Dissecting the Dimensions of Social Capital
The World Bank Social Capital Initiative looked at social capital as an asset that requires investment to accumulate and that produces a stream of benefits. These benefits, or channels, of social capital include information sharing, collective action and decision making. The Social Capital Initiative funded 12 research projects, each of which examined social capital in different contexts. Two primary dimensions—scope and form—emerged as a way of classifying and discussing the focus areas of these research projects.
Dimension 1: Scope
“Scope” refers to the entities involved in creating positive or negative consequences for the larger community through relationships.
- Micro: focuses on individuals and households with horizontal relationships
- Meso: expands on the “micro” scope to include groups with vertical relationships, or hierarchy among members
- Macro: expands on the “meso” scope to include institutional structures that shape social structure and norms
Dimension 2: Form
“Form” refers to the way social capital is manifested in any scope.
- Structural: tangible, including observable structures and processes
- Cognitive: intangible, including subjective values, attitudes and beliefs
The Framework for Classifying Social Capital
The following framework supports classification of any given focus on social capital across the primary dimensions of scope and form. We have added specific examples for each quadrant derived from our understanding of the last working paper in the Social Capital Initiative series.
State institutions, rule of law
Example: a state’s court system and its formal set of rules
Example: a country’s political regime and the intangible liberties its citizens enjoy
Local institutions, networks
Example: a local school board and the assigned roles of its members
Trust, local norms, values
Example: a community’s households and their shared values
Why the Framework Matters
We think this framework is useful for adding precision to any discussion of social capital. For example, if we are talking about measuring the social capital embedded in the trusted relationships of a corporate executive team, we can classify this as Quadrant 4 (the cognitive form, and a micro/meso scope). We will refer back to this framework for future discussions.
To learn more about the research behind this framework, visit our reference of the 24 working papers in the Social Capital Initiative.