refers to the norms and networks that enable collective action.
Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion — social
capital — is critical for poverty alleviation and sustainable
human and economic development.
Social capital refers to the institutions,
relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity
of a society's social interactions. Increasing evidence shows
that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically
and for development to be sustainable. Social capital
is not just the sum of the institutions, which underpin a society
– it is the glue that holds them together.
A narrow view of social capital regards
it as a set of horizontal associations between people, consisting
of social networks and associated norms that have an effect
on community productivity and well-being. Social networks can
increase productivity by reducing the costs of doing business.
Social capital facilitates coordination and cooperation.
Social capital also has an important "downside"
in communities, groups or networks that are isolated, parochial,
or working at cross-purposes to society's collective interests.
(e.g. drug cartels, corruption rackets) This can actually hinder
economic and social development.
Vertical and Horizontal Associations
A broader understanding of social capital
accounts for both the positive and negative aspects by
including vertical as well as horizontal associations between
people, and includes behaviour within and among organizations,
such as firms. This view recognizes that horizontal ties are
needed to give communities a sense of identity and common purpose,
but also stresses that without "bridging" ties that
transcend various social divides (e.g. religion, ethnicity,
socio-economic status), horizontal ties can become a basis for
the pursuit of narrow interests, and can actively preclude access
to information and material resources that would otherwise be
of great assistance to the community (e.g. tips about job vacancies,
access to credit etc).
Enabling Social and Political Environment
The broadest and most encompassing view of social
capital includes the social and political environment that
shapes social structure and enables norms to develop. This analysis
extends the importance of social capital to the most
formalized institutional relationships and structures, such
as government, the political regime, the rule of law, the court
system, and civil and political liberties. This view not only
accounts for the virtues and vices of social capital,
and the importance of forging ties within and across communities,
but also recognizes that the capacity of various social groups
to act in their interest depends crucially on the support (or
lack thereof) that they receive from the government as well
as the private sector. Similarly, the government depends on
social stability and widespread popular support. In short, economic
and social development thrives when representatives of the government,
the corporate sector, and civil society create forums in and
through which they can identify and pursue common goals.
Social Capital - Introduction
ConnectUs offers a seminar that explores two questions. The
first question is "what is social capital?"
Assuming we can come to a consensus answer to this question
along the lines that have already been suggested by experts,
the second and more interesting question to be addressed in
this seminar is "how might systems be designed to prevent
the erosion of, or encourage the development of, social capital?"
At ConnectUs we suggest that we begin by thinking of "social
capital" as a comparable term to "human capital"
which was itself created by similarity to the term "physical
capital." Physical capital in an organization would be
the things that are owned by the corporation - the typewriters,
computers, buildings, manufacturing equipment, etc. The physical
capital might be worth a lot or very little. There are a variety
of well-defined measures by which the value of the physical
capital might be defined.
The human capital in an organization consists of the workers
in an organization. This capital may be worth a lot or a little.
There are a variety of measures, not quite so simple of course,
by which human capital might be measured. Intertwined with the
human capital would seem to be another kind of capital. Take
a first-rate salesman, whom we all agree represents a high level
of human capital, and move him or her to another organization.
It is not hard to imagine scenarios in which the salesman might
fail. Why? Maybe in the new organization, the salesman did not
have the contacts he or she had in the old organization. More
specifically, we might imagine a widget salesman in Ontario
who does a wonderful business, but fails to sell widgets in
Alberta. We might further imagine that over the years in Ontario,
the salesman developed relationships with clients that allowed
for high sales, given overall competence. Moving to Alberta,
the salesman now has to complete with another widget salesman
who has extensive relationships with his or her clients. People
continue, in a reasonably competitive market to work with the
person they know and trust. These relationships of trust might
represent social capital squandered when the salesman left Ontario,
and an example of the competition between social and human capital
in Alberta. As novices in this field, we might go on to speculate
about some formula that would make sales ability a function
of the human capital and the social capital embodied in the
This is just one example of social capital. You might
imagine many more personal examples. Think about the person
who always seems to know someone with whom they can barter or
get something wholesale. Why? Is it magic or is it something
that might be described as social capital. We could call it
friendships. We could call it paybacks. We could call it favours.
We could call it social capital - investment in a relationship.
Thinking about Systems and Social Capital
We could speculate that the primary reason why computers are
used in organizations is the preserve and enhance the physical
capital of the organization. We suggest that more recently,
with the development of the PC and graphical user interfaces,
we have begun to use computers to preserve and enhance the human
capital in our organizations. Information system designers recognize
that it is important to design systems in such a way that the
investment in workers is optimized. There are a lot of terms
that are used to describe the value of workers to organizations,
but few would argue that one legitimate term is "human
capital". While one might find arguments in the literature
about the best way to describe this corporate asset, it is clear
that just as organizations have long invested in physical capital
of one sort or another, now there is a recognition that organizations
must invest in workers as well.
Salary is only one form of that investment. Other forms of
investment include training and education, fringe benefits,
quality of work life, etc. From an interactive system design
perspective, there is a strong awareness that design has an
impact on how humans use a system. Put more bluntly, system
design can increase or decrease human capital.
If we can begin to define what constitutes social capital, we
can define the tools that can preserve and enhance our social
capital. The following are a few of the “tools”
that help us increase our social capital.
Consider a simple electronic address book that reminds us about
important dates related to siblings, spouses, and children.
This tool acts as an assistant that allows us to do the things
that actualize latent social intent -- sending the anniversary
card we might otherwise forget.
Consider a Roberts Rules of Order Agent that takes over the
problems associated with controlling a meeting. The agent help
us build social capital by providing a fairer and less
personal control of meetings avoiding the need to hurt feelings
by not recognizing someone or having to cut someone off.
Consider a bulletin board that provides an environment for
birds of a feather gatherings. That is, an environment where
people can drop in and out and make new contacts as needed.
Consider a social periphery tool that allows people to get
a sense of what their co-workers are doing in an unobtrusive
way. Examples of this are several tools that provide slow scan
video of offices and gathering places that allow the viewer
to get a sense of when people are available for a conference.
Take it a step further and have the user agents associated with
each view portray some sense of the "readiness" of
the portrayed participants to be engaged.
Consider a tool such as CASCADE and how it might aid self
organizing groups based on data about what people are interested
in. (For example, CASCADE provides a whiteboard tool that currently
opens windows on active users. A more advanced version might
open the whiteboard only on the displays of active users who
have shown some interest, implicit or explicit, on the material
that is to be the topic of the whiteboard session.
Social Capital is here to stay.
How connected are Canadians to each other?
The following is a quick quiz to determine your social capital.
• How many of your neighbours' first names do you know?
• How often do you attend parades or festivals?
• Do you volunteer at your kids' school? Or help out senior
• Do you trust your local police?
• Do you know who your local/regional/provincial federal
• Do you attend religious services? Or go to the theatre?
• Do you sign petitions? Or attend neighbourhood meetings?
• Do you think the people running your community care
• Can you make a difference?
• How often do you visit with friends or family?
ConnectUs is offering workshops on Social Capital
across the country. The workshops assist organizations, industry,
and government to recognize and evaluate their “human
capital” and maximize their existing resources. Once measured,
additional training is provided to update and create greater
ConnectUs is measuring Social Capital in communities
throughout Ontario. In our survey, we look at how connected
participants are to family, friends, neighbours and civic institutions
on a local and national level. These connections are measurable
Social Capital and are the glue that holds a community together
and enables them to build bridges to others throughout the community.
For more information on Social Capital, to hold a
workshop or participate in a survey - Call ConnectUs at 905-337-9578
or email email@example.com.