Measuring social capital: Accountability worth thinking about

In 2000, Harvard’s Saguaro Seminar, featuring famous social scientist and social capital researcher Robert Putnam, produced a set of measurement tools for social capital.  The bottom line for schools: Knowing many people and having positive relationships is good for individuals and it is good for communities.

The Saguaro Seminar defines 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”].

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.

As a community school model and more importantly, as a school model with the goal of having a positive impact on the local community, supporting the development of social capital will be a central part of our work.

Measuring social capital  is hard and for the time being, getting data and assessing at the local community level is still a challenge. In this blog post by Putnam, he details some of the challenges to measuring social capital at the community level. School leaders, read his cautions carefully before you start attempting to measure social capital locally:

If you are interested in doing your own survey, you can, as always, find a copy of our Short Form Social Capital Survey on our website…We ask you e-mail us if you do use the Short-Form so we can keep track of who is using this.

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