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  • Harry Hobson & Marnie Freeman

Researching Social Capital at Scale: Our New Project

We are working with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in partnersh

ip with Stripe Partners and the RSA, on a first of its kind research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Working with Meta's 'Data for Good programme' we will leverage insights from Facebook data to better understand how all forms of social connections between people affect the opportunities they have in their lives. We call this ‘social capital’.

Researching social capital at scale has been historically difficult. However, for the first time, we will have exclusive access to Facebook and Instagram social connections data for the UK.

Our work will mirror the ground-breaking work done in the USA headed by Raj Chetty, Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. The UK project will draw on equivalent UK data to examine how social capital relates to social mobility and other life outcomes, such as health and education.

Our research

  • Phase one: analysing anonymised data from 50 million Facebook users and 30 million Instagram users to identify the impact of social capital on social mobility and the factors that help to create it.

  • Phase two: carrying out interviews in four demographically similar areas with differing social capital to provide qualitative insights into how social capital works in the real world.

  • Phase three: bringing together people who have a role in building social capital (e.g. teachers, social workers) and community members to envision and design practical ways to build social connections and capital.

“Rigorous, independent research is the best way to help us understand the impact that the social connections people make on platforms like Facebook and Instagram have on the world. This new partnership will help us deepen our understanding of the relationship between social connections and economic opportunity in the UK.”

Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, Meta

Our outcomes

Our social connections activity has three main aims:

  • Make social capital a more easily understandable area of policy and research.

  • Design actionable and evidence-based ways to build social capital.

  • Empower local leaders and communities to build solutions tailored to their needs.

Policymaker briefings, local government briefings, an open-source data visualisation tool, journal articles, and a social capital toolkit will be produced in addition to a publicly available report.

“BIT is excited to lead this project, combining big data, qualitative work in communities and policy development to answer not just ‘why does social connection matter?’ but ‘what can we do to foster it?’ too. As the largest social networking site in the world, working with Meta provides a unique opportunity to understand our social connections and how they affect our lives.”

DR. Antonio Silva, Head of Social Cohesion, BIT

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