2.4 The importance of networks
If co-production is to be successful, we need to find ways to build community capacity . As you have seen, a key concept in understanding community capacity is social capital. ‘ Social capital ’ refers to all the social networks and connections that exist for a person, a group of people or a community, and the benefits that stem from these networks. These benefits have been demonstrated to extend far beyond the immediate purpose of the network and may have a number of positive impacts. The next activity asks you to reflect on networks that are important to you, and on their potential and actual benefits.
Activity 2.3: Your networks
Think about your own networks, and then list in your learning log all the people and organisations that make up your personal networks.
What benefits do you think that you gain from these networks?
Different people will have different kinds of networks of different sizes. Some people enjoy a lot of social contact with many people, and others are more private, and may have strong connections with fewer people.
You may be part of several different, and possibly overlapping, networks of family, friends, parents, neighbours or club members. Here a 12-year-old girl describes a mix of relationships and networks that are important to her:
At weekends I do dancing at [a nearby secondary school...] for three hours. Every other week on a Sunday I go to my dad’s because my mum and dad are divorced. I go to my Nan’s every Saturday... My mum is very important because she cares for everything I do like if I go out the front with my friends. My dad is important because he also cares for me, all my family care about me. My friends are important because I can trust them and talk to them.
The benefit you feel that you derive from networks will also be very individual. Social networks can, for example, put children and adults in touch with new friendship groups and enable them to find out about local social and leisure activities. They may also enable adults to access job opportunities. You may also have included virtual networks like Facebook and Twitter, which can be viewed as huge social networks, relying to varying extents on trust and reciprocity.
Were you also able to identify ways in which others, or the community as a whole, may benefit from your involvement in these networks? For example, you may be providing social support, information and/or practical assistance to others.
Networks have been shown to have multiple benefits. For example, a systematic review of social networks and their relationship to children's health and well-being found that:
Children and adolescents appear to accrue direct benefit from having wider social support networks of peers and non-familial adults, which may be acquired by participation in recreational clubs/groups, and they benefit from having higher quality social support networks. Furthermore, in most cases, but especially in the case of younger children, they appear to accrue indirect benefit from their parent(s) having wider and higher quality social support networks.