We believe that measurement of social capital is important for three reasons:

  1. Measurement make the concept of social capital more tangible;
  2. It increases our investment in social capital: in a performance-driven era, social capital will be relegated to second-tier status in the allocation of resources, unless organizations can show that their community-building efforts are showing results; and
  3. Measurement helps funders and community organizations build more social capital. Everything that involves any human interaction can be asserted to create social capital, but the real question is does it build a significant amount of social capital, and if so, how much? Is a specific part of an organization’s effort worth continuing or should it be scrapped and revamped? Do mentoring programs, playgrounds, or sponsoring block parties lead more typically to greater social capital creation?

Saguaro's Measurement Undertakings

1) 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey and 2006 Social Capital Community Survey
In 2000, we conducted the largest-ever Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey on the civic engagement of Americans, in partnership with nearly three-dozen community foundations (and other funders). Nearly 30,000 respondents were surveyed in 40 communities across 29 states.

Six years later, we conducted the 2006 Social Capital Community Survey, returning to 11 of these communities to measure social capital again and also adding 11 new communities. These data will ultimately become part of the public domain, but for the moment are being analyzed by involved researchers.

A decent state-by-state measure of social capital can be found in the Corporation for National and Community Service report Volunteering in America: 2007 State Trends and Rankings in Civic Life (see the Civic Life Index on p. 11-12.) Note that this measure probably overweights volunteering a bit, and uses a measure of religiosity that overemphasizes larger formalized congregations, although it is the best one that Americans gather nationwide. The methodology behind the Civic Life index can be found at pp. 4-5 of this Technical Note. See also the county-level measure developed by Penn State researchers.

2) Social Capital Short-Form Survey
Based on the 2000 survey and other surveys in 2001/2002, the Saguaro Seminar has distilled down the 25-minute Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey into a Short Form that has 5-10 minutes of questions. To obtain the Short Form questions, along with a description of our methodology and some recommendations about usage, click here. Here is a version that also has Spanish translations of questions.

Comparison data: For 2006 national comparison figures, you can see the national results of our 2006 Social Capital Community Survey here. The 2006 survey does not contain all short-form questions and contains other questions that are not on the short-form. Note that response percentages from our 2006 SCCS survey may not be comparable to your short-form results because your results may depend on the mode in which the question was asked (face-to-face vs. phone vs. paper copy vs. Internet) on the survey methodology (how many times you called phone numbers to get respondents to participate (with more agreessive attempts to get survey participation leading to less civic numbers), training of interviewers, how long survey was fielded, etc. Note: the 2006 survey was a phone survey that ran in the field for 8 weeks and involved up to 15 calls per number and aggressive attempts to convince respondents to participate.

Note: as of 2008, the U.S. government had begun to measure social capital, a development which may give you free access to local social capital measures for larger communities. Read more about it in our blog post.

We would appreciate an e-mail letting us know how you used the short-form, any recommendations to us, and what your results were.

3) Surveying after September 11, 2001
The Saguaro Seminar has surveyed some of the same respondents from the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey in two different surveys after September 11, given the potential significant impact of this event on levels of social capital. Among the findings were that community gains were not at the expense of interracial ties, and that there was a more significant rise in civic attitudes than in behvaiors. This work is discussed in the following publications:

  • The op-ed "Walking the Civic Talk After Sept. 11" by Robert D. Putnam and Tom Sander, which discussed our results, appeared in the February 19, 2002 issue of Christian Science Monitor.
  • "A Nation of Doers Needs to Do More" by Robert D. Putnam and John Bridgeland (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/3/04 Op-Ed) describes the evidence that civic engagement is up since September 11.
  • A book published in June 2003 by the Brookings Institution, called United We Serve and edited by E.J. Dionne et al., has a chapter by Robert Putnam that updates our earlier analysis for our second post-September 11 survey in 2002.

4) Social Capital Toolkit (Version 1.2) The Saguaro Seminar's Social Capital Toolkit (v1.2) [10/06] discusses a framework for how community leaders and others should think about efforts to build local social capital.

Note: In 2007, the UN's Dept. of Economic and Public Affairs put out the 139-page Civic Engagement in Public Policies: a Toolkit. It's rather jargony but has some useful links to discussions of how to promote civic engagment.

