The Elements of Social Capital: Places, Passions and People
With the publication of Quality Measures 2005®, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership highlighted the importance of social capital and social networks in community life. CQL has moved the discussion about quality (both quality of supports and quality of life) from the program to the organization and now into the community. CQL’s work now defines, measures and improves quality within the context of the community. We emphasize that quality of service does not equal our quality of life.
Supports and services of quality may contribute to our quality of life; but none of us mistakes a responsive service with meaningful quality of life.
Social capital adds to our quality of life. A world-wide research literature demonstrates that social capital enables people to live longer, healthier, happier lives. Social networks of trusting and caring people are closely connected to the achievement of a higher level of Personal Outcome Measures®.
Discovering opportunities for social capital requires attention to places, passions and people.
Social capital and social networks begin in places and hangouts. The concert hall, Starbucks, the pool hall, parking lot, or Bill’s back porch all provide the opportunity for getting together. So does the internet, a party line or a text message. (However, I must admit that my personal preference is real people rather than those residing in the virtual world.) So in thinking about social capital for ourselves, the people we support, and our fellow citizens, we need to identify real down-to-earth places and spaces for gathering, meeting and dialogue.
Some people prefer places that are private and more intimate – a friend’s apartment, a family home or a place of worship. Others might choose to meet in more public places – the commons, the town center, a coffee bar, the library or shopping malls.
This emphasis on place in our lives is now reflected in our community design, residential architecture and urban redevelopment. Support providers are now grappling with the definitions of place – both geographic and places of interest – as they try to distinguish between going into the community, being in the community, and belonging to the community.
But place is not enough. Places and people gathering there must engage our preferences, our interests and our passions. In fact, interests trump geography. We’ll all go further to join others who share our interests, who are interested in us and who share our passions for the important things in life.
CQL’s Quality Measures 2005® provides guidelines and strategies for supporting people to define their outcomes, and the meanings they attach to goals, social roles and community. Once people have identified their preferences, interests and passions, we can begin to figure out how to connect them to other people who share those same passions.
Our passions and interest fuel community engagement – from recreation league sports, to block parties, to spiritual observances. We search out other people who share our definitions of quality of life outcomes. These preferences and passionate interests cause people of all ages to engage each other in a range of civic, spiritual and leisure activities.
Finally, for many people, places and passions are not enough. Some people need other people as connectors. People tend to get stuck in traditions and habits. Sometimes they avoid new places and people because of the uncertainty and stress of new situations. This unease over the new experience explains why so many people are so dependent on so few people – the connectors. The connectors are the people in our lives who guide us into new territory and new situations. We can extend the logic and function of “job coaches” in employment situations to “community connectors”. Some people are natural connectors. Organizations can discover formal and informal systems that support their own natural connectors.
The connectivity of places, passions and people applies to all of us – to people receiving services and supports, to employees and volunteers, to families, friends and neighbors. We can promote social capital and build social networks to enrich the lives of all people. We can enable people to live longer, happier and healthier lives. We can do this when we break down our thinking into the concrete building blocks of place, passions and people.