Social capital is relatively a modern development concept that attempts at presenting the relationship between individuals and organisation and their interaction at the local level as potentials to civic engagement (participation) and empowerment. The fundamental premises underpinning this concept encompasses those of local values, trusts, social cohesion, networking and institutional effectiveness. The concept of social capital is generally associated with social development, civic participation and with networks of co-operation and solidarity (Franke 2005). Thus, building a strong social capital at the local level where there are non-existing and strengthening that of communities with social capital present development practitioners with an effective potential for promoting civic engagement at the community level. Social capital from the public/development policy perspective articulates the concept as a clear starting point for effective dialogue on public issues. Clearly, there is a link between social capital and civic engagement. Subsequently, building a strong social capital at the local level will form a solid foundation for civic engagement that respond to the development needs of people. As would be seen, examples of studies conducted across many countries reveal how social capital has influenced civic engagement and its consequential positive outcome on community empowerment. This therefore is the thrust of this research.
Open, transparent, accountable and participatory process are fundamental to development. The engagement of civil society in community development builds strong ownership and sustenance of development intervention which also enhances transparency and accountability. The empowerment that this process brings is no doubt critical for promoting the upward movement of the entire socio-economic systems that characterise people. The relationship between participation and civic engagement is that of a mutual coherence that revolve around the same themes and principles. These concepts build a sense of community that ensure that the weak and vulnerable in the society are catered for in the development process of society. Participation is a broad concept and relates to several dimensions of inclusiveness and involvement. Correspondingly, civic engagement purports the involvement of individuals, organisations and volunteer groups of a community in the process of development. Civic engagement is the participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions and business establishments to influence decision-making or pursue common goals (ESSDN, 2003).
Fundamentally, the first point of information to understanding the intricacies of the problems of a society is to contact those who experience such phenomena. Thus, individuals, organisations and groups in a society would provide this information. These sources of information are fundamental to planning and promoting development at the community level. Empirical evidence across the world over has attributed the stagnation of development and the failure of planning intervention as a result of the separation between intervention and people. In Ghana, several water, sanitation and market infrastructure have become whites elephants as a result of project imposition on societies. More so, societies have radically opposed leaders and representatives on the basis of lack of involvement in the selection process. The reason is that they do not trust these leaders. Thus, civic engagement has been seen as an antidote to the drawbacks of planning and development interventions.
Civic engagement now underpins planning processes at the local level in many countries as a result of the adoption of decentralisation and Ghana is no exception. The rationale for adopting decentralisation in Ghana for instance is to promote grass-root participation in the processes of development. Consulting and integrating the views and interest of people in the planning process encourages transparency, accountability and ownerships of development intervention by statutory and planning authorities. It also builds a sense of community, ownership of development outcome and promotes greater empowerment of people in promoting development in their respective societies. The trust of all this is to enhance development. Proponents of social capital over the past thirty years have linked civic engagement to the concept. They argue that the development of social capital can build a strong social force for community empowerment and development. “There is growing empirical evidence that social capital contributes significantly to sustainable development (Kähkönen 1999). In addition, series of studies understand social capital as civic engagement and interpersonal trust (Milner and Ersson 2000). Thus, there is a relationship between social capital and civic engagement and this is the central focus of this discussion.
Understanding Social CapitalAs a result, of the dynamic nature and complex orientation of society and social development, social capital has been seen as a great potential for promoting development. Like physical and human capital, social capital is a particular type of resource available to individuals and groups that is of functional value: it enables actors to meet needs and pursue interests (Kahne, Brnadenette and Midaugh). Several definitions have been promulgated in the literature of social development. For instance, social capital is “the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions” (World Bank, 1999). This definition articulates the fact that development of every society is dependent on certain key dimensions of society and the integration of these dimension are critical to promoting positive change and growth. These dimensions are therefore potentials inherent in societies that can aid in solving their problems. According to Civic Practices Network (2000), “social capital refers to those stocks of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems. These networks assist in the synchronization and dissemination of information as well as create mechanisms to assess the trustworthiness of other individuals and groups. According to Wallis (1998), these potentials can be formal or informal where the former means institutionalised values, norms and networks of society.
This attribute of society that the concept presents as a potential contributes to building social relations that enable societies work together and solve their problems. It enables communities to promote the welfare of their members without necessarily depending on external aid. Social capital also has a potential for building self-sufficient communities.
In order to apply the concept of social capital at a practical and operational level in relation to civic engagement, five key dimensions must be comprehended: Groups and networks - collections of individuals that promote and protect personal relationships which improve welfare; Trust and Solidarity – elements of interpersonal behaviour which foster greater cohesion and more robust collective action; Collective Action and Cooperation - ability of people to work together toward resolving communal issues; Social Cohesion and Inclusion - mechanisms to mitigate the risk of conflict and promotes equitable access to benefits of development by enhancing participation of the marginalized; and Information and Communication - breaks down negative social capital and also enables positive social capital by improving access to information. These dimensions capture both the structural and cognitive forms of social capital.
Social Capital and Civic Engagement
The component of social capital as articulated above have several implications for development planning. The key issues that emanate from the elements suggest the link between social capital and civic engagement as promoting participation and communal spirit to solving development problems. Taking the issues individually presents us with a unique relationship between these two issues being discussed.
