Publicly-funded programmes of business support are important vehicles for rural development, and over the last two decades, group-based models of business support have become popular, in which dedicated advisors work with small firms in groups, rather than one-to-one mentoring. A fundamental goal of such programmes is to foster enhanced inter-firm knowledge exchange and learning, and improved firm resilience and innovation, through the development of collective trust amongst participants,. Although many studies have investigated the evolution of trust, including in a rural context, to date most research has focused either on the macro-institutional level, or the micro-personal level, with relatively little exploration of how meso-level collective trust may be encouraged amongst groups of participants in rural business support programmes. This paper addresses the gap by exploring the development of collective trust within two group-based rural business support programmes in Northern Ireland. The study reveals that programme design features and the interpersonal style of advisors combined to shape clients' trust in the programmes and their sponsoring institutions, as well as influencing the degrees of goodwill and camaraderie within the client groups themselves.
- support programmes
- small business