Friday, April 16, 2021

Digging Deeper into Social Capital Thinking

I've used graphics like this for many years to visualize the idea of a site based youth tutor, mentor and learning program where inner city kids connect with volunteers from a diverse range of career, age, geographic and religious backgrounds.

Over the past 20 years I've come to understand this as a form of bridging social capital, where youth form strong and weak ties with people who they don't regularly connect with through their own family, neighborhood or school.  For kids in high poverty areas this type of support system can be significant in helping them through school and into lives not dominated by poverty. Here's one article where I talk about bridging and bonding social capital.

As I learned about social capital, I also learned about social network analysis, which is a process of mapping networks and showing strong and weak ties.  I began to look for people who might help me apply this in the tutor/mentor program I led from 1993-2011, in an effort to demonstrate social capital as an outcome that donors might value and support.

In 2010 I was able to recruit some college interns and support from a leading SNA expert, Valdis Krebs, and set up this group on the Tutor/Mentor Connection Ning site to develop this capacity. Here's one blog demonstrating work that was done. Unfortunately this group did not continue beyond a few months and I've not found anyone doing this work since then.

Thus, I was delighted to find this article from The Christensen Institute on my Twitter feed.  

The Executive Summary of this article starts by saying, "Social capital describes students’ access to, and ability to mobilize relationships that help them further their potential and their goals like skills and knowledge, relationships offer resources that drive to opportunity."

The Executive Summary concludes, saying, "By intentionally measuring students’ social capital, education systems can start to build an evidence base for closing the social side of opportunity gaps and ensuring all students are supported equitably in their path to economic prosperity."

I put this article on so I could  highlight passages and add comments in the margins as I read it, which I did.  Then I shared it on Twitter and encouraged my #CLMOOC educator friends, including Terry Elliott, to read it with me.  

I wish many would take as much time to dig into information I share then to make these ideas available to others, with their own commentary.  Thank you, Terry.
Terry's perspective was a bit different from mine.  He offered concern about "more measuring" of students, and about privacy issues.  It made me step back and think more about how I was thinking.

The map/graphic below is from a PDF that I call "Defining Terms: Tutoring. Mentoring. Same words. Different Meanings."  I use the map to show that my focus is on kids living in high poverty areas of big cities like Chicago, who don't have as many ties to people who work in different types of jobs and careers and who have attended college and have advance degrees.  An organized, community-based, tutor/mentor program can help make those connections, or build social capital, but the programs need to be available near where kids live and consistently funded.

Because of the challenges of finding consistent dollars to support the tutor/mentor program I led, and of donor demands that programs show measurements of social or behavior change or academic improvement to get funding,  I've always been looking for a different outcome of these programs, that donors might support.  That outcome is: social capital.

For donors to see how organized programs that support multi year participation by students and volunteers from diverse backgrounds, there  has to be some form of measurement to show if social networks grow as a result of program participation. That's why the Christensen Institute article resonated so much with me.

However, most schools in America are not located in high poverty areas. Some have very few kids from low income neighborhoods.  Their students have naturally occurring support networks provided by family, community, church and a rich platter of school and afterschool activities.  Building "bridging social capital" for kids in these schools is not a high priority.

However, does that mean understanding and measuring social capital is not important?  In every school there are kids who are "left out" or "in the margins". Would a network analysis exercise help teachers and social workers identify these kids, and help them build stronger support networks? What would be the benefits of that?

I found this statement on page 14 of the report, showing that it's still rare to find people doing this type of work:

Although there are sophisticated methodologies to gauge network structure, rigorous efforts to measure the structure of students’ networks remain quite rare in practice.  We found no programs explicitly measuring the structural diversity of students’ networks. The innovative programs we’ve studied are using two main approaches to measure the structure of students’ closer-knit webs of support and friendship and to gauge the extent to which they are successfully diversifying the types of individuals in students’ networks: social network mapping and surveys.

I'm just happy to find someone writing about this.  

Thus, I hope you'll read the article, all 29 pages, and add your own comments and ideas and share with others, just as Terry did.  Maybe we'll find some others who are doing research in this area or have youth program designs that specifically focus on building bridging social capital, as an outcome. 

If you know of other articles please share them with me.  You can find more of my thinking about social capital and network analysis by clicking on those categories in the tabs at the left.  You can also find about 60 websites with information about social capital, in this sub section of my web library.

Speaking of networks. My work is funded by contributions from people in my networks. Visit this page and add your own support, if  you're able.

Thanks for reading.

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