Trust, governance and the digital brand


March sees my research activities escalate on three fronts.

Firstly, my own PhD research which seeks to investigate whether or not the emerging concept of the digital brand is, by its very nature of transparency, making the relationship between trust and governance more open and overt within organisational value networks.  If this is the case, the study will postulate some consequences of this changed relationship for organisational systems and processes.

Secondly, our ARC funded research into Semantic Technologies and Sustainability Reporting (  This research is now in its third, and final, year, and at the stage of producing some interesting, and hopefully useful, results.

Finally, the IMM, which has recently been asked to undertake two research projects.  The first is to provide government staff with a “user friendly” (explainable in a tweet) overview of the Semantic Web and semantic technologies with practical examples and explanations.  The second is to investigate open data formats, protocols and initiatives and what is the current “state of play” around the world.

All of these research projects have at their heart the inter-relationship between information and how humans use it to manage organisations; and all are underpinned by the changes in information management wrought by digital interaction technologies.

In this post I am going to expand upon the first, my PhD research, in order to specifically explore the relationship between governance and trust within the digital information environment.

Governance, trust and the digital brand

According to Clay Shirky the fundamental problem facing all organisations, including governments, within the digitally connected information society, is that of balancing the dynamic between checks and balances, and governance.  In essence this is the balance between stakeholder trust, as articulated in the stated demands for those checks and balances, and the organisational processes which are designed to respond to those demands and enact some sort of desired change in organisational behaviour.  It is the combination of this, as experienced by those stakeholders (both internal and external) which manifests as “the brand” and which now, in the digital age, is undergoing a fundamental change.

Much has been written about governance since the introduction of electronic technologies, because with their coming the relationship between sender and receiver, creator and consumer, government and governed, had the potential to change.  What was promised was a new mode of transparency which would impact upon organisational systems in ways that are only just beginning to be understood, and which can be monitored through the findings of research such as the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Edelman’s latest research offering contains some telling findings, amongst which are that

“the most credible spokesperson after an academic and technical expert is now a “person like me” followed by the employee. CEOs are now second to last.”

People are developing a heightened distrust of organisations, and are becoming most likely to rely on those that they know, through whatever networks they interact with.

In fact, Richard Edelman states that

“(Organisations) must now earn their “license to lead.” 

This is a major turn-around, and has huge implications for governance and trust.

In order to lead then others must be able, prepared to, and willing to follow.  For all sectors the relationship between the “government” and the “governed”, be they citizens, customers or constituents, is based on key elements of trust, and of developing, nurturing and sustaining a bidirectional relationship that needs to exists.

A definition of trust

For the purposes of my own research I utilised the work of David Straker and have identified these key elements as being:

  • Predictability
  • Value exchange
  • Delayed reciprocity, and
  • Exposed vulnerabilities.

So, what does this mean for governance, and the role of digital interaction technologies?

A mode of Twenty First Century Digital Governance

Rogers W’O Okot-Uma from the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, states that

“Good Governance should, among other things, be participatory, transparent and accountable.”

He has developed this model which brings together the factors of transition to a digital epoch and a knowledge economy and the levels of diffusion in society with eGovernance.


This model forms the definition of governance upon which I am basing my research, and which then enables me to link to the digital brand as a manifestation of organisational systems and processes as captured within the digital space.  Francis Fukuyama defines governance as

“the institutions and structures of authority, as expressed in laws and customs, that define and articulate an organisation’s identity through its behaviours and norms.” 

This precisely how I see the digital brand.  In order to maintain the delicate balance that links governance and trust the “architecture” of all parts of an organisation needs to move with, and embrace, the aspects of electronic governance as perceived by the different levels within the community from the “informatised individual” to the “global village”.

This is both the challenge and promise of the digital brand because, within the digital realm, it is a manifestation of that balance in time and space.

My theory is that the digital brand is, in fact, making the relationship between governance and trust within organisations more explicit, and by being more explicit it thus provides new and unprecedented challenges to those in governance positions – both management and boards – about how they respond to the data being presented.

Testing the theory

I am going to test my theory utilising two organisations as cases.  Both are within the cultural community for a range of reasons including the relatively apolitical and bipartisan nature of cultural activities, the availability of data and information, the very creativity and innovation that defines the cultural industries, and the ability to use these as microcosms of larger and more complex organisations.

The methodology is now my main focus in terms of

  • Setting the boundaries within which the “digital brand” is to be tested
  • Identifying the data and information that needs to be collected to test the theory
  • Articulating the most appropriate and effective mechanisms to collect the data
  • Developing the most robust analysis processes in order to ensure that the results are both legitimate and of value.

I will focus on this more in a subsequent post.