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Why are policy actors so distrustful of each other, and how?

In the age of collaboration and shared governance, paradoxically, distrust is everywhere across the public, private, and civic spheres. Increasing distrust in government and political institutions is seen as dysfunctional to democracy, making governance networks challenging. Yet, previous studies emphasize the significance of promoting trust more than addressing distrust in networks. Distrust is distinct from the mere absence of trust and represents a negative aspect of interactive relationships characterized by doubt or suspicion. Relatively little is known about why distrust between organizations (policy actors) occurs and how it develops in interorganizational governance networks. Using quantitative network survey and qualitative interview data from organizations involved in a controversial local hydraulic fracturing policy network in New York, our mixed-method analysis (qualitative coding and quantitative social network analysis) fills this gap. We found a range of cognitive, behavioral, and structural sources of distrust among policy actors. Divergent policy beliefs, group-based identities, competition, and non-collaboration are cognitive and behavioral sources. Reciprocity and transitive triads are identified as structural sources leading to heightened distrust in the network. These elements suggest balance and clustering mechanisms of reinforcing high distrust, thus leading to value co-destruction or governance failure. This study advances public network management by showing why distrust occurs and how it escalates within governance networks.