Live Webinar: Building Trust in Online Environments - Wednesday, October 31st @ 4pm Eastern/3pm Central/8pm GMT

Building Trust in Online Environments

Presented by Sam Edwards, John Debruyn, Eileen Barker, Vance Jackson, & Diogo Santos


Why are people so mean online? How can parties and dispute resolution professionals help repair and build trust online? This panel will examine this important topic from two perspectives.  First, we will start with a discussion of the psychological basis for trust and how online interactions affect the dynamic. With the psychological basic in mind we will then turn to mediators' experiences in building trust online. The panel will focus on how the different mediums of communication affect trust building strategies. We will then offer suggestions for adapting trust building to the online environment and conclude with a look into our crystal balls to predict how technology will drive this field in the future.


This session is designed to be interactive and we welcome input. This is a challenging issue to overcome when communicating at a distance. Through discussion we hope to be able to share experiences and develop an idea of best practices.




Presenter Bios:

Sam EDWARDS, J.D., LL.M, Associate Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, has been teaching negotiation at the graduate and undergraduate levels for over ten years.  From 2002-2007 he taught at Nagoya University's Graduate School of Law in Nagoya Japan.  Since 2007 he has taught at Green Mountain College in Vermont.  Sam has an LL.M. in international environmental law from Nagoya University Graduate School of Law and a J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School.  Sam has passed the bar exams in California, Guam, The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia.  His research stems from his work in Micronesia, Japan, and Africa.  

Sam's e-mail is:


Z. Vance Jacksonis an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Psychology Program at Green Mountain College.  He received his BS in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Master’s degrees in Community Counseling and Social Psychology from Ball State University, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Ball State University.


Vance’s teaching and research interests focus on ways that people interact with the social environment around them.  Specifically, Vance is interested in examining ways that negative attitudes, stereotypes, and systems of privilege affect traditionally marginalized populations.  In addition, he is interested in examining how gender stereotypes influence the workplace.  Vance teaches numerous courses that explore ways that culture influences our daily lives.

In his spare time, Vance enjoys spending quality time with his wife and dog. He also enjoys hiking, playing guitar, reading, and playing soccer.


Eileen Barker is a mediator based in San Rafael, California.  Since 1991, she has mediated hundreds of cases in a wide range of subject matters including business/commercial, employment, real estate, partnership, personal injury, probate and family/divorce.  In addition to teaching at the Werner Institute, she has taught negotiation, mediation, emotional intelligence and forgiveness at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, Hastings College of Law, Sonoma State University, John F. Kennedy University and elsewhere.  For more information see and


Diogo Santos, PhDDoctor of Philosophy in International Development by Nagoya University, Master of Laws by Nagoya University (Japan) and Bachelor of Law by the Federal University of Maranhão-Brazil. Growing up in Brazil in the 1980-90’s has given me a first-hand experience in living in fierce economic crisis. This has awakened in me an acute interest in the processes through which nations and societies develop, and achieve welfare. During my graduate studies in Japan, I developed a more specific interest in the impact political and legal institutions have in development, especially how the institutional architecture of governments affects political stability, democratic legitimacy and economic prosperity. After the conclusion of my graduate studies I returned to Brazil to teach mainly International Law, Economic Regulation Law and Constitutional Theory. I am currently in a sabbatical year in Sacramento, CA doing research in State/citizens relationship and Institutions of Federalism.



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Building Trust in Online Environments-Base concepts and relevant literature


What is trust?


For the purpose of this discussion, Ebner (2008 and 2012) identifies three elements of trust:


  1. Risk-risk is a precondition to trust, as one must risk loosing something in order for trust as an attitude or a sentiment to make sense. Running risks exposes the trusting party’s vulnerabilities. Where there is no risk taking, there is no trust. The vulnerability content of trust is also noted by Mayer et al (1995) in Exon (2001).
  2. Uncertainty-there must be a minimal uncertainty regarding the other party’s future behavior. If the other party’s behavior is fully predictable and completely controlled, one cannot speak of trust.
  3. Expectation-a perspective of future behavior on the other party. One must expect the other party to behave in a certain manner, either in response to one’s own previous cooperative behavior or in recognition to having trusted the other party.



