MEASURING SOCIAL CAPITAL
Too often, human service agencies struggle to develop outcome measures that truly capture the impact of their programs. This problem is magnified when the outcome involves a fluid concept such as social capital. Indeed, the term social capital has been criticized for lacking a clear theoretical consensus and has so far eluded a working definition on which researchers can agree.
IN uses the term social capital to describe the value and benefits of a person’s relationships and community affiliations. In other words, social capital is created when people are included, involved, and engaged in the life of their communities.
Extensive literature reviews have been conducted looking for measures of social capital, civic engagement, community involvement, and relationship building. Several dozen tools have been found and examined. The IN has selected a survey developed by the Harvard University Kennedy School's Saguaro Seminar. This survey, the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, has been used for more than a decade to measure social capital in communities all over the United States.
While this survey has been conducted on thousands of people across the United States, individuals with disabilities were never included in the sample pool. The IN felt it timely to give these individuals a voice. Drawing on the Saguaro Seminar’s established survey, the IN developed and administered the Social Capital Interview, a modified, guided interview with the goal of measuring involvement and engagement in the greater community among their service recipients. Key results were collected and compared to the national data pool collected by the Saguaro Seminar and other broad-based social surveys.
The Saguaro Seminar’s Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey was modified from its original version so as to be accessible and relevant to people with disabilities. Many of the original questions remained; some were modified while others were removed entirely. In some cases, additional answer options were included to reflect the realities of people with disabilities. For example, on questions relating to participation partners in community activities, options were added to include roommates and paid support staff as these reflect the individuals with whom activities are often carried out. A question on employment was broadened to include how one typically spends the day. Answer options reflected the full range of activities in which a person with a disability may participate, including full-time and part-time day support programs, supported employment situations, and sheltered workshops. Lastly, questions were added to examine how people get around the community (transportation) and where people live (housing).
The survey measures levels of social capital by examining seven indices, looking at both the key prerequisites for building social capital and indicators that one has social capital. Each dimension is described in more detail below.
1. Social Trust: At the core of social capital is the question of whether a person feels he or she can trust other people. This index measures feelings of trust toward neighbors, co-workers, strangers and “most people.”
2. Social Support: This index measures the availability of social support systems and where people turn for social, emotional, financial, instrumental, and informational support.
3. Diversity of Friendships: Since we rely on different people for different types of support, having diverse social networks is essential for high social capital. This index examines different types of relationships and the degree to which people’s social networks (individually and as a community) are diverse.
4. Conventional Politics Participation: One of the key measures of how engaged we are in our communities is the extent of our political involvement. This index looks at how many people are registered to vote, how many actually vote, and how much of an interest in politics is expressed.
5. Civic/Community Leadership: This index measures involvement in organized groups such as sports teams, hobby groups, and professional associations. It also measures religious involvement and any leadership roles assumed within the services
6. Informal Socializing: This index measures connections developed through informal relationships (often referred to as “schmoozing”). It measures the degree to which individuals participate in community activities and with whom they participate. Activities may include having friends over to one’s home, socializing with co-workers outside of work, and playing cards or board games with others. This index also includes measures of employment and volunteerism as these settings present opportunities for socializing and are often antecedents to the development of relationships.
7. Associational Involvement: This index measures the frequency of participation in formal groups, relationships formed here and the extent of one’s participation in groups’ decision-making.