The case studies involve four communities from the social capital research project — Merritt, B.C, Broken Hill, Australia, (two single-resource economy communities), Saltspring Island, B.C., (a community response to proposed watershed logging) and United We Can, Downtown Eastside, Vancouver (a grassroots network of homeless men and women). Two additional case studies will be added, Rossland/Trail in B.C. and Maleny in Australia. They have been selected because data already exists about key leaders and stakeholders and for their comparative value with the other two resource-dependent communities. Criterion for case study selection was that they clearly demonstrate explicit (and implicit links) among and between networks, social capital and sustainable community development.
Each case builds upon the internationally recognized Onyx and Bullen scale (2000), which will be adapted for the Canadian case study communities, and will be adapted to include key indicators for measuring agency, and ideally the dynamics between the three concepts. We will investigate the relationships among agency, social capital, network formation, and sustainable community development examining the following hypotheses:
- critical nodes and connectors in networks play a pivotal role in building social capital at the community level, through individual agency;
- evidence of plentiful social capital leads to greater agency to respond to external impacts; and,
- diverse bridging ties and dense network formations contribute to sustainable community development.
Case studies will explore in depth the following research questions with leaders, connectors and key stakeholders in the case study communities.
- Are agency, social capital and sustainable community development related to one another?
- Can agency be measured?
- Are there key actors or connectors who facilitate bridging and networking?
- What differentiates these people/communities from other members of the network?
- How do they perceive their role in the network?
- What are the patterns of leadership and are they critical to bridging and vertical social capital?
- Does membership in overlapping networks give greater agency to a community?
The specific indicators of agency and social capital that will be examined in each case study network are node characteristics; relational connections; network structure; leadership; and, resilience (Newman and Dale 2005), and social capital.
While it is important to try and operationalize agency for the purposes of the research project, the greater research question may be where is agency located? Other relevant questions include is it scalable, and replicable? Can agency reside at micro, meso and macro levels, and can it be measured as agency = (social capital + capacity + reason to act) – barriers to action? How is it qualitatively different from capacity?