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THE SAGUARO SEMINAR: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IN AMERICA is an initiative of Professor Robert D. Putnam at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University focused on the study of “social capital” (the value of social networks) and community engagement. Our eponymous seminar from 1995-2000 involved 30 talented scholars and practitioners from across America (including then civil-rights-lawyer Barack Obama) in developing strategies for increasing American civic engagement and led to the BetterTogether report.
"BetterTogether" the final report of the Saguaro Seminar is now available at www.BetterTogether.org
The Seminar participants were a diverse, exceptional group of 33 thinkers and doers, including articulate leaders from all parts of the country - from coast to coast, from small town and suburb to the inner city - and from all walks of life - from government officials to religious leaders, from labor union activists to high-tech and business executives, from elected officials to street workers. All participants demonstrate a deep commitment to improving the infrastructure of national civic life. These twenty-five practitioners and eight academic thinkers met for two-day sessions through late-1999 to develop a handful of practical strategies with national applicability for increasing Americans' connections with one another.
The Seminar met eight times; see Meetings for a description of some of the issues and ideas considered at each session.
Since 2000, the Seminar's mission has been to both improve social capital measurement and data and to investigate ways to build social capital in a changing world across several domains. We are currently in the midst of longer-term research projects on: 1) the relationship between social capital, diversity and equality (see below); 2) understanding the inter-relation of faith, politics and social capital; 3) exploring evidence of a growing civic and social class gap in America; 4) undertaking a joint initiative with the University of Manchester; and 5) analyzing the inter-relation of workplace policies and practices on social capital on- and off-the-job. In addition, we did some surveying in 2006 to determine what's happened to our national levels of social capital in the past 6 years.
How does social capital work?
The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and - at least sometimes - for bystanders as well.
What is Social Capital?
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"].