The full report Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW A Practitioner's Guide (101pp) FULL REPORT Practitioners Guide
Overview of a Study
Bullen & Jenny Onyx
The paper provides a brief overview of the study "Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW". The full findings from the study are published in two reports. See section 6. More Information for details.
A useful site for social capital resources and background information is the World Bank Social Capital Site. It includes numerours articles and a discussion group.
Copyright Paul Bullen and Jenny Onyx
South Wales (NSW) is a State of Australia)
Social capital is the raw material of Civil society. It is created from the myriad of everyday interactions between people. It is not located within the individual person or within the social structure, but in the space between people. It is not the property of the organisation, the market or the state, though all can engage in its production.
Social capital is a "bottom-up" phenomenon. It originates with people forming social connections and networks based on principles of trust, mutual reciprocity and norms of action.
The term social capital was first used in the 1980s by Bourdieu and Coleman.
Wide discussion of social capital was prompted after the publication in 1993 of Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy by Robert Putman. Putnam summarises some of his work:
Similar to the notions of physical and human capital, the term social capital refers to features of social organization -- such as networks, norms, and trust that increase a society's productive potential....
Beginning in 1970, Italians established a nationwide set of potentially powerful regional governments. They were virtually identical in form, but the social, economic, political, and cultural contexts in which they were implanted differed dramatically ranging from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial and from the inertly feudal to the frenetically modern.
Some of the new governments proved to be dismal failures inefficient and corrupt. Others have been remarkably successful....
Contrary to our expectation, we were unable to explain the differences on the basis of such obvious factors as party politics, affluence, or population movements....
The historical record strongly suggests that the successful communities became rich because they were civic, not the other way round. The social capital embodied in norms and networks of civic engagement seems to be a precondition for economic development as well as for effective government. Civics matters. (PCD Forum March 6, 1995)
In Australia Eva Cox generated considerable discussion of social capital through the 1995 Boyer Lectures. She said:
There are four major capital measures, one of which takes up far too much policy time and space at present. This is Financial capital. Physical capital makes it onto the agenda because of the environmental movement. So there are fierce debates on trees, water, coal and what constitutes sustainable development. Some types of physical capital and financial capital deplete with overuse, or become scarce or too expensive. We occasionally mention human capital - the total of our skills and knowledge but rarely count its loss in unemployment.
There has been too little attention paid to social capital... Social capital refers to the processes between people which establish networks, norms, social trust and facilitate co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit. These processes are also known as social fabric or glue, but 1 am deliberately using the term 'capital' because it invests the concept with the reflected status from other forms of capital. Social capital is also appropriate because it can be measured and quantified so we can distribute its benefits and avoid its losses.
We increase social capital by working together voluntarily in egalitarian organisations. Learning some of the rough and tumble of group processes also has the advantages of connecting us with others. We gossip, relate and create the warmth that comes from trusting. Accumulated social trust allows groups and organisations, and even nations, to develop the tolerance sometimes needed to deal with conflicts and differing interests....
Social capital should be the pre-eminent and most valued form of any capital as it provides the basis on which we build a truly civil society. Without our social bases we cannot be fully human. Social capital is as vital as language for human society.
Themes in the Literature
In the growing literature on social capital, a number of themes are emerging:
1. Participation in networks.
Key to all uses of the concept is the notion of more or less dense interlocking networks of relationships between individuals and groups. People engage with others through a variety of lateral associations. These associations must be both voluntary and equal.
Social capital cannot be generated by individuals acting on their own. It depends on a propensity for sociability, a capacity to form new associations and networks.
Social capital does not imply the immediate and formally accounted exchange of the legal or business contract, but a combination of short term altruism and long term self interest (Taylor, 1982). The individual provides a service to others, or acts for the benefit of others at a personal cost, but in the general expectation that this kindness will be returned at some undefined time in the future in case of need. In a community where reciprocity is strong, people care for each other's interests.
Trust entails a willingness to take risks in a social context based on a sense of confidence that others will respond as expected and will act in mutually supportive ways, or at least that others do not intend harm.
4. Social Norms.
Social norms provide a form of informal social control that obviate the necessity for more formal, institutionalised legal sanctions. Social norms are generally unwritten but commonly understood formulae for both determining what patterns of behaviour are expected in a given social context, and for defining what forms of behaviour are valued or socially approved.
Some people argue that where social capital is high, there is little crime, and little need for formal policing.
Where there is a low level of trust and few social norms, people will cooperate in joint action only under a system of formal rules and regulations. These have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated and enforced, sometimes by coercive means, leading to expensive legal transaction costs (Fukyama, 1995).
5. The Commons
The combined effect of trust, networks, norms and reciprocity creates a strong community, with shared ownership over resources known as the commons.
The commons refers to the creation of a pooled community resource, owned by no-one, used by all. The short term self interest of each, if unchecked, would render the common resource overused, and in the long term it would be destroyed. Only where there is a strong ethos of trust, mutuality and effective informal social sanctions against "free-riders" can the commons be maintained indefinitely and to the mutual advantage of all.
What is implicit in
several of the above categories is a sense of personal and collective
efficacy. The development of social capital requires the active and willing
engagement of citizens within a participative community. This is quite
different from the receipt of services, or even of human rights to the
receipt of services, though these are unquestionably important. Social
capital refers to people as creators, not as victims.
The study Measuring Social Capital in five Communities in NSW attempts to answer two questions:
The study suggests the answer to both questions is "yes".
The study measured social capital in five communities in NSW: Deniliquin, Greenacre, Narellan, Ultimo & Pyrmont and West Wyalong. These include rural, outer metropolitan and inner city communities. Over 200 people in each of the five communities (1211 people in all) were surveyed.