5) Program Evaluation Guide
The Program Evaluation Guide is intended for non-profit organizations, businesses, or other entities that want to examine the social capital impact of their work. It is less directive than the Social Capital Short Form Survey in suggesting the questions one should use and which respondents one should survey.

6) Social Capital Impact Statement
We have spent some time trying to think about the social capital impact of various actions (prospectively). Click here for more information.

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Increasing Trust and Reciprocity

We are aware of a few tools for increasing trust and reciprocity.

The first tool is called the Reciprocity Ring. The Ring enables groups come to together, face-to-face or virtually; each person comes up with a request for the group (which can be work-related or personal). Examples might be needing to find someone to develop a website at less than $X, finding out about a good hotel to stay at in Tucson, or getting someone to give them a ride to New York City. Paricipatns announce their request and then pariticipants think about how they can directly fulfill these requests or indirectly fill them by using their social networks. Software can keep track of who has been most helpful to whom, the value of the requests granted, etc., all of which can be used to induce more reciprocity. Also, the group can publicly see the generosity profile of various members of the group. Groups interested in using this tool in exchange for making data available about the group should e-mail Wayne Baker at the University of Michigan. The Reciprocity Ring can be used in a one-time get together or repeatedly over a longer period of time.

The second tool is the Giving Game which is a game developed by a young person after 9-11 to map the impact of a good deed done to another, a la Pay It Forward (also called serial volunteering). In Pay it Forward, people do three large favors for strangers asking each in turn to do three large favors for others; if the recipients continue to follow through the number of large favors grows geometrically.

NetWeaving aims to incorporate a Pay It Forward approach to networking. Bob Littell thinks of this as 'networking without keeping score', and connecting people in win-win relationships without thinking about 'what's in it for you'. He believes that this networking is contagious and ultimately will benefit all, including the Netweaver.

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Master Planning and Social Capital Mapping

In 2003, the town of Candia, NH engaged in a state-mandated master planning process. As part of this process, town leaders considered the impact of the expansion of Interstate 93 on their town's three crucial infrastructures: the green, the built, and the social infrastructure. Volume II of their master plan (pp. 88-97) describes their social capital assessment process (spearheaded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which included use of our short-form social capital benchmark survey and analysis conducted by Abigail Williamson.

In a unique addition, designed by Meredith Cooper, survey respondents were also asked about the places in Candia where they gathered formally and informally. Meredith then used GIS to map their responses, revealing the social infrastructure centers of the town (where social capital was presumably built). [An explanation of some of the terms and raw results is available here.] Through this process, Candia's leaders realized that their town, which they had assumed had no defined center, really did have a social infrastructure center worthy of protection. In future efforts of this type, a map could use the size or color intensity of dots to indicate the number or percentage of respondents who mentioned this particular center of social activity. This innovation might indicate even more clearly a locus for social capital building.

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Other Tools

The Citizen's Handbook, authored by Charles Dobson, provides one of the better online guides to community organizing. The handbook is published by the Vancouver-based Citizen Works group. Dobson also has an updated guide called The Troublemaker's Teaparty; see the table of contents here.

Another good collection of resources can be found at the Community Toolbox.

The Pew Partnership for Civic Change has three fee-for-service tools that incorporate social capital they conduct with communities and organizations:

  1. Smart Communities Benchmark and Scorecard;
  2. Solutions Assessment Model analyzing (for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats); and
  3. LeadershipPlenty Profile and Training through their LeadershipPlenty Institute.

Pew has used these tools in over 200 communities. They also have a number of their books online for free. Suzanne Morse, head of the Pew Partnership, also has a blog here.

