The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, RTI International, and the ncIMPACT Initiative at the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill partnered together on the project, Strengthening Services through Social Capital.

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.

This project uses expert consultations, a program scan, and case studies to better understand how human services organizations help participants build and leverage social capital to improve economic opportunity.

The ncIMPACT Initiative, along with our partners, set out to answer the following specific questions for this project:

  1. How do organizations, including faith-based, non-profit, and public agencies, in low-income communities currently build and leverage social capital to reduce poverty, increase employment, and improve child and family well-being?
  2. How can human services programs and HHS policies better build and leverage social capital?

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The partnership aims to answer these questions through a variety of methodologies:

  1. Expert consultations – We are consulting with 13 experts, including researchers, practitioners, and state and federal policymakers at every stage in the project.
  2. Program Scan – We will be conducting a scan of human services programs using social capital and findings from about 30 strong program examples.
  3. Case Studies – We’ll do a deeper dive to understand how some of the programs are helping program participants create or use social capital.
  4. Identification of Emerging Practices – We’ll use project learnings to identify emerging practices that other human services and faith-based agencies could use to help program participants build or leverage social capital.
  5. Site Visits – We’ll visit some reentry programs to understand how they use social capital to strengthen their programming and improve participant outcomes.



  • Case Studies
    • Below are a series of case studies about human services programs that are helping participants build and use social capital in diverse ways. They cover a range of human services domains and have different emphases on bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. These case studies were selected for their focus on incorporating strategies to help participants build and use social capital, and not for other aspects of their programming.
      • Family Independence Initiative – Detroit (PDF) partners with families to form small cohorts that meet regularly to hold each other accountable toward achieving their goals by leveraging their existing social capital, tracking progress through technology, and using small grants from the program;
      • CAP Tulsa (PDF) uses a two-generation approach that intentionally creates opportunities for families to build and use social capital by using a peer-to-peer cohort model that encourages families to connect with each other and develop a peer support network;
      • Roca, Inc. (PDF) “relentlessly” engages high-risk young people in Maryland and Massachusetts to help them tap into new, positive social networks, including with employers in the community;
      • Teen Challenge Arizona (PDF) offers faith-based residential drug and alcohol recovery centers that foster relationships with others going through similar experiences to build and leverage participants’ social capital; and
      • Connections to Success (PDF) helps individuals in the St. Louis and Kansas City, MO regions build lasting social capital ties with their peers and others in the community through the use of one-on-one mentoring and professional development classes to support employment and other goals.
  • Webinars
    • Human services professionals know the relationships they develop matter, as do those they help foster with others outside of their organization. Yet they often struggle with how to measure and track the ways those relationships and social connections contribute to program outcomes.
    • We can help. Click on this link for a webinar that:
      • Provides an overview of social capital—the value that arises from relationships—and describes why human services programs should try to measure and evaluate their success in helping participants build social capital;
      • Offers concrete examples of ways to measure social capital in human services programs, and key considerations in doing so;
      • Explores the value of logic models and approaches for documenting social capital inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes in a program logic model;
      • Demonstrates how one program is tracking social capital to measure program outcomes, support programming, and build evidence of success.
  • Podcast
    • The COVID-19 pandemic is causing people around the world to question how this virus will affect the public and private systems that we all use. Click here to hear ncIMPACT director Anita Brown-Graham’s thoughts about how Social Capital relates to Viewpoints on Resilient & Equitable Responses to the Pandemic.This podcast is part of a series produced by UNC’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.


  • Handbook
  • In-person trainings












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