The study was a cooperative venture and has attracted support from many people and organisations. We would like to express our appreciation of the many individuals and groups who contributed. As well as the work of the authors, it has included support from:
Bankstown Community Services (Greenacre)
The study began in October 1995 with exploratory discussions between a small group of academics and practitioners at a Centre for Australian Community Organisations and Management (CACOM) Advisory Committee meeting. The Faculty of Business at UTS provided partial funding for the project in 1995/96 as a research grant.
The conceptual framework and key concepts were clarified by the researchers in the latter part of 1995 and the first half of 1996.
Drafting and Piloting the Questionnaire
A draft questionnaire was developed and was piloted by students at UTS (Sydney) and workers attending community services training sessions in Penrith, Taree and Tamworth (mid 1996).
The final questionnaire included several elements to tap each of the dimensions of:
Attitudes (value of self)
Questionnaires - Out and Back
The questionnaire was finalised and each of the five Neighbourhood Centres involved was asked to obtain completed surveys for a reasonably random sample of 250 people in their community between the ages of 18 and 65.
The Centres collected 1211 completed questionnaires from November 1996 to March 1997.
The questionnaires were analysed independently by both authors using SPSS and Statistica. The goals of the statistical analysis were to:
a) Identify which sets of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge were related to social capital (and which ones were not)
b) Identify the elements of social capital (factors)
c) Identify a good set of questions for future use in measuring social capital in other communities
d) Identify whether or not social capital was correlated with gender and other demographic variables
e) Describe the five communities in terms of the findings from a) to d) above.
The main statistical
tool used was Factor Analysis. Factor Analysis tries to identify statistically
the underlying dimensions of the set of questions, by locating clusters
of questions that are related to each other. See: Measuring
Social Capital in Five Communities In NSW, An Analysis for
full details of the statistical analysis and study methodology..
Some of the principal findings from the study are:
A. Participation in local community
5. Four of the elements are about participation and connections in various arenas:
A. Participation in local community
6. Four of the elements are the building blocks of social capital:
B. Proactivity in a social context
7. Social capital is not generally correlated with the demographic variables such as age, gender, etc. There are some exceptions, for example women are less likely to feel safe in their local communities than men; people with more children are likely to participate more in the local community than those with less children.
8. There are significant differences in levels of social capital between the five communities that were surveyed.
example, Deniliquin and West Wyalong have higher levels of social capital
overall than the other three communities.
In the study we identified 8 elements of social capital. Some of the questions that contributed to each of the elements are listed below. The questions are included here so you can gain a feel for the content of each of the eight elements.
A. Participation in the Local Community
B. Proactivity in a social context
C. Feelings of Trust and Safety
D. Neighbourhood Connections
E. Family and Friends Connection
F. Tolerance of Diversity
G. Value of Life
H. Work Connections
Note: These questions were only asked of people in paid employment.
5. Practical Uses of the Social Capital Measure
The social capital scale developed in the study, like all empirically derived scales, is simplistic. That is both its strength and its weakness. Its weakness lies in the fact that no scale can deal adequately with the subtleties and complexities of human life, and what basically refers to the quality of life. It is nonsense to try and reduce the value of connectedness in the life of the community, to a number!
However, its strength lies in just this simplicity. In an economic rationalist world where ideology says "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it" some form of quantitative indicator of social capital is essential. The social capital scale provides just such a reliable and valid indicator of the underlying health of the community (for people who speak English as their first or second language within an Australian cultural context).
The social capital scale is but one simple indicator, and needs to be fleshed out with other, more qualitative methods such as the use of case studies and "thick descriptions" and reference to macro-social indicators such as crime or morbidity rates.
Some of the questions that different groups may wish to consider are:
Community Service Providers
These general questions can give rise to more specific practical questions. For example:
In all these situations a questionnaire could be used as one strategy. A sample questionnaire is included in the Reports.
The report Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities: A Practitioners Guide provides the detailed information you would need to measure social capital in the situations above.
The 1997 LCSA Census of Neighbourhood and Community Centres has been designed to start to answer the question:
Are Neighbourhood and Community Centres in NSW working with those who are already well connected into the fabric of the community or with those who have little connections (or both)?
Exploring the answer to this question will help Neighbourhood and Community Centres examine their role in the Community.
The data from the LCSA 1997 Census will be analysed in conjunction with the data from the Study Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW.
A separate report on the findings from the 1997 LCSA Census will be available by mid-1998 from LCSA Tel: (02) 9211 3644.
The complete write-up of the study is in two reports. Report 1 is titled Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW: an Analysis (59 pages) and includes the material most likely to be of interest to an academic audience. It is published as a CACOM Working Paper Series (No 41) . It focuses on the conceptual and statistical analysis of the data as a whole. It is available from:
Report 2 is titled Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW: A Practitioners Guide (101 pages) and includes the material most likely to be of interest to community workers and government bodies. It is published by Management Alternatives Pty Ltd. The Practitioners Guide focuses on the findings for each of the five communities. It provides sufficient detail for practitioners to measure social capital in their own communities and have comparative data from other communities available in interpreting the results. The full report Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW A Practitioner's Guide (101pp) is available for on-line purchase and download for A$20.00.
Others are welcome to use this study, its findings and the questions that we have developed to further our understanding of social capital in our communities. There are many avenues to explore (see for example, the questions in Section 5 above).
We ask of those wishing to use the material, that:
You acknowledge the source of the materials/ questions/ etc that you use.
You send a copy of any findings, reports, etc to both authors.