How Human Services Programs Can Use Social Capital to Improve Participant Well-Being and Economic Mobility

Research shows that individuals with higher levels of social capital are happier and healthier, find better jobs, and live longer, and that communities with higher levels of social capital have higher educational achievement, faster economic growth, and less crime.  A wide range of HHS programs aim to help individuals, families, and communities achieve these same goals, but there is little research on how human services programs can more intentionally understand, track, and use social capital to meet these objectives.

This webpage includes links to materials ASPE has prepared as it leads work to help the federal government understand how local, state, faith-based, and nonprofit human services programs and organizations currently create, use, and measure social capital to increase employment, reduce poverty, and improve child and family well-being, and how local agencies can further strengthen these efforts. While additional research is needed to more rigorously evaluate the evidence base in this area, ASPE’s research aims to help practitioners and policymakers understand the range of social capital strategies human services programs can use.

What is social capital?

Social capital refers to connections, networks, or relationships among people and the value that arises from them and can be accessed or mobilized to help individuals succeed in life. It produces information, emotional or financial support, and/or other resources. Social capital can be with people like us (“bonding”), with people different from us (“bridging”), or with institutions or individuals in positions of power (“linking”).

Many human services strategies may leverage social capital, such as partnering with faith-based organizations, mentoring, peer supports (e.g. peer mentors, peer navigators, peer support groups), family strengthening (e.g. healthy marriage/relationship education, fatherhood, parenting supports), and more.

How is HHS/ASPE identifying policy solutions that better enable human services programs to help program participants create and use social capital?

After hearing perspectives from policymakers, researchers, and practitioners in the field, we are undertaking several projects to identify and disseminate emerging practices for using and measuring social capital to strengthen human services programs.

To receive updates when new products come out, email Amanda Benton at amanda.benton@hhs.gov.

Summarizing the Evidence Base

Conducting Research

  • Measuring Social Capital in Human Services Program (ongoing through 2019) – This research project explores ways that federal and local human services programs are measuring social capital in their day-to-day work to inform program strategies and improve participant outcomes.

  • Strengthening Human Services through Social Capital (ongoing through 2020) – ASPE has contracted with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) to use expert consultations, a program scan, and case studies to understand how human services organizations build and leverage social capital to improve economic opportunity.

Disseminating Lessons

  • Tools for Human Services Practitioners – Through these projects, including Strengthening Human Services through Social Capital, ASPE and RTI will create and disseminate a set of tools for practitioners to use in their day-to-day work to reduce poverty, increase employment, and improve child and family well-being.