Community Development Practice Methods

Collaborative Networks (Social Capital at Work) 

The CBB framework can act as a useful construct for guiding and understanding community social change initiatives. One of the strategies used to build capacity is by forming and linking collaborative networks. Often organizations involved in community initiatives will look to bridge and link with one another to help achieve certain goals by incorporating the skills of other groups into the bigger picture objective (Chaskin, 2001).  An important component of organizational collaboration is the concept of social capital. Social capital is defined as the features of social organizations, such as the trust, norms and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions (Coleman, 1990). Social Capital has two distinctive concepts; first structural social capital, which is made up of social networks, organizations, collective actions and participations of the community and can be developed through community changes, such as developing policies, social services...etc . Second, cognitive social capital is defined through feelings of solidarity, trust, reciprocity and cooperation (Jaques, 2010). Cognitive social capital is often a long-term secondary outcome of CBB. Social capital becomes a key concept in CBB because of the agreements and the networking that can occur between various social groups. Having an understanding of how these networks can form can help lead to stronger more cohesive societies that are better able to leverage their existing capacities to solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of communities.  

Components of Social Capital 

(Jaques, 2010)
Social capital can be viewed more specifically through the various kinds of social capital that exist within any network. Within the frameworks of structural and cognitive social capital are three types of social capital; these are bonding, bridging, and linking social capital (Jaques, 2010; Putnam; 1995; Woolcock, 2001). Bonding, bridging, and linking social capital are each exemplified by various types of social ties within a network. Bonding social capital is the presence of  “strong” or ”thick” ties, usually associated with both the nuclear and extended families. Bridging and linking social capital are characterized by “weaker" or “thinner" ties (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Putnam, 2001; Woolcock, 2001). 


social capital is the relationship experienced among family members, close friends, and neighbours (Putnam, 1995; Woolcock, 2001). These networks are often less diverse and often not as open to the views of “others” outside of the network (Dale & Sparkes, 2010). The glue within these networks is a sense of deep trust held among the members of the group. This trust is often highly personalized and therefore there is a possibility of conflict when either trust or commonalities break down. However, if trust is built between individuals over time, it is possible to engage in less personal exchanges based on reciprocity. This reciprocity creates social obligations between individuals and networks (Dale & Sparkes, 2010). 


social capital is distinguished by its horizontally linked relationships between groups held together by bonding social capital. These relationships tend to be more impersonal as the linkages are established for strategic reasons, (often to accomplish a task associated with CCB). This often means that the trust between the bridging networks is often thinly held (Dales & Sparkes, 2010). Bridging occurs when one member of one network connects with a member of another network. Often, these bridges link networks within one community to more diverse resources normally unavailable (Woolcock, 2001).


social capital is defined as the connection between the community to the political and financial decision-makers. Linking social capital is also defined by weak and opportunistic ties and is viewed as the capacity for a community to lever resources, ideas and information from formal institutions beyond the community (Woolcock, 2001).

Importance of Social Capital

Putnam (1995) argues that through community initiatives and social connectedness communities can produce better results in schools, faster economic development, lower crime, and more effective governments. He argues that this happens for a variety of reasons namely;
  1. Collaborative organizations and networks foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust. In other words, people receive a sense of social well being through consistent acts of giving and helping. These networks facilitate coordination and communication, amplify reputations, and help to resolve collective issues.
  2. When economic and political negotiation is embedded in dense networks of social interaction, incentives for opportunism are reduced (people become less selfish and think more about the collective good).  At the same time these networks form to enable community initiatives by exemplifying past success at collaboration, this in turn can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration.
3. Finally, dense networks of interaction broaden the participants' sense of self, developing the "I" into the "we," or enhancing the participants' "taste" for collective benefits. It becomes more benefical to work with one another (Putnam, 1995). 