Groups and networks no doubt are found within any community and they represent the collective interest and values of their members. Such groups have greater agitation spirits that can greatly influence the direction of development in any community. The aim of such groups is to ensure the welfare and safety of members. Such groups are formed on economic, social, political, traditional and environmental lines. The basis of civic engagement is to incorporate the interest of these groups in the planning process to avoid the issues of marginality and exclusion. Local institutions, especially traditional authorities, are means of disseminating information in communities. In any effort of promoting civic engagement, these institutions become handy for communicating information to members. Thus, more networks and groups mean a wider coverage of people at a minimum cost and time. In Botswana, such practices have resulted in improved abilities of communities to promote development. Village development Committees have been set to integrate all the views of these social groups and depending on the kind of project, special groups are made partners of project implementation. This has increased commitment to development interventions in communities in Botswana.
Trust and solidarity also influence the rate at which people would be involved in the development process. Trust refers to the level of confidence that people have that others will act as they say or are expected to act, or that what they say is reliable. In Sweden, Rothstein (1998) found that there is a declining level of trust in political organisations as well as a move from ‘active’ to ‘passive’ participation and interest. In Ghana, Tay (2006), found out that communities trusted national and political officials far more than they do for local officials. The reason was that local communities realised that the mandate and power to resolve problems lie at the central level and these local officials are mere representatives of central interest. In addition, Lam’s (1998) study also indicates that a high level of mutual trust among irrigators is associated with a high level of irrigation system performance: mutual trust enhances system performance by counteracting irrigators’ incentives to free ride and ignores the operational rules (cited by Productivity Commission, 2003). Thus, promoting civic engagement in decision-making and the management of infrastructure by building trust (social capital) can improve performance and sustenance of these facilities. This can be achieved by understanding the sources of trust and the level of trust held by communities for specific individual and institutions. This would help in identify conflicts to be resolved for the development process to be effective and all inclusive.
Collective action and cooperation are influenced greatly by groups and networks. Collective action involves pooling resources together to solving developmental problems. Such efforts have been seen to increase the welfare of many people in various countries. In Ghana for instance, through collective actions of most labour organisation, they have been able to agitate for increases in wages. Notwithstanding this, communities through their representatives approach parliamentarians and District Chief Executives to relay their problems to them. One unique thing about collective action in Ghana is the concept of communal labour. Several communities cede a day for general community cleaning and this has build unity in such communities through continuous interaction of members. This element has proved central in water and sanitation service delivery in many countries. Community management of water and sanitation systems requires a group effort. Community members are expected to act collectively and design, construct, operate, and maintain systems together (Kähkönen 1999). Several countries are moving away from supply driven to demand driven approach to water delivery. Therefore, the success of this approach relatively depends on the communal spirit of the people. Thus, without consensus and understanding of community priorities and needs this approach would not work. For this purpose, they are expected to build up a network or an association of users, which coordinates and regulates the actions of different community members for system management (Kähkönen 1999). According to Cernea (1987), the establishment of farmer organizations on the San Lorenzo irrigation project in Peru has helped improve the maintenance of the system and increase agricultural productivity (cited by Productivity Commission, 2003). Hence, groups and network are important for civic engagement and fundamental for community empowerment.
Social cohesion and inclusion is one element of social capital that greatly affects civic engagement. Peace and unity among the various groupings in a society are fundamental to integrating their views in the development process. All over Africa, the issue of ethnic and tribal conflicts has stagnated participatory processes. As a result of groups’ entrenched positions, there is no consensus on the direction of development to embark at the local level. This is typical in the Northern Regions of Ghana, Sudan and the Congo. Thus, for civic engagement to take place and involve all persons such issues must be corrected first.
The Way Forward for Civic Engagement in GhanaThe discussion has provided some evidence of the relationships between social capital and civic engagement. The existence of social capital may promote collective action and coordination within the community, but social capital alone by no means ensures civic participation. It only presents to development practitioners the available structures of society that can be harnessed to promote civic engagement. Social capital is only one of several factors that influence civic engagement. As can be inferred from Botswana, one such social capital is the chieftaincy institutions. If they are institutionalised in the planning process in Ghana, they can help build trust, solidarity and initiate collective action for community development.
The effectiveness of civic engagement has been shown to depend partly on social capital in the community. While the establishment of a functioning user group for water and sanitation management creates social capital, the organization of that group is aided by pre-existing social networks, norms, trust, and interaction among neighbours. Thus, where there is deficiency in any organisation, social capital must be developed. For instance, Tay (2006) identifies that lack of trust among community members has rendered the maintenance of water facilities in Ghana a challenge. Most members of the community do not trust water and sanitation committees with their hard-earned income and therefore do not contribute toward the maintenance of such facilities.
Thus, for responsive civic engagement in Ghana, there is the need to enhance the capacities of local based agencies and involve them in the development process. This would increase transparency and accountability. In addition, when individuals understand that they have been involved enough in the process of planning, they would be willing to support any intervention put in place by planning and development authorities. These are therefore the steps for building social capital for responsive civic engagement and particularly in Ghana.
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