Collaboration and Social Capital
What is Social Capital?
Social capital is defined as “the features of social organization, such as networks, norms and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital enhances the benefits of investment of physical and human capital.” (Robert Putnam, 1993- see Suggested Reading)
Community members, organizations and government working together collaboratively is a key component of social capital. In Social Capital and Public Policy (see Suggested Reading), Roger Blakeley writes, “Social capital refers to the creation of networks, goodwill, trust, shared values, norms and generalized reciprocity which arise from interactions between people. It has a cumulative effect, whereby effective interactions with others results in increased confidence and trust which encourage further collaboration. If social cohesion describes a society where different groups and institutions bind together effectively despite differences, then social capital must be part of the glue which enables this outcome. There is evidence that social capital has benefits not just for individuals, their health and their social life, but for effective democracy and economic growth.”
Sources of Social Capital
- Families: The family is the first building block in generating social capital for the larger society.
- Community: Social interactions among neighbors, friends and groups generate social capital and the ability to work together for a common good.
- Organizations: Building and sustaining efficient organizations (local businesses and firms) demands trust and a common sense of purpose, i.e., social capital, in the community.
- Civic Groups: Trust and willingness to cooperate allow people to form groups and associations, which facilitate the realization of shared goals. Social capital is crucial to the success of any community or civic organization because it provides opportunities for participation and gives voice to those who do not have access to more formal avenues to affect change.
- Public Sector: The public sector, i.e., government and its institutions, is central to the functioning and welfare of any society.
- Ethnic Groups: Ethnic ties are a clear example of how individuals who share common values and culture can band together for mutual benefit. By bringing similar people together, ethnicity, race and religion can mobilize human and physical resources towards a common goal.
Topics Relevant to Social Capital
- Community development: Social capital is significant because it affects the community’s capacity to organize for development. Social capital helps groups to perform key development tasks effectively and efficiently.
- Public health and nutrition: Lack of trust and low levels of cooperation among citizens has a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the community and contributes to increased mortality rates.
- Crime/violence: Shared values and norms can reduce community violence. Residents who have informal relations with their neighbors look out for each other and ‘police’ their own neighborhoods.
- Education: Family, community and state involvement in education improves educational outcomes.
- Environment: Community involvement and cooperation ensure the sustainability of environmental resources for the current and future benefit of all community members.
- Finance: Stable and equitable financial systems are required for sustainable growth.
- Economics & trade: Social capital impacts economic performance. While most work on social capital is microeconomic, social capital also affects trade, migration, economic reform, regional integration, new technologies which affect how people interact, security, and more.
- Information technology: Information technology has the potential to increase social capital by connecting the community to resources, relationships and information beyond their immediate environment.
(*adapted from PovertyNet's Social Capital for Development, Sources and Topics, see link below)
Online Resources and Tools
Applied Research Center
Public Policy, educational and research institute whose work emphasizes issues of race and social change.
Assets Based Community Development Institute
Practical resources and tools for community builders to identify, nurture, and mobilize neighborhood assets.
Provides interactive opportunities, resources and community stories.
Building Better Communities Network
An information clearinghouse and communication forum dedicated to building inclusive communities and to successfully siting affordable housing and community services.
Center for Community Change
Assists grassroots leaders and organizations with building their community’s capacity for self-sufficiency.
Civic Practices Network
Brings individuals, community based organizations, businesses and institutions together and provides tools, tips and positive examples of civic engagement.
Focuses on providing support to the foundations of civil society: families, schools and neighborhoods.
Electronic Policy Network
Provides information and ideas about the policies and politics.
Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies
A nonpartisan research organization dedicated to finding constructive solutions to social problems through morally informed policy analysis and open moral dialogue.
National Civic League
Advocates for and provides resources and support to civic engagement and community improvement efforts.
Promotes neighborhood empowerment.
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
Research-based information on school improvement.
Civic research organization with information on successful community solutions and civic practices.
Provides resources for the understanding and application of social capital for sustainable social and economic development.
Leaders discuss what institutions, mechanisms, incentives and approaches will significantly increase our stock of social capital and re-engage Americans with their communities.
Sustainable Communities Network
Links citizens to resources to create healthy, sustainable communities.
Hancock, Trevor. 2001. "People, partnerships and human progress: building community capital." Article published in Health Promotion International, Volume 16, Number 3. To read online, click on link: www.heapro.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/16/3/275?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Hancock%2C+Trevor&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT.
Portes, Alehandro & Patricia Landolt. 1996. "Unsolved mysteries: the Tocqueville files II." Article published in The American Prospect, Volume 7, Number 26. To read online, click on link: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=unsolved_mysteries_the_tocqueville_files_ii_113002.
Putnam, Robert D. 2001. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon and Schuster).
© Public Health Institute, Center for Civic Partnerships 2007
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