One response to “Creating local civic indicators with big data

  1. Hi Bob,

    I was a research assistant on your American Grace project years ago. I thought I would contact you through this more public forum because I believe that your response may be generally useful. Basically, I am trying to think through some of the benefits and costs of collecting original social capital data (using your short form survey) compared to relying on secondary data. I work for a large non-governmental organization which has embarked on an ambitious project that the implementers believe has the potential to improve the level of resident social capital within the individual U.S. cities.where the intervention is taking place. They are implementing the project in six cities. It may be possible for our organization to partner with others and collect original city-level social capital data at two points in time in these cities, and an additional set of comparison cities using a survey research center. I read through your program evaluation guide, which was very helpful. However, I see that many researchers use secondary data to measure social capital. This approach seems to involve measuring voter participation rates and a couple of other variables. For example, the “RGF dataset” (Rupasingha et al, 2006) may be appropriate for city-level analyses.

    When staff from our organization interact with the staff in the cities that are involved in the project, they hear a lot of concern about measurement and organizational capacity. Leaders want to quantify the social capital of their cities but don’t have the staff to do so properly. It could be of great service to these city leaders if we could help them locate valid, secondary measures of social capital. On the other hand, it could be that the only valid way to measure social capital at the city level is to conduct a formal social capital survey using appropriate methodology
    As I think through the benefits and costs of original social capital versus secondary data collection, here are some that come to mind: The original data collection benefits include that it may be comparable to other cities that have administered the survey and it has been validated as a measure of social capital. Additionally, if the data is made available publically, it may be useful to the larger social capital research community. However, how useful will data from cities chosen for the purposes our organization be to others? The advantages to secondary data collection would be costs, possibly a simpler methodology that practitioners could follow themselves and the possibility that the data could be comparable historically (i.e. voter participation rates since 1960).

    If you have any quick thoughts on this, I would appreciate reading them and perhaps others would as well.

    Thank you,


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