Trust initiation and development in SME-university collaborations: implications for enabling engaged scholarship

Fariba Darabi*, Mark N.K. Saunders, Murray Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore trust initiation and development in collaborations between universities and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the implications for enabling engaged scholarship (ES). Design/methodology/approach: Adopting a qualitative inductive approach, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive maximum variation sample comprising 14 SMEs and 12 university stakeholders. Findings: The authors highlight the role of calculus-based trust in the initiation of collaborations emphasising the key roles of networking and referrals. As collaborations develop, reciprocal insights regarding stakeholders’ competencies and integrity and the development of knowledge-based trust can support engagement, in particular, knowledge application. Although relationships have a common sense of purpose, a fully engaged campus remains absent. Research limitations/implications: This study is based on a collaborative research between eight SMEs and one university business school and does not reflect ES fully as conceptualised. It provides few insights into the role of trust (or distrust) in such collaborations where things go wrong. Practical implications: Universities looking to enable ES collaborations with SMEs need to develop and enact strategies which support ongoing engagement and enable identification-based trust (IBT). Recommendations for universities and human resource development regarding interventions to support trust initiation and development to enable knowledge application ES are outlined and suggestions are offered for future research. Social implications: University strategies to support the development of trust and, in particular, IBT are likely to benefit longer-term relationships and the development of ES between SMEs and universities. Originality/value: Little research has been undertaken on trust initiation and development between academic and SME stakeholders or the associated implications for ES.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-345
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of Training and Development
Issue number4/5
Early online date23 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2021


  • Collaboration
  • Engaged scholarship
  • HRD
  • SME
  • Trust
  • University

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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