It's About Social Ties and Trust - For Everyone
Robert Putnam has used the term "social capital" to describe this impact of social ties and trust. In Bowling Alone, Putnam demonstrates how our lives are all made more productive by social ties that we have with other people – our families, friends, neighbors, social groups and co-workers. Increases in these social contacts have been associated with improved mental and physical health, lower rates of social problems such as juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, and deteriorating neighborhoods, and greater access to economic security. People who belong to organized social groups live longer than those who don't.
Social ties produce reciprocity – we might ask for favors or for help, knowing that we will gladly return the favor or assistance in the future. The social ties and reciprocity build trust. We believe that we can make commitments to others that will be honored and not require bargaining or negotiation.
The vocabulary of "social capital" offers a clear and generic alternative to the specialized language of disability services and programs. Putnam documents the psychological, economic, social, medical, and educational benefits of social capital in all our lives, and this includes people with disabilities, people with mental illness, self-advocates and their families, volunteers, service and support providers, and administrators. Increasing our social capital would benefit us all. With increased social capital we will live healthier and happier lives, increase our community affiliations and be able to exercise choice and self-determination. Social capital offers a common meeting point for people receiving services and supports, families, employers, employees, and community organizations, both public and private.
CQL's own Personal Outcome Measures® Database indicates a strong relationship between safety and welfare and remaining connected to natural support systems and having close intimate friendships based on trust and reciprocity. We can increase the entire range of personal outcomes for people with disabilities and people with mental illness by increasing their social capital.
With a clear focus on social capital, we can redefine the role and purpose of support and service programs to increase the social capital of self-advocates. Organizations, both large and small, would be challenged to increase the social capital of self-advocates within the context of the community rather than the organization or program. With increased social capital, self-advocates would have more allies and resources.
Researchers have identified workforce development as a major barrier to services and supports of high quality. Organizations can enhance employee recruitment, retention and development by building their social capital. Recruitment, orientation, training and retention would center on the potential employee's own social capital or the organization's capacity to develop social capital with the employee. The reality is that we can't expect our organizations to build social capital for people unless the employees experience productive social ties.
Social capital also provides an additional management opportunity for leadership. We can manage our organizations by building social capital for all employees, increasing the richness of their ties to each other, their families and the community. We can evaluate our organizational effectiveness by the impact we have on the social capital of our employees as well as that of people we serve or support.
We can also build and demonstrate accountability within our communities when we develop increased trustworthiness and social ties with public and private organizations. Enhancing our organizational capabilities through business-to-business ties increases our credibility and reciprocity with key opinion makers and community leaders.
Trustworthiness and social ties also have an attraction for families. Helping families develop social capital within our organizations and communities increases their resources and connections to other resources.
In short, the common unifying task for the organization, formal or informal, is to build social capital for the community of interests it serves - self-advocates, families, volunteers, and employees. The concept of social capital simplifies the measurement of quality. After demonstrating that we can deliver the basics in terms of health, safety, and security, we can measure the social capital of the individual, groups of people, or the whole organization. Social capital as an organizing construct goes beyond normalization, integration, or inclusion because it applies to everyone. And, we can use the same generic measure for all of us.
Finally, social capital offers a clear public relations message. All people, even self-advocates live better lives with increased social ties. The public relations message becomes "Build Social Capital for all."
Social capital, as an organizing principle, will take our thinking beyond organizations and programs. It will require organizations, formal and informal, large and small, to be responsible for building social capital for all its constituents. And we can best build social capital in communities - not within organizations and programs. Social Capital will transform some organizations into communities, which is how the best organizations operate today. Walls and barriers between self-advocates, families, volunteers, employees and the community will disappear as less formal structures replace the traditional hierarchies, job descriptions, and program structures.