This study has identified numerous recommendations from the synthesis of social capital and participation theories and from application of this integration to the case study participatory methodologies. These are listed below and discussed in more detail in the following section. Project methodologies should:
- take account of the importance of ‘events’ in major social capital outcomes
An ‘event’ such as a participatory project does not necessarily result in more or less social capital but changes in the nature of the social capital for better or worse. It is vital to take into account the significant and lasting impacts of an event such as changed project objectives or the end of a project on social capital – these impacts can influence all future activities with the community with unknown results, again, positive or negative.
- involve repeated interaction in participation methodologies
Repeat interactions lead to formation of weak ties between individuals that are often members of different network groups. When coupled with similar interests, motivations, membership or proximity, these ties can provide significant and lasting benefits to the individuals and the community in general. Examples could be holding repeat focus groups with informal interaction encouraged, design of a questionnaire by stakeholders over a period of time or bring the group back together to analyse the data.
- take into account other factors influencing social capital changes
Other factors such as social stratification, gender, family, religion, and general interest can influence participation and also social capital changes. An understanding of these issues can lead to increased participation and significant benefits for the individuals and the community in general.
- maximise interaction through group dynamics theory
There are many factors of group dynamics theory that are useful to application in social capital sensitive participation methodologies including reason for group formation, seating patterns, group size, and facilitation processes.
- adapt social capital sensitive participatory methodologies to local context
Any existing participatory methodology must be adapted to the local context for which it will be applied to take into account the numerous important factors.
- include disadvantaged groups by ensuring participation is possible
Disadvantaged groups are often limited in the timing, means and types of methodologies. The importance of their participation is often overlooked or their exclusion considered ‘unavoidable’. These groups have the potential to significantly benefit from changes in social capital from appropriately designed participation methodologies.
- maximise social capital building opportunities for the poor through careful design of participation methodologies
It is often said that social capital is poor people’s biggest asset, yet participatory methodologies often preclude their participation. It is vital not to limit their involvement by taking time away from work activities or providing suitable compensation for doing so.
- carefully select focus group participants when including different social groups to maximise structural hole benefits
Given the opportunity to hear the views and perspectives of different social groups develops a two way understanding that reduces the perceived gap, thereby initiating the process of forming norms of reciprocity. This process also allows for greater collaboration through identification of opportunities for individual or mutual benefit. Factors such as the standing of the individual within the social group, personality, gender, and age are all important in selecting the most suitable participants – to ensure meaningful participation.
- hold focus groups for each social group and share outcomes between groups
In the case study, participation could have been maximized by holding separate, small, focus groups for different social groups. This would separate disadvantaged groups who are inhibited by power differentials, enabling effective participation of all groups. The project background data identified gender power imbalances, which represents a need for separate focus groups. Although not carried out, it is acknowledged that the project may have been constrained by time or resources. Holding separate focus groups would limit social capital building opportunities in situations with high levels of participation but as discussed above, the project suffered from a lack of participation and thus holding separate focus groups would have little impact on the overall opportunities for generating social capital. It is recommended that providing feedback on issues that were identified to the whole group could enhance social capital building.This could be either through a public meeting or a meeting of all focus group participants. If further social capital building was an objective of the project, a further round of focus groups could then be help, mixing key individuals from different social groups, identified from observation. The familiarity of the topic and process, and increased empathy, should enable more even participation of all focus group members and allow for tie formation and establishment of group norms. Cooperation could be enhanced with benefits for project effectiveness and general civil society. The key recommendation for the developed country context is that holding a number of focus groups with amble opportunity for networking could maximize social capital building. Although not as significant as in developing countries, giving feedback by way of a public meeting would increase understanding between stakeholder groups. This may have benefits for project effectiveness and social capital through enhanced community cohesion and understanding.
- maximise informal networking opportunities at pubic meetings
Public meetings can hold little opportunity for social capital change, however the biggest benefit occurs through informal interaction, before and after, the formal public meeting. This is the best time to get bonding and bridging interactions.
- utilise existing or traditional information flows for information dissemination
Information dissemination methodologies can be designed to have social capital benefits by using existing or traditional information flows and methods. For example, traditional leaders can often contribute to the word of mouth spread of information and other possible avenues include culturally appropriate methods such as song, dance, role play or puppetry. This again highlights the importance of designing context relevant methodologies.
- seek questionnaire design input from key stakeholders
Obtaining input for key stakeholders, often with different views and opinions and often from very different social groups allows for the development of empathy, understanding, compromise and places the stakeholders at structural holes.
- administer questionnaire by local extension personnel
Although capacity may need to be enhanced in some cases, local extension personnel could have the opportunity to build and strength ties with members of the community and this may also have advantages for project outcomes with improved data from locally knowledgeable and culturally sensitive data collectors.
- hold opportunities for within- and cross-project interaction of project staff
There is often a significant opportunity for project level social capital change as a result of linkages between the separate project teams and between personnel from different projects. The personnel are likely to share identification with each other and this strong belonging, which leads to almost immediate generation of norms of reciprocity.
Further research is needed into the role different variable play in the interaction of participation and social capital in designing participatory methodologies anywhere along the participation continuum. Further research is also required into the role of unaccounted for factors such as political society and structure, optimism, satisfaction, perceptions of government institutions, political involvement, and participation setting and the built environment.
Citing this article
This report was prepared for Social Capital Research. You should reference this work as:
Claridge, T., 2004. Designing social capital sensitive participation methodologies. Report, Social Capital Research, Brisbane, Australia.