Trust Building in a virtual context: Case Study of a community of Practice


  • Cindy Eggs


eCollaboration, Social Media, Communities of Practice, intellectual capital, trust building, new collaborative culture.


The Research Management Unit of Swiss Distance University for Applied Sciences (Fernfachhochschule Schweiz FFHS) has experienced trust building processes in virtual environment amongst others in their work with Community of Practice (CoP). The establishment of CoPs has become their core business, that means that they have have planned and implemented such kind of learning communities for international companies and for university groups. According to the author, CoPs are perceived as laboratory for creating intellectual capital for which trust building is a pre‑conditioned success factor. To identify trust building methods in a research environment in particular and in CoPs in general, using new technologies is the main aim in this paper. So, the broad subject CoP and intellectual capital will be constricted and the focus put on trust. A special focus is put on the virtuality element which has become very important with the raise of social media platforms in the business world. Following questions will be addressed in the paper: How is trust defined in a virtual environment, especially among researchers? How can you build trust in a CoP? How can the community leader influence this trust building? What is the role of different group members? Which influence does a deep organizational trust have on the success of a community? To answer this question, foremost a theoretical analyses model for trust and its processes will be developed based on the three domains of intellectual capital which most authors have identified for the division of intellectual capital: human capital, structural capital and relationship capital. To cope with the technical dimension of virtuality, a new approach to the intellectual capital domains is elaborated. In the first place, at the level of human capital, the author describes personal characteristics and competencies (knowledge management skills) which enable trust building. Secondly, the level of structural capital focuses on technical aspect of the community and activities which foster trust building. Last but not least, the relationship level studies the trust building process linked to different roles and a new collaborative culture. As a case study for this paper, serves the community of researchers at the FFHS which collaborate through a virtual platform called eDolphin. The researchers, working for a future‑oriented institution and eUniversity, come from different disciplines and promote an eLearning and eCollaboration approach in team activities and project management. The findings of the theoretical approach lead to its adaptation to the practical example of eDolphin. How was trust build in this case? What are the lessons learned which we identified during this community building process. Last but not least, some theories and findings concerning community building on social media platforms are described.



1 Jul 2012