Thursday, October 27, 2016

Understanding and Applying Social Capital Concepts

Last week I sat in a workshop at an Afterschool Development Conference in Chicago where a discussion leader was telling others how I understand social capital.  I decided at that point to write this article, with the goal of expanding people's understanding social capital and of my perspective.

First, you need to understand the difference between the terms "bridging" and "bonding" social capital.  This page on the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University site provides those definitions.

In my work,  I focus on "bridging" social capital, or "social ties that link people together with others across a cleavage that typically divides society (like race, or class, or religion)."

I created the graphic below in the 1990s to illustrate the design of a mentor-rich, total quality, youth program, that connects youth to volunteers from many different work and career backgrounds, who can open doors to opportunities and experiences for youth in such programs.  You can see this concept in this pdf presentation.

Much of my thinking about social capital has been inspired over the past 15 years by books and articles written by Robert D. Putnam.  Instead of writing a 10 page article, which most of you won't take the time to read, and which might not do a complete job, I've created a concept map to guide you in your own learning journey. In the map I propose a reading of Putnam's latest book, "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis."  I've written articles about that several times on this blog.
In the concept map above I point to Putnam's book, and to a section in the Tutor/Mentor web library with more than 40 links to web sites and articles that provide a deeper understanding of social capital and how this applies to the different opportunities available to youth born in affluent areas and those born in high poverty areas. 

I urge you to form learning circles in your business, faith group, college or high school, and read these articles and discuss their meaning, and roles you and your group might take to help build "total quality mentoring" programs in many locations throughout your city or state.
As I was thinking about writing this article, my Twitter feed introduced me to an organization, The Center for Curriculum ReDesign, that is using interactive network analysis maps to show information within the Wikipedia universe.  The description on the map says 

"This graph shows the interconnections between knowledge disciplines contained within the links of Wikipedia. Similarly colored nodes belong to similar communities calculated within the entire network. The edge thickness indicates the weight of the connection or how strongly connected the disciplines are connected to one another. Click below for more information."

While social capital articles focus on people and how they are connected to each other, this shows how ideas are connected to each other, and how you can use social network analysis tools to draw out a set of ideas from a vast information library like Wikipedia.

I was excited to see this because while I've been creating concept maps to show the information and ideas in the Tutor/Mentor web library, I've constantly hoped to find someone who could create a map like this, to show the relationships between the ideas in the difference sections of my web library.

This "mentoring kids to careers" graphic is a different visualization of the Total Quality Mentoring graphic shown above, and of the mentoring-to-careers concept map that is embedded in the second graphic.

For kids born or living in highly segregated areas of high poverty, they often have strong bonding social capital but very weak bridging social capital.  Organized non-school, volunteer-based, tutoring, mentoring and learning programs are a strategy cities can use to help expand the networks of support available to kids with weak ties to people who can help them reach their full potential in life.

Such programs need to be available to youth in every poverty neighborhood, and stay available for the many years it takes for a youth to journey through school.  Building the public will to fund and sustain such programs is one of the topics I constantly focus on.

Let's just look at one more graphic. This also illustrates the goal of building richer networks of support for kids living in high poverty neighborhoods.

However, it also shows that the volunteers who become part of well-organized, on-going, programs also expand their own personal and professional networks.  I've posted many articles in the past showing the benefits to business of volunteer involvement in on-going tutor/mentor programs.

However, I've not yet found anyone who is surveying youth and volunteers when they join a program with the goal of creating network maps for each participant, and then repeating the survey in future years to show how, or if, the network has grown, and to identify milestones, like trips to the volunteer's company, or to a college campus, or graduation from middle school, high school, or college, that were aided by volunteers that the youth met while involved in these programs.

Or that have shown how volunteers have build life-long friendships with other volunteers they have met, or have gone from being a volunteer to being and advocate and a leader, as a result of their involvement.  Or, who have learned ideas or skills and built relationships that have aided them in their careers.  Such analysis might be a huge motivator for businesses to apply this Role of Leaders strategy, to support the growth of mentor rich programs around places where they do business.

These are all demonstrations of social capital put into action.

I hope you'll find some time to read, reflect and look for ways to apply these ideas.

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