The Absence of Social Capital 

Tear gas, anti-WTO protest, Seattle (Sion Touhig, 2000)
The less social capital a community has the more vulnerable are its members and the weaker its performance potential may be (Jaques, 2010). In the United States and many other western nations the most fundamental form of social capital has been breaking down. For Putnam (1995) there has been massive evidence that the family unit (both extended and nuclear) has had a loosening of bonds. This in turn has lead to a break down of neighbourhoods and bridging social capital. The proportion of Americans who socialize with their neighbour more than once a year has slowly declined over the last two decades, from 72 percent in 1974 to 61 percent in 1993 (Putnam, 1995). This has lead to less trusting people. The proportion of Americans saying that most people can be trusted in 1960 was at 58 percent where as in 1993 only 37 percent felt that way and this trend has continued (Putnam, 1995). This has had a negative impact on a community's ability to develop linking social capital, as there is less civic engagement and less community initiatives.  This social decapitailization (Putnam, 1995) in western nations has lead to a decrease in the overall capacity of communities lowering there sense of community. Community members also have a lower level of commitment to on another as people are more likely to act in the best interest of themselves, this in turn affects a communities ability to problem solve, which  can negatively affect the a communities ability to access to resources within and beyond the neighbourhood. 

Community Capacity Buildng and Social Capital

(Woolcock and Narayan,2000)
When there is lack of social capital a communities capacity's are also weaker. This fundamentally changes a community’s ability to function with the state. The core ideas of linking social capital with the state suggests that different interventions are needed for different combinations of governance and linking social capital in a group, community, or society (Narayan,1999). For example the influence of social capital on the effective implementation of policies derives from citizens’ attitudes. Successful implementation depends on the acceptance of the policy by the citizens and their compliance and cooperation with the changes imposed by it. Unless there is a high level of institutional trust created by linking social capital then policies may not be accepted (James et Al, 2009). This chart shows how these variances look. For example with good governance and high levels of bridging and linking social capital, there is a synergy between state and society, and economic prosperity and social order are more likely to occur because there is a higher level of institutional trust. However when a society's bridging and linking social capital disintegrates social groups disconnect from one another, often leaving the more powerful groups to dominate the state to the exclusion of other groups (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000). 
              Societies with large excluded populations usually have a high level of internal conflict. In these circumstances socities may choose to rectify these exclusion by developing both "bottom up" and "top down" intiatives. For a bottom up intiative civil societies, through community initiatives, can forge broad, coherent coalitions that nurture relations and attempt to produce both bridging and linking social capital (Fox & Brown 1998). Top down intiative usually operate through the  state and may attempt to open up and/or explicitly build opportunities for bridging social capital with excluded groups to enable the likelihood that the socially excluded groups will be able to gain access to resources and services (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000). Therefore community organizers and developers can act as "nodes" and "links" for groups helping to form collaborative networks from both the "top down" and the "bottom up."  Regardless of how these netowrks form the goal for both intiatives if to improve the connection between all groups and institutions (Dale and Sparkes, 2010).

Producing Synergy (A Top Down Model of Practice)

(Jaques, 2010)
When representatives of the state, the corporate sector, and civil society establish common forums through which they can pursue common goals, both social and economic development can proceed. Woolcock and Narayan (2000) argue that in these circumstances social capital has a role as a mediating variable that is shaped by public and private institutions. This shaping is an inherently controversial and political process, one in which the role of the state is crucial to affect structural social capital growth, which may, (in the long run) simultaneously increase cognitive social capital. From a top down level, policy maker can community capacity build by building structures that better allow excluded groups to bridge, link and collaborate with other groups. The synergy view suggests three central tasks for professionals working with communities;
  1.  To identify the nature and extent of a community's social relationships and formal institutions, and the interaction between them; 
  2. To develop institutional strategies based on these social relations, particularly the extent of bonding, bridging and linking social capital; 
  3. To determine how the positive manifestations of social capital (such as cooperation, trust, and institutional efficiency) can offset sectarianism, isolationism, and corruption. In other words, the challenge is to transform situations where a community's social capital substitutes for weak, hostile, or indifferent formal institutions into ones in which both realms complement one another (Woolcock & Nayaran, 2000).
    As these actions takes place social capital may begin to accumulate as people interact and become familiar with the patterns and behaviours of others and with the institutions that hold the key powers for community change. This process can thus create a greater sense of reciprocity, trust and social cohesion. As key structures form that allow tightly bonded groups to bridge and link with others a greater sense of institutional trust  and a higher density of social networks may form. Through these structural changes processes can develop that enable higher functioning of  channels for the provision of information that can affect a community's capacity (James et Al 2009). 

