include more thought than “I agree with your point” or “I said something similar in my post”. 

Use your own creativity in approaching the posts. Types of observations and reflections in the posts could include the following (but aren’t limited to this): 

  • Pick a topic or concepts from required readings to reflect upon (e.g., what and why something interested you; what did you find the most interesting or practical that helped you gain new insight or skill). 
  • Critique readings by adding something you can justify, showing how an author missed a point.  
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The Entangled Twins: Power and Trust in Collaborative Governance

Bing Ran

Administration & Scciety

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Administration & Society

1 –30

© The Author(s) 2018

Article reuse guidelines:


DOI: 10.1177/0095399718801000


Original Article

The Entangled Twins: Power and Trust in Collaborative Governance

Bing Ran1 and Huiting Qi1


Power and trust are two important issues of interorganizational relations

in collaborative governance. This article develops a critical conceptual

analysis of the dyadic relationship between power and trust in the context

of collaborative governance. Three dynamic relationships and seven

corresponding propositions are proposed regarding the shared sources of

power and trust, the effects of power asymmetry and power sharing on

trust building, and the influence of trust building on the management of

power relationship in collaborative governance. These dyadic relations will

help scholars and practitioners to deal with the dynamics brought forth by

power and trust in collaboration.


power, trust, collaborative governance


Collaborative governance has been studied extensively by both scholars and

practitioners in recent decades. Similar terms, including partnership, alliance,

network, and joint working, all capture this emerging phenomenon (Ansell &

1Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, PA, USA

Corresponding Author:

Bing Ran, School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg, 777 West Harrisburg Pike,

Middletown, PA 17057, USA.

Email: [email protected]

801000 AASXXX10.1177/0095399718801000Administration & SocietyRan and Qi research-article2018

2 Administration & Society 00(0)

Gash, 2008; K. Emerson, Nabatchi, & Balogh, 2012; Huxham, Vangen,

Huxham, & Eden, 2000). In this article, we define collaborative governance

as a multi-organizational arrangement where a number of identified partici-

pants work together based on deliberative consensus and collective decision

making to pursue shared purposes (Ansell & Gash, 2008; K. Emerson et al.,

2012; Huxham et al., 2000; Ran & Qi, 2017).

Prior literature analyzed numerous factors impacting collaborative gover-

nance, among which power and trust are two important ones (Ansell & Gash,

2008; Huxham & Vangen, 2000). Most of the literature on power and trust in

collaborative governance focused on their independent roles rather than their

dynamic interplays (Ansell & Gash, 2008; Purdy, 2012; Saz-Carranza,

Salvador Iborra, & Albareda, 2016; Vangen & Huxham, 1998; Vangen &

Huxham, 2003). Studies on power in collaborative governance often consider

power as a challenge to the success of collaboration due to potential negative

effects resulted from unavoidable power asymmetry (Ansell & Gash, 2008;

Provan & Milward, 2001; Purdy, 2012; Ran & Qi, 2016). Power asymmetry

is commonly noted as a problem as power is almost always distributed asym-

metrically across participants, which may lead to the manipulation by stron-

ger actors in collaboration (Ansell & Gash, 2008; Bryson, Crosby, & Stone,

2006; Huxham & Vangen, 2005). Some literature further analyzed different

sources and arenas of power in collaboration (Hardy & Phillips, 1998; Purdy,

2012), providing a framework to make sense of power dynamics in interorga-

nizational domains. Scholars tend to view power sharing as a solution to

power asymmetry but a series of challenges in sharing power is still difficult

to overcome (Ansell & Gash, 2008; Gray, 1989).

Comparatively, trust is often considered in terms of its positive influence on

collaboration (K. Emerson et al., 2012; Huxham et al., 2000; Ring & Van de

Ven, 1992). The benefits of trust include developing positive attitudes and con-

fidence between partners (Huxham et al., 2000; Ring & Van de Ven, 1992),

cultivating mutual understandings (K. Emerson et al., 2012), lowing transaction

cost (Berardo, Heikkila, & Gerlak, 2014; Gulati, 1995), boosting openness of

expression (Van Oortmerssen, van Woerkum, & Aarts, 2014), promoting con-

fliction resolution (Ring & Van de Ven, 1994), and improving performance of

activities (Johnston, McCutcheon, Stuart, & Kerwood, 2004; Oh & Bush, 2016).

Some researchers focused on trust building, providing a series of approaches to

enhancing trust in collaboration, such as communication and adaption (Das &

Teng, 1998), competence to perform in collaboration (Blomqvist & Ståhle,

2000), and collective problem-solving activities (Booher, 2004).