Various documents describe the structure of social networks and the benefits of these networks for business, but these documents have clear adaptability for communities. See:

  • "Building Sustainable Communities Through Network Weaving" (Valdis Krebs and June Holley, 2002). This discusses the stages of network building, moving from 1) Scattered Clusters of close bonds (think "old boy network"); to 2) Single Hub-and-Spoke, connected by the leader; to 3) Multi-Hub Small-World Network, where the leader teaches members in the networks to become hubs and knit this web together; to 4) Core/Periphery, where weak ties are strengthened into a core network and then the periphery where newer members and ideas come and go. The networks become more stable (less dependent on any one link to hold parts of the network together) and more productive as one moves through these stages.
  • Krebs and Holley are engaged in an effort with Boston Beyond (2006) to work with after school programs and help train 'network weavers' who densify the network by spotting opportunities to weave together different sub-segments of a network. Holley and Krebs postulate that both 'network seeing' (tools that enable these 'weavers' to visualize the social network) and distilling principles of effective weaving will both have an impact on improving network connectedness and important outcome measures, although this has not yet been proven. (Originally network weavers will be consultants, but the hope is to empower and train and get leaders of these afterschool programs to assume responsibility to become network weavers.) Valdis and Krebs point out that in hierarchies, leaders can control growth, but in social networks they can't because each individual in a network is empowered to link with others.
  • "Managing the Connected Organization" (Valdis Krebs, 2003)
  • "Lawrence Community Works: Using the Power of Networks to Restore A City" (by Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor for the Barr Foundation, March 2004)

MIT's Xav Briggs has excellent tools on community problem-solving that are likely helpful for would-be social capitalists. Within the Community Problem-Solving site, Strategy Tools has background and web links for Organizing, Planning, Negotiating, Implementing and Learning. There are also very useful web toolguides written by Briggs for Organizing, Planning, Negotiating, and Implementing Together ("Perfect Fit or Shotgun Marriage? The Powers and Pitfalls of Partnerships" and "Working The Middle: the Roles of Intermediaries").

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Bridging Social Capital

1) Public Conversations, which helps promote dialogues across differences, issued a guidebook in 2006 called "Fostering Dialogue Across Divides." They welcome your feedback on how to make this First Edition better. In addition, Public Conversations has a guide called "Constructive Conversations About Challenging Times: A Guide to Community Dialogue" to help foster living room conversation about such things as the divides between red and blue states.

2) Another very useful document for bridging social capital is the Concord Handbook.

3) Everyday Democracy (formerly the Study Circles Resource Center) has a good description of using study circles to build bridging social capital in Montgomery County, MD schools, called "Where a diverse community comes together to make schools better for all" (2006).

4) Finally, there is a very thoughtful discussion of how to build bridging social capital by Mosaic Partnerships.

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Social Network Analysis

An introduction to Social Networks can be found here. There are also some good hands-on examples at Valdis Krebs' website.

There are at least five approaches for trying to determine the structure of social networks:

  1. Name generator: the respondent lists names and attributes of say his/her X closest friends or lists all his/her friends. This tends to be better at generating strong social links than weaker ties;
  2. Position generator: asks whether you have a friend that is, say, a manager in an organization, or a leader, and then asks attributes about that relationship. Can be used to measure access to positions of power and hence bridging or linking social capital.
  3. Measures of diversity of networks: uses questions of the form "how many people do you know that are white, are black, are of a different religion than you, own a vacation home," etc. [We used questions liked this on the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.]
  4. Census-style: if you are asking about a bounded and small community (a school class, a block, a small organization) you can do a complete census of detailing all the social links that exist by having respondents view a roster of the list and marking attributes about their relationships with various members.
  5. Passive social network indicators (unobtrusive indicators): for example using someone's cell phone directory or e-mail directory to determine links. Tends to be more complete than name generators, but may not tell us much about the links unless one then is asked about each of these names. [Forthcoming research shows how unobtrusive indicators obtained from cell phone call logs, who one is geographically proximate with at various times of the day (recorded using Bluetooth technology), and where one physically was at various times of the day (from cell phone towers) can be used to construct one's close friendship network with amazingly high accuracy.]

What to ask
In a social network questionnaire, one often asks things like:

  • Who knows whom, and how well (how well they like the other, how often they get together, etc.)
  • What are the demographics of the respondent and the demographics of the people he/she knows (race, age, education, etc.)
  • From where in the network do people get X (social support, information about Y, etc.)
  • How well do people know each other's knowledge and skills; etc.

The question format should be largely driven by what one wants to know about the networks. Examples of potential questionnaires to draw upon can be found at David Krackhardt's website.

