Do You Know Your Neighbors - What this tells us about Social Capital

Back in 2010, a number of colleagues I had come to know from around the US and Canada got together to explore community engagement patterns of people with disabilities in North America. Up to that point, no formal study had been done in this area. Most of us knew, from our agency experiences, that folks with disabilities we served seemed to be more isolated, and less connected, but it had never been measured.   And understandably so; as exploration of connections, social capital, and engagement are hard to formally study.

Still, some generic measures existed, most notably work done at Harvard University by Dr. Robert Putnam and his associates. They created a "Social Capital Benchmarking Survey" (SCBS) in 2000, and began to look at typical engagement patterns around the US. Their survey looked at 7 benchmarking areas and yielded a "moment in time" portrait of community and community engagement patterns.

Making some minor adjustments to the SCBS my colleagues and I from the "Interdependence Network" ( talked to 250 folks with all types of disabilities around US and Canada, and then more recently in Australia to get a more measured sense of community engagement patterns for people with disabilities being served to compare them to what Putnam had found. The process and findings were revealing.

Since then, we have been using this modified version of the SCBS in other areas and I am currently looking at the findings from Ohio, and Sault St. Marie, Ontario for some groups there, but to control and compare (and to help staff in these settings understand the survey) we asked the staff to do the survey on themselves. Before they conducted it on a person their agency serves.

Now on this survey there is one section on neighbors with 3 interesting questions that ask, "how many neighbors (people who live in close approximation to you) names do you know; how many neighbors have you spoken to in the past month; and how many neighbors homes have you been in over the past month? These are interesting, and revealing questions on connecting patterns closest to whee you are most regular- the place you live.

Certainly for me, growing up, and still living on "Condeluci Hill" my answer to these questions are fluid and impactful - I know, speak to, and have been in everyone's home in my neighborhood often. Yet, as we have probed on this question for our recent survey, I expected a disparity between folks with disabilities and the staff who answered the survey. What we are finding, however, is that these answers are closer between the 2 groups (staff, and folks served) than you would think. Staff who filled out the survey are not all that connected with neighbors. 

Now these are early returns, but I am wondering about neighborliness this morning. SocialCapital theory tells us that knowing, speaking, and connecting with neighbors is a core benchmark in engagement. So I am asking you - how neighborly are you?  How would you answer these 3 questions about neighbors?