What is Social Capital?

August 2001

What is Social Capital?

Social capital is the quality and quantity of relationships, networks, and norms among people and organizations that facilitate collective action. A detailed annotated bibliography in the Resource Information page provides access to many sources for detailed definitions and descriptions of social capital.

Our study of the literature shows three main strategies in the formation of social capital:

  • Bonding strategies that build trust and cooperation among individuals and within communities.
  • Bridging strategies that break down barriers across groups and communities and enable collaborative action on shared objectives.
  • Scaling-up strategies that connect communities in collective action for social change and development at the policy and/or systems levels.

Social Planning and Social Capital

SPNO is interested in studying social capital formation in order to define more precisely how social planning organizations and their professional staff can enhance the social well-being of their communities and create positive social change.

This interest derives from work initiated several years ago by the SPNO to develop an evaluation framework for independent social planning.

  • How can independent social planning develop and apply more intentional and strategic approaches to facilitating community process and positive social change?

We are exploring the role and function of social planning in social capital formation as indicated in the following schematic.

click on image for larger view

Social planning practitioners would identify social equity, social justice, social cohesion and social inclusion as being desirable outcomes of social planning work. We see social capital as a resource for social change and development producing these outcomes.

The raw material for social capital lies in the assets and capacities of communities (people, organizations, settings, etc.), which are available for mobilization and development. Independent, community-based social planning organizations employ a set of “connecting and linking” strategies to help mobilize community capacity.

  • Working within communities to develop their internal capacities to work together, the social planning organization primarily uses “bonding” strategies, facilitating the building of trust among individuals and within groups.
  • Promoting cooperative action among groups and individuals towards shared objectives across communities and sectors, the social planning organization employs “bridging” strategies, breaking down barriers across groups and enabling collaborations for positive community outcomes.
  • Addressing itself to social issues and challenges facing many communities and the larger society, the social planning organization implements “scaling-up” strategies, connecting communities in collective action for social change and development at the systems or policy levels.

Social planning organizations bring a set of core competencies to the above strategies and practices. The asset base of social planning to facilitate and enact the formation of social planning is made up of expertise in the following areas:

  • Research and information
  • Policy and systems analysis
  • Strategy development
  • Organizing and coordinating capacity
  • Education and advocacy