Creating Collaborative Networks Through Social Action (A Bottom Up Practice Model)

Collaborative networks built from the bottom up can help affect ideological transformation, which can enable community capacity and the growth of social capital. The environment and the issues of global warming and climate change have become catalysts for individuals and smaller tightly bonded groups to bridge with on another to act for the collective good. Before the values of modernity took hold people lived with the earth, and there was relative equality among the population. Individuals worked with one another and with the earth for the collective good (Sachs, 2005; Shiva, 2005). Through a reconnection to the idea that community's are part of the environment, society can help stimulate psychological, social and spiritual growth within individuals that can help create greater resiliency (Ungar, 2003).

This clip shows how the issues of food growth and the environment can enable groups with bonding social capital to bridge and link with other key groups to work towards the collective good.

The connection to the environment enables common social interaction and natural networks to form enabling a greater flow of information between individuals and groups, which can help oil the wheels of decision making to benefit the collective good. The connection of individuals to a collective good, has both positive material elements and wider spiritual and social dimensions (Adger, 2003). By networking groups, social workers can support key vulnerable groups who are often excluded from making decisions on the public management of climate-related risks, and enable them to bridge and link there social capital to help make key structural changes that help reunite humanity with earth (Adgar, 2003).
                        For example, natural resources are often used by multiply organizations in market, civil society and government arenas. 
There is growing evidence from both the land and marine sectors to show that when people are well connected within these arenas and networks of communication form(allowing for the needs and the knowledge of all three groups to be incorporated) and are built upon during the planning and implementation of conservation and development activities, then all groups are more likely to sustain stewardship and protection over the long term (Pretty & Smith, 2004). Through these actions and this common connection to the earth new networks can bridge and link with existing social capital bonds, creating a larger, stronger more resilient adaptable community. These new networks can be self-organized around community interests, skills, values, and norms. Through this process closed networks are becoming more open as the common interest of protecting community lands from environmental devastation become more promenent (Dales & Sparkes, 2010). Humanity is learning that our individual survival is based upon the health of the earth, and in order to protect that health of the earth individuals need to act collectively. All of these actions are enabling greater social interaction which is building higher social capital. In turn this process can increase community's capacities.

How Social Workers Can Act

1.   Social workers can act as key "nodes" to help communities bridge and link communities with the decision makers within the market and government. Social workers can work to empower and advocate for the community as well as develop strategic alliances and collaborative dialogues with these forces to help create structural changes that allow communities more permanent access to these decision makers (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Postle & Beresford, 2007).

2.  Often the power dynamics between smaller groups and market and government forces are massively unequal. In order to help establish these dialogues and alliances it may be important for social workers to mobilize larger groups to socially act through protest and petitions, as well as utilize the media to bring exposure to the issues (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Postle & Beresford, 2007).

3.     Social Workers can act as agents for communication and can work to support openness and diversity of tighter groups. Openness and diversity of ideas is critical for community responses to climate change and environmental issues as external, global forces are often beyond the capacity of any one community to address. Diversity can have both positive and negative outcomes, thus necessitating high levels of bridging social capital, particularly crucial in coordinating between the diverse networks, and ensuring open and consistent communications, social workers can act as communication agent (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Postle & Beresford, 2007).