It is important to note that a set of challenges in power and trust building

in collaborative governance are still unsolved effectively by the current lit-

erature, which largely focused on the individual roles of power and trust in

Ran and Qi 3

collaboration, such as how to budget and justify the necessary time and cost

in power and trust building in collaboration (Ansell & Gash, 2008), how to

effectively manage various conflicts and reduce mistrust among stakeholders

resulted from power issues (Gray, 1996; Huxham & Vangen, 2005), and how

to cope with participants’ reluctance, possible stalemate, and inaction in shar-

ing power (Gray, 1985). These unsolved challenges inspire us to study the

relationship between power and trust from a dyadic perspective rather than

focusing on their independent and individual roles in collaborative gover-

nance. In fact, both power and trust are social forces (Ireland & Webb, 2007),

entangled and intertwined with each other to coordinate interactions between

individuals or groups (Luhmann, 1979). The dyadic perspective often studies

the common bases or sources of two concepts and their mutual influence on

each other. Accordingly, we discuss three dyadic relationships between power

and trust in collaborative governance: the shared sources of power and trust,

the influence of power relationship on trust building, and the influence of

trust building on power relationship. We argue that the three dyadic relation-

ships will effectively address the challenges in power and trust building in

collaborative governance. Promoting shared sources of power and trust can

help participants save time and cost of collaboration by managing power rela-

tionship and building trust simultaneously. The influence of power relation-

ship on trust building is important for understanding and managing various

conflicts and reducing distrust among partners caused by power issues. The

influence of trust building on the management of power relationship is sig-

nificant for promoting confliction resolution, improving performance of

activities, and reducing possible stalemate and inaction in pursuing power

sharing. We believe the analysis of these three relationships can advance our

understanding of power and trust both conceptually and practically.

From the conceptual perspective, most prior research on power and trust in

collaborative governance stops at the individual roles, impacts and mecha-

nisms of power or trust in collaboration (e.g., Bryson et al., 2006; Huxham,

2003; Purdy, 2012; Saz-Carranza et al., 2016; Vangen & Huxham, 2003). This

limits our interpretation of power and trust as it fails to uncover some similari-

ties and interactions between these two elusive concepts. Through a dyadic

perspective that bridges these two concepts together, we identify certain impor-

tant similarities and interactions between different dimensions of power and

trust, such as their sources, types, and effects, all of which are helpful to further

our understanding of these two critical concepts in collaborative governance.

From the practical perspective, as collaborative governance is full of para-

doxes (Huxham et al., 2000), carrying the dynamics of dependency, coopera-

tion, competition, and conflict, neither power nor trust alone can make the

collaboration work effectively in practice. Focusing on the independent role

4 Administration & Society 00(0)

of power or trust leads to difficulties in dealing with certain challenges in

collaboration, such as time and cost consuming resulted from trust building

(Ansell & Gash, 2008); questions on authority, transparency, and account-

ability caused by power disparities among participants (Purdy, 2012); and

threats to the performance of collaboration due to stalemate and inaction pro-

voked by pursuing inappropriate equality in power relationship (Gray, 1985).

The dyadic analysis of power and trust used in this article provides a different

way of thinking and solving these issues. Taking advantage of some underly-

ing relationships between different dimensions of power and trust provides

important managerial implications in collaborative governance, which can

help participants consider their power and trusting relationships with each

other simultaneously and explore some useful strategies in coordinating their

interactions more effectively.

This article is organized as follows: We will first provide a critical review

on power and trust in collaborative governance, and then propose three rela-

tionships and seven propositions between power and trust in the context of

collaborative governance. We conclude this article with a discussion of con-

ceptual similarities between power and trust, trust-based power and power-

based trust, as well as a set of managerial implications for participants to

manage power and trust in collaboration.

Power and Trust in Collaborative Governance

In this section, we will first review some general conceptualization of power and

trust that is primary in literature to provide a basic introduction of these two

complex concepts, such as their definitions and widely used typologies. Because

this article discusses power and trust in the context of collaborative governance

at organizational (meso and macro) levels rather than at interpersonal (micro)

level, we will focus on some dimensions of power and trust that have been dis-

cussed frequently in collaborative governance literature, such as power asym-

metry, power, and trust building in interorganizational interactions.

Power in Collaborative Governance

Essentially, power is a property of a relationship (R. M. Emerson, 1962), refer-

ring to a potential ability of controlling or influencing others (individuals,

groups, or organizations). The control or influence can be conceptualized in

terms of evoking an influence or change in others’ behaviors (Bachrach &

Baratz, 1962; Dahl, 1957; Hunt & Nevin, 1974) or manipulating others’

desires, attitudes, and behaviors through social structure and cultural patterns

(Dawson, 1996; Lister, 2000; Lukes, 1974). Scholars categorize power in

Ran and Qi 5

many different ways, such as a widely used typology proposed by French and

Raven (1959) where power was categorized into reward power, coercive

power, legitimate power, referent power, and expert power. A binary categori-

zation is also frequently used: coercive or noncoercive (Ireland & Webb,

2007). Coercive power refers to the actors’ ability to control negative or unde-

sired outcomes through punishment or threatened sanctions (French & Raven,

1959; Molm, 1997). Noncoercive power is the ability to promote positive or

desired outcomes by providing or withholding rewards (Molm, 1997).

