More about the various types of legitimacy
- Learning will be initiated in the network, in meetings between the participants, for instance through joint product development. This may in turn facilitate learning for other actors, both other businesses and on different levels in the education system. Customers who receive the new products will have to enter into a learning process. Competitors will likely do the same to avoid falling behind. If something ground-breaking or sensational has been accomplished, one may be contacted by institutions of learning looking for guest lecturers, and the development case may become part of the curriculum. All of this will build legitimacy for those behind the new product.
- When developing cognitive legitimacy, we must develope positive attitudes about the network, both internally and externally. The goal is that the network should be automatically associated with something positive whenever it is mentioned. We imagine that this over time will become so integrated that it is taken for granted, “‘this is how this network is”.
- Moral legitimacy is achieved in the network by doing the right things based on what is important to the stakeholders, i.e. contracting authorities, suppliers, lenders and government institutions. Moral actions are characterized by the fact that they exceed the minimum level as defined by legislation. Moral legitimacy may reach a deeper level, as cognitive legitimacy, when it has been present for some time.
- Regulative legitimacy implies that the network builds legitimacy by acting in a serious manner when faced with laws, regulations and political authorities. But it also implies influence to change laws and rules.
In table 8, we illustrate eight different strategies for building legitimacy. All of these will not be equally relevant in all cases. Below we will show a bit more about how the tool may be used.
How do we use the tool “building legitimacy”?
As previously mentioned, table 8 identifies eight possible strategies for building the network’s legitimacy. One way to approach this table is to address one column at a time. We will do this through two exercises with a total of four questions:
Table 8. Two dimensions in building legitimacy.
|Cognitive legitimacy||Socio-political legitimacy|
|Create opportunities for learning and positive associations||Appear serious and add something extra to get a moral engagement|
The external legitimacy is believed to be good. They have a good reputation as Norwegian producers of fruits and vegetables, and they contribute to marketing Lærdal in general.
The internal legitimacy is believed to be good today, but it was not always so. In the beginning of the project, some large producers chose not to be a part of LG and delivered fruits and vegetables on their own. That competition was a challenge for LG’s internal legitimacy, but now there are no major producers on the outside. They focus on building their internal legitimacy through activities such as courses and seminars and facilitating common goods.
There was especially one large producer who chose not to be a member as he wished to do the packing himself. He then asked the LG to do the packing for him, but the board turned him down. He eventually started packing the fruit by hand and established a small network of distributors in Oslo. He also attempted to access Bama himself, but experienced how difficult it could be as a single company. He also experienced the disadvantages in doing the packing himself. In 2014, he decided to be a member of LG.
IT Forum is an example of a network with great legitimacy in Sogn og Fjordane, and also nationally. The legitimacy is based on a relatively high activity, as well as “proximity to a decision-making system”. This means that there have been prime movers who also are members of the central member organization in IT Forum, who has made their voice heard by the Norwegian central government.
It is important to note how one of our informants emphasized the responsibility of top management:
“… The success of IT Forum was how the top managers were present during the start-up phase. Now they, many of them, have quit or retired, or this or that, and the new top managers may not have the same connection and therefore things have been delegated, or not even delegated, but at least what has happened is that the colonel and lieutenant levels that have taken over, and I believe this may be a risk, I think that if this should develop, the top managers need to be present”.
The development of broadband was moved forward by an IT Forum subgroup, Broadband. This is what gave IT Forum a good reputation and not least created the legitimacy the network enjoys in the in the county, and also in relevant circles nationally. The municipal administrations have also become involved with IT Forum and created stronger ties between the members of IT Forum and the municipalities. One informant expressed: “We wouldn’t have had the network in the individual municipalities and with all the actors if IT Forum were not there. It was absolutely vital, simply stated”. In table 11 we show how building legitimacy in IT Forum has happened on different levels, for both cognitive legitimacy and socio-political legitimacy.
|Level||Cognitive legitimacy||Socio-political legitimacy|
|Business (organization)||• Acquire more than what each member can do on their own||• Build collaborative infrastructure between established organizations|
|Managing & operating the network (internal learning processes)||• Establish an organization that provides trust
• Conducts conferences
• Conducts projects
|• Active in strategic investments
• Proximity to decision-makers
|Regional (external learning processes)||• Mentioned as a model by others
• Counterforces (challenges centralization trends)
|• Define strategic investments in the region
• Operator of regional projects
|National (external learning processes)||• Arranged national conferences (broadband)
• 200 million NOK for broadband
• Counterforces – received broadband country-wide
• Government jobs
|• Taking part in national hearings
• Lobbying (broadband, health)
Driving forces for building legitimacy
Several of the industries in which their studied networks are part of, have a long history in the region and are built on unique natural resources. This applies to the marine industry, energy sector, tourism and horticulture. This fact contributes to the legitimacy of the industries and networks. Additionally, there are currently positive social and market trends that appreciate and demand products from these industries, both when it comes to food produced in Norway, activity-based tourism, and renewable energy. Positive media coverage has also been part of building legitimacy to networks in their formative and growth phases.
For networks in their formative phase, the potential for increased value creation and competitiveness in the region is important for their socio-political legitimacy. Sogn og Fjordane Energy Region (ESF) would have been strengthened if their application for the Arena program had been successful. Networks in their growth phase may rely on prior successful projects, prior development and launch of quality product, as well as pre-existing relationships around legitimacy. The fact that customers currently are more interested in the origin of their products has resulted in produce packaging labelled with their origin, and this has strengthened the profile of fruit- and berries producers in the county.
An interesting possibility is to map the network culture as suggested by Cameron & Quinn (2011). Four arch types of culture were identified by Cameron & Quinn: Hierarchy, Clan, Adhocracy and Market 9. The type of network culture that is prevalent can be used to build legitimacy. E.g., if a network is known to have adhocracy characteristics, it would be easier to recruit innovative personnel.
Obstacles to building legitimacy
Both ESF and Marint Vekstforum, which are in their formative phases, encounter a barrier to their legitimacy due to missing many important and relevant actors in the county. Involving important actors would strengthen the legitimacy, both internally in the network and in the area, as well as to external actors. In the ESF network, an internal barrier to legitimacy is found in the lack of a specific project, hence most of the focus has been on the overarching, long-term level. This means that especially smaller businesses, with narrow margins, lose both interest and opportunity to be active. This is probably a dilemma in several networks that involve smaller businesses and organizations in the regions. The activity tourism businesses in Jostedalen pointed out that their perspective was missing from central tourism forums, and this weakens their legitimacy within the wider tourism industry. Networks in their growth phase have fewer challenges to their legitimacy, however, it is still important for these to maintain the legitimacy that has been built. For IT Forum, one challenge is keeping up the activity with projects that are relevant to the whole county, while the Fruit and Berries Network needs to continue the work with a common identity as a fruit and berries county.