4.     Network structures are important and can create diversity and inclusivity. The building of more impersonal trust is essential for developing critical bridging and linking social capital. Social workers can support the creation of self-organizing, loosely structured, non-hierarchical relationships between networks by helping groups to see a role for themselves in one or more of the networks and throughout the entire process. This can help contribute to greater inclusivity of community members and may be more effective at sustaining long-term commitment and allowing for the expression of a diversity of voice and actions (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Postle & Beresford, 2007).

5.     Social workers can work with policy-makers to link them with communities so that both groups can address environmental conflicts. Developing the enabling conditions for diverse social capital can do this. The strength or wealth of this capital is increased through network formation that allows space for community members to come together (Dale & Sparkes, 2010; Postle & Beresford, 2007).

Critque of Social Capital and Collaborative Networks 

    It is important to note that often organizational or transformational initiatives that focus on events or interactions where people can demonstrate both “trustworthiness” and “predictability” may only have a short-term impact on social capital. In the short term, it is very difficult to deliberately try to build cognitive social capital (Jaques, 2010).Cognitive trust takes time to build and in a western nations may only come through wide spread ideological transformation.
One of the major critiques of social capital theory and how it applies to community capacity building is the debate over who is responsible for creating structural initiatives that help to bridge and link groups.  Political life in the United States has seen almost every U.S. president call for a revival  of communitarianism and voluntarism in American society, and each of them have called upon communities to take the lead on these initiatives. In Europe Tony Blair’s labour party looked to rewrite the role of the state in providing for communities and advocated for these roles to come form the community itself (Navarro, 2002). 

Given the vast inequality, power politics and personal perceptions of various social groups, it may be a challenge for communities to form collaborative networks and distinguish mutual individual, family, and social problems from the complex social relations of the area. That is, instead of working together to solve social problems tightly bonded groups may blame each other for the current social problems. Within a arena with such vast structural differences it may also be a challenge to recognize individual and collective strengths and achievements when they are often hidden behind more visible and publicly recognized social problems and assumptions about certain groups. In others words tightly closed groups may not see the strengths in other group and therefore may balme them for social problems facing the community or exclude them from the bridging and kinking of socail capital. Every community has social capital and capacity, however if  these negative perceptions are applied to certain groups then this may lead to negative use of social capital such as formulations of gangs (Botrell, 2008).

The current paradigm continues to promote the values of modernity, which has lead to the vast inequality, social exclusion and has contributed to the negative use of social capital. The values of modernity have brought with it an  “unquestioned” acceptance of market dominated growth and development, a pursuit for the maximization of production and consumption and individualistic, competitive and dualistic style of thinking that pits human against nature, body against spirit and men against women (Coates, 2003). It may be difficult for groups to form cognitive trust with one another and to act for the collective good, within a political and cultural climate that promotes the values of modernity.  It seems unlikely that communities themselves can address that vast structural barriers that keep groups from linking and bridging without the the transformation of the dominant paradigm. 

All of these critiques are in contradiction to how social capital theory and colloborative networks  should work. As seen in the above video, the promotion of utilizing social capital has been used as means to compete for resources and rewards that enhances networks. In other words togetherness makes individuals stronger, more resourceful, and more competitive. Social capital theory has been used to promote and enhance capitalism, which is a system that is embedded within modernity and that promotes individualism over the communitariansim.  The lack of awareness and the absence of togetherness is rooted in the existence of capitalism and competitiveness and the adverse effects that alienate and atomize community’s  (Navarro, 2002). 

Social Capital theory has been utilized in contradictory ways and a means to “pass the buck” of responsibility to those who are the most vulnerable. In other words governments under the current world order have told those who are excluded or are not involved in civic engagement that it is there responsibility to utilize their networks to engage with the system. However, the system itself survives upon the creation of winners and losers and the process of exclusion. In order to rectify the contradiction, social worker's, policy-makers communities and everyone involved in the system will need to identify these contradictions and work to create equality so that every community can engage and build capacity. That is, everyone will need to be accountable for their actions of promoting a system that rewards individualism at the cost of the collective good.