The emergence of the idea of social capital has led a number of governmental and international organizations to measure and stimulate it as an instrument of development and resource management policy. The World Bank was one of the first to take up the idea in the late 1990s, focusing on the potential for capacity-building policies to overcome endemic poverty and improve access to health, education, and credit (Szreter and Woolcock 2004). By way of contrast, the OECD, which is focused on industrialized countries, sought to address issues such as quality of life, aging, and migration in the process "turning the concept into an indicator of well-being with social capital considered the end result" (Franke 2005:3). In both cases, however, the idea that social capital somehow underlies economic and political development and performance has encouraged efforts by governments and international organizations to try and stimulate it. To evaluate progress in this enterprise, such institutions have sponsored numerous efforts to monitor and measure social capital. Many have been somewhat crude instruments, relying for example on responses to survey questions about trust in neighbors and organizations. They have mostly relied on extant data or questions already used in existing surveys without much consideration of the underpinning conceptual or theoretical framework. "As a result, social capital is widely documented but always [mis]understood as an end result rather than as an explanatory variable for particular socio-economic outcomes" (Franke 2005:6)
Probably the most sophisticated framework for measuring social capital is that prepared by Canada's Policy Research Initiative (PRI), described by Franke (2005). Building on the approach of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which seeks to make a clear distinction (often fudged in the literature) between the social network determinants of social capital and its effects (such as trust), the PRI approach explicitly focuses on social relationships, rather than on individuals or organizations, as the unit of analysis. It also explicitly adopts an approach that conceptualizes social networks as providing the means by which resources are identified and accessed.
Social network analysis enables the resources that circulate between various social actors to be identified by looking at the relational patterns between them, that is by studying the way in which social relationships are structured and how they function. The underlying hypothesis is that the structure of social interactions is a factor that determines the opportunities and limitations to accessing resources, while recognizing that the structure itself is a product of these interactions. The approach is structural if the conclusions are drawn from the study of network structures; if the focus is on the way in which the network operates, the approach is transactional or relational. In all cases, however, social network analysis involves an empirical approach to examining the relationships between entities (individuals and groups) rather than their attributes, which is the focus of traditional social surveys (Franke 2005:13).
The PRI approach focuses on a multi-attribute approach to measuring social capital by looking at both network structure (including the properties of networks, members, and relationships) and network dynamics (i.e., the conditions for the creation and mobilization of networks). Network structure is measured by six primary indicators typical of formal network analysis in the
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