In recent years, scholars have made good attempts in expanding the con-

ceptualization of power beyond individual or group exercising power, which

is helpful in studying power in the context of interorganizational collabora-

tion. For example, Crosby and Bryson (2005) used structuration theory spe-

cifically to understand power in settings where no one is in charge. Power is

viewed as organizational controls of ideas, resources, rules, modes, media,

and methods in interorganizational dynamics. Applying this understanding of

power in collaborative governance, what literature recognized as ambiguous,

complex, and rapid changing nature of power in collaboration (Huxham

et al., 2000; Purdy, 2012) could be elucidated by a framework that delineates

the influencing factors in power relationship in a collaborative network (Ran

& Qi, 2017).

To understand power in collaborative governance, Huxham and Vangen

(2005) proposed two levels of power in interorganizational relations: the

macro level and micro level. The macro-level power is about various sources

of power and the power shift from one partner to another with the transfer of

power sources between partnering organizations. The power sources are

“macro” as they are related to groups, organizations, or networks rather than

to individuals in collaborations (Huxham & Beech, 2008). The micro-level

perspective on power focuses on the way in which power is enacted by indi-

viduals (who are often the representatives of partnering organizations) or the

partnering organization (as a collective entity) during the daily interaction in

collaboration, such as managing membership and setting agenda (Huxham &

Vangen, 2005). For instance, reward or coercive power exists when some

representatives (at micro level) perceive that other partners can use resources

(at macro level) to control or influence them by rewarding for compliance or

by punishing for noncompliance (Purdy, 2012).

In collaborative governance, power-related issues have been analyzed

extensively, such as major sources of power (Hardy & Phillips, 1998), differ-

ent arenas of power (Purdy, 2012), and factors affecting power relationship

(Hardy & Phillips, 1998), among which power asymmetry has been regarded

as the most critical issue (Huxham et al., 2000; Provan & Milward, 2001;

Purdy, 2012). To address the problems caused by power asymmetry,

6 Administration & Society 00(0)

researchers advocated power sharing as a solution (Berkes, 2010; Huxham

et al., 2000). Power sharing can produce ethos of cooperation and trust

(Linder, 1999); promote sharing of responsibility, knowledge, and risk

(Linder, 1999); establish firm partnerships (Carmichael & Knox, 1999);

secure legitimacy of governance (Jentoft, van Son, & Bjørkan, 2007); and

reduce fragmentation (Ehler, 2003). Difficulties in power sharing have also

been recognized, such as the time-consuming process of fostering trust to

share power, stalemate, and inaction caused by poor implementation of power

and failed collaboration due to unwillingness to share power (Coff, 1999;

Gray, 1985).

All of these conceptualizations of power constitute the major power

mechanisms, which affect actors’ behaviors in face of different possibili-

ties (Luhmann, 1979) and coordinate social interactions between actors

(Bachmann, 2001). They provide a sound base for scholars to further

investigate power issues in collaborative governance.

Trust in Collaborative Governance

Similar to power, trust has also been studied in different disciplines, all char-

acterizing trust in terms of “confident expectations” and “willingness to be

vulnerable” (Bozaykut & Gurbuz, 2015; Carnevale & Wechsler, 1992; Mayer,

Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998). Trust

implies confident expectations of outcomes of an uncertain event, with one

party willing to give up the control over outcomes and to be vulnerable to

risks from another party (Hosmer, 1995; Zand, 1972). A trustor’s confident

expectations come from a trustee’s certain characteristics perceived by the

trustor. Three characteristics of a trustee are prominently discussed in litera-

ture (Mayer et al., 1995; Mayer & Gavin, 2005): ability (about skills and

competencies), benevolence (about good motivation), and integrity (about

adherence to moral and ethical principles). A trustor can be betrayed or

undermined if the trustee is proved to lack such characteristics to realize the

trustor’s confident expectations. The risks of trust include partners’ opportu-

nistic action and inability to perform (Currall, 1992; Inkpen & Currall, 1998,

2004). The risks of trust may even result in considerable losses for the trustor

and damages for a relationship when trust is misplaced (Bachmann, 2001).

