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The Interplay of Trust and Dependence in Collaboration Attitudes: Perspectives of Nonprofit Leaders

posted on 2023-09-07, 05:12 authored by Long Tran

Much of the research in the public and nonprofit management literature on inter-organizational collaboration focuses on various macro and meso aspects of collaboration. Little is known about micro aspects such as attitudes of individuals involved in collaboration, despite “the importance of the individual in collaborative partnerships” (O’Leary & Vij, 2012, p. 514). Collaboration is initiated and run by individuals, whose decision-making and behavior, as implied by decades of social psychological research on attitude-behavior relations, can be influenced by their attitudes. Hence, to contribute to a more holistic understanding of collaboration, this dissertation brings to the nonprofit collaboration literature a social psychological perspective to explain the variation in attitudes that nonprofit leaders have toward collaboration opportunities and to explore some of the factors that drive these attitudes. After defining a collaboration attitude as “a mental evaluation with some degree of favor or disfavor of an actual or hypothetical collaboration opportunity,” the dissertation addresses two research questions. 1) What are different types of attitudes a nonprofit leader may hold toward a collaboration opportunity? 2) Why does a nonprofit leader hold a certain attitude toward a collaboration opportunity? To answer these questions, the dissertation employs an exploratory sequential mixed-methods approach, with qualitative inquiries followed by quantitative inquiries. First, it qualitatively identifies different types of collaboration attitudes expressed by the leaders of 20 U.S.-based transnational children’s charities. Based on primary and secondary interview data, the dissertation qualitatively identifies four major types of attitudes toward collaboration opportunities: Avid, Averse, Apprehensive, and Amenable. Avid means feeling enthusiastic about a collaboration opportunity. Averse means feeling resistant to a collaboration opportunity. Apprehensive means feeling compelled and yet nervous about a collaboration opportunity. Amenable means feeling receptive to but not eager for a collaboration opportunity. This 4-A typology answers the first research question. To address the second question, the dissertation looks at leaders’ perceptions of resource dependence and trust. The qualitative data suggest an interplay between perceived resource dependence and trust, resulting in a 2x2 framework that may explain whether a leader feels avid for, averse to, apprehensive about, or amenable to a collaboration opportunity. A leader who perceives strong dependence on and strong trust in an organization tends to feel avid for the idea of collaborating with that organization. A leader who perceives weak dependence on and weak trust in an organization tends to feel averse to the idea of collaborating with that organization. A leader who perceives strong dependence on but weak trust in an organization tends to feel apprehensive about the idea of collaborating with that organization. A leader who perceives weak dependence on but strong trust in an organization tends to feel amenable to the idea of collaborating with that organization. Equipped with these qualitative findings, the dissertation then quantitatively validates the roles of perceived resource dependence and trust and examines the nature of the perceived dependence-trust interplay when it comes to explaining a leader’s collaborative intention—the conative component of collaboration attitudes. Analyzing longitudinal survey data from the leaders of 223 local nonprofits in Lebanon, the dissertation finds that perceived dependence and two forms of trust—cognitive trust and affective trust—may all significantly and separately strengthen a nonprofit leader’s intention to collaborate with the local government. Moreover, mediation analysis indicates that cognitive trust and affective trust might explain a significant portion of perceived dependence’s positive effect on collaborative intentions. Finally, while perceived dependence and cognitive trust do not significantly interact, moderation analysis suggests a significant negative interaction between perceived dependence and affective trust. In other words, while the effect on collaborative intentions of perceived dependence does not seem to rely on the level of cognitive trust or vice versa, perceived dependence appears to exert a stronger effect on collaborative intentions when affective trust is low and vice versa. The dissertation contributes to management theory and practice by introducing the concept of collaboration attitudes, capturing in a typology the variation in collaboration attitudes among organizational leaders, and elucidating how the interplay between perceived resource dependence and trust may influence organizational leaders’ attitudes toward inter-organizational collaboration opportunities.





Degree Awarded: Ph.D. Public Administration and Policy. American University.; Electronic thesis available to American University authorized users only, per author's request.


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American University. School of Public Policy

Degree level

  • Doctoral

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