Once you have gathered lists of the networks and represented them in matrixes, you often want to visually display them or find out characteristics about these networks (clustering, density, average number of links between two individuals, etc.). The Program on Networked Governance at the Kennedy School has a website with various tools that enable one to map the social networks in a smaller community (a class, a block, a small workplace or non-profit, etc.). The easiest tools for network visualization are NetDraw (a part of UCInet) or InFlow. For more sophisticated analysis one can use UCInet, developed by Steve Borgatti, (free for 30 day trial) or Pajek (free, but designed for much larger datasets where there are 200+ actors). KrackPlot (a bit less user friendly) has also been recommended. A newer application called EgoNet is becoming available that has a built in network analysis tool. These programs run on matrices that describe the underlying relationships between members of a group.

More information
For additional information about social network analysis see the International Network of Social Network Analysis.

There is an interesting Explainer column in Slate magazine about how the NSA uses phone records to locate terrorists.

The Connectedness blog has articles on the application of social network analysis to business.

This site has good examples of visualizations of social networks.

Some organizations are experimenting with the use of sociometers (wearable devices that record who is in proximity and sounds) to help map social networks. An article by Tanzeem Choudhury and Alex Pentland explains how this can be done. [For more information, read about Nathan Eagle's research with cell phones and other devices to map social networks, what he terms "reality mining." See also "Inferring Social Network Structure using Mobile Phone Data" by Nathan Eagle, Alex (Sandy) Pentland, David Lazer (2007).]

There is an interesting paper on how social capital relates to public policy at the Western Cape Social Capital Gateway site.

A fascinating demonstration of seeing the role of social networks in the spread of obesity over 3 decades can be seen here. [Based on research by N. Christakis and J. Fowler.]

Here is an interesting blog entry comparing the approach of social capital to the social networks approach.

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Social Capital Measurement Efforts of Other Countries/Institutions

For a good list of the longitudinal surveys covering social capital that have been done across Europe (including the Eurobarometer, the European Values Survey and the European Social Survey), click on this link.

The U.K. is probably the farthest along of any country in social capital measurement.

President Nicholas Sarkozy convened a blue-chip Commission in 2008-2009 composed of 25 scholars (largely economists, with five Nobel Laureates including the commission's chair, Joseph Stiglitz, and also including Robert Putnam) to advise the French government on how to effectively measure French well-being and whether GDP measurement was enough. The report strongly recommended measuring social capital, and there is an excellent section on pp. 182-187 on what social capital is, why it is important, and how to measure it.

The report">"Statistical Evidence on Active Citizenship in Ireland" (2007) contains many useful social capital questions (survey conducted in September 2006 as part of the monthly Economic and Social Research Institute EU Consumer Survey).

Canada has done a fair amount of social capital surveying, including their 2003 General Social Survey on Social Engagement, their 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participation and a 2004 follow-up survey, and the Ethnic Diversity Survey (2002) which asked questions about civic engagement and social networks. Their 2005 and 2010 General Social Surveys (GSS) focused on time use, including trust and social networks. See "Social engagement and civic participation: Are rural and small town populations really at an advantage?" (2005)

Canada's Policy Research Initiative has published in Nov. 2005 four very well-written and instructive pieces on social capital: Social Capital as a Public Policy Tool Project Report, Policy Brief, Measurement of Social Capital (which surveys available instruments and provides recommendations regarding the measurement of individual and collective social capital) and Social Capital in Action: Thematic Policy Studies (in which authors apply a social capital lens to eight policy areas - like aging, poverty, immigrants, crime, youth, aboriginals).

Some measurement of social capital has been done through the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Australian research by Ipsos Mackay Research in Fall 2005 showed a "bowling alone" trend there over the last 20 years (since 1984). There has been a 50% jump in those who were socially isolated, i.e., without someone they could drop in on uninvited, and a drop in the average number of such friends from 10 to between 6 and 7.

New Zealand has been using social capital measurement and has tailored it to apply to Maori groups. See their publication describing a Framework for Measuring Social Capital (2001) and this document describing New Zealand's social capital efforts as of 2002.

Statistics Finland has surveyed Finns' social capital; visit their social capital home page here. They have a 120-page exposition of their social capital findings (2006) and a press release on how the health of Finns is related to their social capital.

