TReCA. Trust, Resilience and Collective Action in bio-based production systems

Project: PostDoc

Project Details


The TReCA project addresses an under-conceptualised problem in resilience research: the role of trust for the resilience of agricultural production systems, and of bio-based production systems (BBPS) more generally. Bio-based production systems are “social-ecological systems that combine social organisation, human technology, biological processes and ecological systems and their services for the production of food, fibre or biomass” (Ge et al., 2016, 17). The structural characteristics of BBPS combine several critical factors in which trust plays a major role: their smooth operation requires the reliable interaction of a large number of actors, the use of ecological systems and their services entails potential collective action problems and the essential nature of their products for survival makes any risk of failure a high-stake game.
Resilience means the capability of a system to maintain its essential functions under changing circumstances (Holling, 1973). It encompasses the aspects of stability (or robustness, including the capability of a system to bounce back after shocks), adaptability and transformability (Walker et al., 2004). The resilience of BBPPs depends on the sustainable management of ecosystems which provide services that support the productivity of these systems, often in essential ways. However, the use, management and exploitation of ecosystems tends to create collective action problems, which often have an element of intertemporal distribution, and the solution of which requires interpersonal or institutional trust.
Reference to the role of trust are ample in the literature about resilience (Holling, 1986; Olsson et al., 2004). However, an empirical operationalisation of the concept in this research field is missing. Furthermore, a systemic analysis of the role of trust for the resilience of social-ecological systems and BBPS is lacking. Here the concepts of interpersonal trust and institutional trust need to be integrated into the conceptualisation of resilience. There is also a need to assess levels of trust in BPPS and their impact on the resilience of BBPS.
The TReCA project will be developed by an interdisciplinary team under Wageningen UR’s investment theme Resilience. This team aims to develop a conceptual framework that helps to understand the role of trust in resilience of BBPS and an operationalisation of interpersonal and institutional trust that allows to assess levels of trust in BPPS and their effects on the resilience of these systems. Finally, we aim to develop a prototype of agent-based modelling of trust dynamics.
The project starts from the assumption that trust is essential to address resilience challenges in BBPSs because of their social and ecological complexity which requires systemic trust for routine operation, the potential for collective action problems and the high stakes. An important consideration is the temporal asymmetry of trust dynamics, where processes of trust-building tend to be slow whereas interpersonal and institutional trust can collapse very fast. Hence, trust dynamics are both a source of resilience as well as a potential source of resilience failure.
TReCA aims to develop a conceptualisation of trust that is geared to the understanding of resilience of BBPS, and an interdisciplinary conceptual framework to understand the role of trust in resilience of BBPSs. The approach will integrate perspectives from ecological, sociological, economic, communication, legal and political science theories, system analysis and transdisciplinary agent-based modelling.
During the first stage (until the end of 2017), TReCA will establish an international multi-disciplinary research consortium that conducts three tasks. First, this consortium will conduct a systematic and interdisciplinary literature review on the role of trust for the resilience of ecosystem and ecosystem services, and BBPSs more general. Second, the consortium will develop an empirical conceptualisation and operationalisation of trust that is suitable for research on the resilience of BBPSs. This will include agent-based modelling of trust dynamics. Third, the consortium will integrate this operationalised concept of trust into a systemic conceptual framework that can be used to assess the resilience of BBPSs with a particular view to the asymmetric dynamics of trust-building and trust collapse. This framework will be applied to an exemplary case study, the dairy farming sector in the Dutch province of Friesland, to prove the usability of the concept. The systematic literature review and the conceptual framework with exemplary application will be submitted to high-ranked international academic journals by December 2017. The operationalisation of trust and the framework will serve as building blocks for joint proposals to upcoming major funding calls under, for example, Horizon 2020, NWO, Joint Programming Initiative and Open Research Area.
Effective start/end date1/12/1731/12/19


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