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How Human Services Programs Can Use Social Capital to Improve Participant Well-Being and Economic Mobility

Research shows that individuals with higher levels of social capital are happier and healthier, find better jobs, and live longer, and that communities with higher levels of social capital have higher educational achievement, faster economic growth, and less crime. A wide range of HHS programs aim to help individuals, families, and communities achieve these same goals, but there is little research on how human services programs can more intentionally understand, track, and use social capital to meet these objectives.

This webpage includes links to materials ASPE has prepared as it leads work to help the federal government understand how local, state, faith-based, and nonprofit human services programs and organizations currently create, use, and measure social capital to increase employment, reduce poverty, and improve child and family well-being, and how local agencies can further strengthen these efforts. While additional research is needed to more rigorously evaluate the evidence base in this area, ASPE’s research aims to help practitioners and policymakers understand the range of social capital strategies human services programs can use.

What is social capital?

Social capital refers to connections, networks, or relationships among people and the value that arises from them and can be accessed or mobilized to help individuals succeed in life. It produces information, emotional or financial support, and/or other resources. Social capital can be with people like us (“bonding”), with people different from us (“bridging”), or with institutions or individuals in positions of power (“linking”).

Many human services strategies may leverage social capital, such as partnering with faith-based organizations, mentoring, peer supports (e.g. peer mentors, peer navigators, peer support groups), family strengthening (e.g. healthy marriage/relationship education, fatherhood, parenting supports), and more.

How is HHS/ASPE identifying policy solutions that better enable human services programs to help program participants create and use social capital?

After hearing perspectives from policymakers, researchers, and practitioners in the field, we are undertaking several projects to identify and disseminate emerging practices for using and measuring social capital to strengthen human services programs.

To receive updates when new products come out, email Amanda Benton at

Summarizing the Evidence Base

Conducting Research

  • Measuring Social Capital in Human Services Programs This brief summarizes findings on the importance of measuring social capital, key measurement considerations, and examples of how human services programs both inside and outside of HHS measure it.

  • Strengthening Human Services through Social Capital (ongoing through 2020) – ASPE has contracted with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) to use expert consultations, a program scan, and case studies to understand how human services organizations build and leverage social capital to improve economic opportunity.

Sharing Findings and Tools

  • The Value of Relationships: Improving Human Services Participant Outcomes through Social Capital - This handbook shares emerging practices that human services programs can implement to help participants build and leverage social capital, and it includes worksheets to help program managers and frontline staff apply these strategies to their own programmatic contexts. Findings are based on interviews and focus groups with national experts, a national program of organizations using social capital, and site visits and phone calls to human services programs using social capital strategies. A two page summary of common principles and emerging practices accompanies the handbook.

  • The Value of Social Capital during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency – This fact sheet discusses how human services programs can build and leverage social capital to help participants combat social isolation, access basic needs, and endure the economic crisis during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • How to Include Social Capital in a Human Services Program Logic Model This tool demonstrates how human services practitioners can use a logic model to map out the role social capital plays in their programs, providing hypothetical examples and a blank tool for practitioners to fill in themselves.

  • Additional Tools for Human Services Practitioners – Through these projects, including Strengthening Human Services through Social Capital, ASPE and RTI will create and disseminate a set of tools for practitioners to use in their day-to-day work to reduce poverty, increase employment, and improve child and family well-being.