                     In the context of dispute resolution as an expectation that one’s cooperation will be reciprocated, in a situation where one stands to loose if the other chooses not to cooperate. (Ebner, 2012:11)


In respect to whom trust is directed to, there can be two relevant types of trust: party to party and party to mediator.


Trust between parties to a conflict is horizontal and potentially symmetric, since both sides have a stake in the conflict and lack of cooperation may harm both parties interest in obtaining an mutually acceptable solution.


Party/mediator trust is asymmetrical, since a mediator does not hold a stake in the conflict per se. However, mediators do have a reputation to build and maintain.


Another useful approach on trust is provided by Williams and Kitchen (2009) and Exon (2011).


Williams and Kitchen extract the most common elements of trust from discussions in various fields and classify them in three types of trust:


  1. Dispositional trust- related to an individual’s psychological predisposition to perceive others as trustworthy. This type of trust should not be ignored by mediators; however, if not present there is little a mediator can do to obtain it.
  2. Institutional trust-this type of trust originates in the institutional/regulatory environment where action takes place. Laws, rules, regulations, conventions, habit, traditions, etc. may create an expectation on behavior, and one party may expect the other party to act in a certain, predictable, manner according to the relevant rules.
  3. Interpersonal trust-stems form previous experiences among the parties. Previous cooperation, transparency, consistency and promises fulfilled add to a perception of trustworthiness.


Institutional and interpersonal trust can be explored more easily by mediators, e.g. starting the trust building process by assigning each party simple and easy to execute tasks as displays of good will to the other party (interpersonal trust), and/or stating clearly and emphatically rules and policies applicable to the interaction and penalties incurred in case of misbehavior.


Shahibi and Fakeh (2011) point out that in e-commerce transactions, consumers show strong concern with terms and conditions of transactions and rules/policies protecting the secrecy/privacy of their sensitive information. In this way, assurances of confidentiality and consistent good behavior contribute to trust building. Salisbury et al (2001) and Godwin (2001) also point to this.


I hope this contributes to a more useful conceptual base for our discussion regarding building trust in virtual environments. I will provide a list of references to the works cited here in the next post.

References and further reading



Petrauskas, F., & Kybartiene, E. (2011). Online Dispute Resolution in Consumer Disputes. Jurisprudencija, 18(3):921-941.

Poblet, M, & Casanovas, P. (2007). Emotions in ODR. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 21(2): 145-156.

Veenen, J. (2011). Getting to :-); the potential of online text-based communication to support internet-based dispute resolution.
Maklu Publishers.

Young Ae, K. & Phalak, R. (2012). A trust prediction framework in rating-based experience sharing social networks without a Web of Trust. Information Sciences, 191128-145. doi:10.1016/j.ins.2011.12.021

Ebner, N. (2008). Trust Building in E-Negotiation. IGI Global.

Ebner, N. (2012). ODR and interpersonal trust. In M.S. Abdel Wahab, E. Katsh, & D. Rainey (Eds.), Online dispute resolution: Theory and practice: A treatise on technology and dispute resolution (pp. 203-236). Portland, Oregon: Eleven Law Publishing.

Shahibi, M.S., & Wan Fakeh, S.K. (2011). Security factor and trust in e-commerce transactions. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 5(12): 2028-2033.

Williams, R. Kitchen, P.J. (2009). Involvement, elaboration and the sources of online trust. International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, 5(2):1-22.

Exon, S.N. (2011). Maximizing technology to establish trust in an online, non-visual mediation setting. 33 U. La Verne L. Rev. 27.

Godwin, J.U. (2001). Privacy and security concerns as major barriers for e-commerce: a survey study. Journal of Information Management & Computer Security, 9(4): 165-174.

Salisbury, D.W., R.A. Pearson, A.W. Pearson, and D.W. Miller. (2001). Perceived security and World wide Web purchase. Industrial management and Data Systems, 101(3/4): 165-176.

Roger Mayer et al., An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust, 20 Acad. of Mgmt. Rev. 709, 712 (1995).

The archive for the Building Trust webinar is now available for viewing. Please feel free to continue the dialogue via this discussion forum by providing your comments and questions. Enjoy!

Hi all -

The chapter on ODR and Interpersonal Trust which Diogo mentioned in his extensive review, can be downloaded for reading here


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