Other relevant activities in Finland include a 4-year research program on social capital, funded by the Academy of Finland. Visit their homepage.

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Switzerland and Turkey have surveys on different aspects of community participation and volunteering, but not specifically on social capital. Some countries, like Spain and Turkey, have relevant information for social capital from labor force surveys. The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (Spain) has published Indicadores sociales de España ("Social Indicators of Spain," 2004), which talks about family, social relations and participation.

The World Bank has been doing country surveys of social capital in multiple countries, mainly face-to-face. They piloted the Global Social Capital Survey in Uganda and Ghana in 1998-99. In 2004, several staffers from the World Bank (Christiaan Grootaert, Deepa Narayan, Veronica Nyhan Jones and Michael Woolcock) developed an Integrated Questionnaire for Measuring Social Capital. For more information on World Bank social capital measurement, read Michael Woolcock and Deepa Narayan on Measuring Social Capital (2004).

The OECD has had several conversations about social capital. In 2001, they issued their report on The Well-Being of Nations, which discussed the importance of social capital and human capital. In 2002, OECD in conjunction with the U.K.'s Office of National Statistics held a conference on the challenge of international measurement of social capital. That same year, they held the ninth meeting of the Siena Group for Social Statistics. In 2003, OECD and the Hungarian Ministry of Education held a Workshop on Social Capital Measurement. And there are now active discussions among the Siena Group members, with the objective of developing a harmonized survey of Social Capital. For a sample early draft, click here. The Siena Group at their final 2005 meeting indicated their plan to produce an Internet publication "covering issues such as the definition and policy relevance of social capital, methodological questions related to its measurement and national experiences with measuring social capital by means of household surveys."

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Social Capital Measurement by United States Government

The U.S. government has various surveys that measure pieces of social capital.

Dating back to 1969 and occurring biennially since 2000, the November Voter Supplement to the Current Population Survey asks about voting and being registered to vote. CPS is the largest non-Census government survey and is used to determine monthly unemployment rates; about 60,000 American households are surveyed and respondents also answer for other adults over age 16 in their house, producing 100,000 respondents.

Since 2002 CPS has had an annual September CPS supplement that asks about volunteering called "CPS Survey on Volunteering in the U.S."

  • National, state and local volunteering data are now available through a neat website called Volunteering and Civic Life in America. The data enable one to explore Current Population Survey definitive volunteering statistics at the national, state or city level, with data on all 50 states and 162 cities. You can customize a profile for a specific city by clicking on “Find a City/State” and then once you choose the state or city, select “Customize a Profile” and you can choose along what dimensions you want to look at the city or state’s civic performance.
  • Volunteering state-by-state comparisons available here.
  • A description of the 2012 results is available here.
  • And volunteering data for the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas is published in Volunteering in America’s Largest Cities.
  • Since 2006, the Volunteer Supplement has two other questions on social capital: attendance at public meetings, and working with others in neighborhood to fix or improve something. These data were released by the Corporation for National & Community Service in April 2007 at the state level.

There are also periodic supplements to CPS that ask about "Public Participation in the Arts." The first was done in 1982 and they have been done every 5 years thereafter. In addition, the Corporation for National and Community Service fielded the 2005 Youth Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey (a collaboration with the Census): approximately 3200 12-18 year olds were asked about questions like volunteering, community service, social capital and civic behaviors. Read their reports on teen volunteering and service learning.

Annual numbers of non-profits by state are gathered by the Internal Revenue Service.

Other non-governmental U.S. data:

Estimated numbers of congregations are gathered by the Glenmary Center and housed at ARDA, although these rely on central estimates of religious groups and undercount African-American churches and non-denominational churches.

Three researchers at Penn State University (Anil Rupasingha, Stephen Goetz, and David Freshwater) developed county-level social capital measures that are reasonably good. The RGF measure is based on the density of civic and non-profit organzations, voting turnout, census completion rates, but it correlates r=0.37 with survey-based measures of individual-level social trust in the counties where surveys have been conducted in sufficient numbers. [Note: the Corporation for National and Community Service found lower correlations at the MSA level with other social capital measuring they have done.]

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For more information on papers and efforts to measure social capital, visit the Social Capital Gateway.