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University of Minnesota Extension

Our Community: Assessing social capital

Overview of the Our Community tool

Rural communities have a history of thriving because of the ties among people who live and work there. How can these ties be used and strengthened in modern times, when new economics and demographics have changed rural life?

A community can start by looking at its strengths. The positive effects of community ties have recently been identified in both community development practice and research. The term "social capital" was coined by social scientist James Coleman to describe these ties, and Robert Putnam furthered and popularized this research in his book Bowling Alone.

Assessment tools can help communities get an accurate picture of the ties among its people and organizations. Our Community was designed by the University of Minnesota Extension, in collaboration with Yellow Wood Associates especially with rural communities in mind, building upon rural strengths and assessing conditions specific to rural culture. As communities look at the future, findings from an Our Community survey can focus their efforts — using an accurate picture of what is going on when its people and organizations work and live together.

Who can use this tool?

  • Local governments who want to mobilize the community to address public issues.
  • Economic and community development professionals who want to assess the strength of a community.
  • Chambers of Commerce and other local associations who care about community spirit
  • Nonprofits and associations who work for the public good
  • Academic researchers and Extension professionals

What types of questions can the tool answer?

  • What are the norms of community behavior?
  • How safe do people feel in our community?
  • Do people trust each other?
  • Who feels included and who feels excluded?
  • Is our community diverse in its attitudes, opinions and cultures? Do we bond with people who are different than ourselves?
  • How involved are our members in civic activities?
  • And more…

Using the tool in Minnesota

In Minnesota, sponsoring organizations can work with a leadership and civic engagement educator to administer the Our Community tool and analyze the results for their community. Trainings helps communities successfully recruit diverse survey participants and implement the survey. After the survey is administered, a community report is generated, summarizing findings from each area of measurement. The Extension educator can present the summary and facilitate discussion about the implications of the survey findings.

Below are social capital reports from communities who have completed the assessment process:

Purchasing the tool for use in other states

Non-Minnesota organizations can purchase either an annual license to print an unlimited number of surveys themselves, or to purchase packages of surveys from the University of Minnesota Extension. Organizations can also receive coaching or training from the University of Minnesota Extension staff to support successful administration of the tool. A template of the report is provided with the license agreement. This analysis can be prepared by the sponsoring organization or through a contract with the University of Minnesota or Yellow Wood Associates.

For more information about the survey tool, licensing agreements or acquiring survey forms, contact Scott Chazdon, Ph.D.

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