What is legitimacy?

If an actor, as in person, organization or network, has legitimacy, this implies that others trust this actor to behave in accordance with accepted values and norms. Possessing legitimacy gives latitude and opportunity to mobilize resources like through loans or transfers of equity.

What is acceptable will vary between cultures and gradually within the same culture. Building legitimacy thus requires the actors in the network to be tuned into the surrounding culture and to know what is going on in every location and every area of interest. The parallel to corporate social responsibility is clear here. Building legitimacy also implies going beyond rather than merely reaching the lowest acceptable level of the surrounding society’s expectations.

Whoever creates something new will often face the problem of legitimacy: It is necessary to build trust in the novelty in the surrounding community/society. This novelty may be an organization, a new network or a new product, etc. What we focus especially on here are new networks. Problems with legitimization are often brought on by lack of knowledge about the novelty, or simply because there is no acceptance of this novelty, for instance because it is a break from habitual ways of thinking.

New networks will need legitimacy from all those who are directly or indirectly impacted by the novelty. These can be labelled as “stakeholders”. Examples of stakeholders are target groups for membership (businesses, the public sector, research and development institutions), lenders, investors, suppliers and customers.

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