To cultivate trusting relationship in collaborative governance, both inter-

personal and interorganizational levels of trust should be taken into account,

because individuals as points of contact between organizations and partner-

ing organizations represented by these individuals are important for trust

building in collaborative governance. Interpersonal trust has two noteworthy

types: affect- and cognition-based trust (Blomqvist, 1997; Lewis & Weigert,

Ran and Qi 7

1985; McAllister, 1995). Affect-based trust consists of emotional bonds, in

which genuine care and concern for the welfare of partners are invested.

Cognition-based trust is based on the economic rationality to generate ratio-

nal reasons for trust. Interpersonal notion of trust can be extended to the inter-

organizational level, referring to the extent to which members of one

organization have a collective trust orientation toward another organization

(Dyer & Chu, 2000; Jeffries & Reed, 2000; Zaheer, McEvily, & Perrone,

1998). This collective trust orientation can be linked to the predictability of a

partnering organization’s behavior toward a vulnerable focal organization,

reflecting the confidence of the focal organization in its partnership with

another organization (Gulati & Nickerson, 2008). Yet the collectively held

trust orientation is not the simple aggregation of trust attitudes of all individu-

als in an organization because not all organizational members are equally

involved in organizational interactions with another organization due to the

unequal power distribution within an organization (Blomqvist & Ståhle,

2000; Janowicz-Panjaitan & Krishnan, 2009).

In collaborative governance, trust, both at the interpersonal level and

interorganizational level, is produced and reproduced through interactions

over time. Interorganizational trust is tied to interpersonal trust through insti-

tutionalization (Sydow, 1998; Zaheer et al., 1998), started when individuals

as points of contact between organizations developed trust orientation on

each other during the collaborative work. Trust can be further strengthened,

recreated, patterned, and institutionalized throughout the collaborating orga-

nizations as the interaction continues (Zaheer et al., 1998). Through collabo-

ration and interaction, interpersonal trust of the points-of-contact individuals

will affect the trust orientation of other organizational members toward the

partnering organization (Zaheer et al., 1998). As this trust orientation becomes

institutionalized, an interorganizational trust is formed, which will further

serve as a behavioral constraint on both organizations and individuals.

Trust has been identified as a key factor in collaborative governance (K.

Emerson et al., 2012; Huxham & Vangen, 2005) because it can ensure adher-

ence to agreed rules (Lyon, 2006); promote understanding of others’ interests,

needs, and values (Ring & Van de Ven, 1994; Thomson & Perry, 2006); and

improve performance (Child, 2001). Low level of trust will produce a series

of problems in collaboration, such as insufficient commitment, strategies of

manipulation, and dishonest communications (Ansell & Gash, 2008). Yet

trust building is a time- and effort-consuming process (Henneman, Lee, &

Cohen, 1995), in which repeated and quality interactions (K. Emerson et al.,

2012), successful past actions and cooperation (Vangen & Huxham, 1998),

and sufficient competence of partners (Blomqvist, 1997; Blomqvist & Ståhle,

2000) are needed.

8 Administration & Society 00(0)

Relationship Between Power and Trust in Collaborative


The relationship between power and trust is generally believed as two-sided,

both complementary and opposing (Bozaykut & Gurbuz, 2015; Ireland &

Webb, 2007). For example, Luhmann (1979) argued power and trust are

functionally equivalent alternative mechanisms in coordinating communica-

tion and social interaction. While coercive power may have negative effects

on trust building (Frost & Moussavi, 1992) and there is almost no simultane-

ous coexist of coercive power and trust in relationships (Ireland & Webb,

2007), some other types of power, such as expert and referent power that can

be exerted noncoercively, can exist simultaneously with trust (Fedor &

Ramsay, 2007; Ireland & Webb, 2007). In collaborative governance, scholars

believe that power asymmetry will undermine trust, and the excessive use of

power will also do harm to trust (Gray, 1989). Built from these prior studies,

we argue a contingent relationship between power and trust. We believe that

the negative influences from power asymmetry and positive influences from

power sharing on trust are not absolute but contingent upon many factors,

such as different types of power exercised in collaboration. This contingent

perspective (Ran & Qi, 2017) provides a holistic understanding of power

asymmetry, power sharing, different types of power, and trust building in the

dynamic context of collaboration.

The relationship between power and trust has also been revealed

largely through the control function shared by power and trust. Power can

be considered as an important mechanism of control when exerted

(Geringer & Hebert, 1989; Reed, 2001). Trust is also believed as a spe-

cific type of control mechanism in social interaction (Merchant, 1985),

which is a substitute mechanism for hierarchical control (Ring & Van de

Ven, 1994). Researchers found that displays of power become a substitute

for trust when there is a failure or deficiency of trust between actors

(Bozaykut & Gurbuz, 2015). Participants may also resort to power due to

its easiness to exercise compared with spending time and effort to foster </

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