Collaboration in Civic Spheres

In Praise Of Bridges And Bowling

by March 29th, 2010

In this ever-expanding conversation of all things “social” with “capital,” it is time for me to talk about bridges and bowling. In Robert Putnam’s groundbreaking and influential book, Bowling Alone, he identifies two kinds of social capital: bonding vs. bridging. Social bonding occurs between people who share cultural or political similarities — your family, church congregation, political club, etc. Bridging happens when people from different backgrounds, culture or ideology get together to share in an activity like, you guessed it, a bowling league.

Putnam and other social scientists have been documenting the decline of our participation in social institutions and what it means for individuals, communities, governments, and our society at large. According to Putnam, there has been a 58% drop in attending club meetings over the past couple of generations. The downside, argues Putnam, is that…

“Bridging builds trust and where people are trusting and trustworthy, and where they are subject to repeated interactions with fellow citizens, everyday business and social transactions are less costly.”

While Countywide Community Forums hasn’t formed an official bowling league, the program does have a track record in the bridge building area of social capital.

One of the main goals of the program is to build social capital and help strengthen community. Since participants are given a chance to gather in small groups, watch an informational video, and discuss topics at length, the CCF model creates the environment and opportunity for bridge building. In fact, 57% of participants in Round 2 and 65% of participants in Round 4 said that the forum discussion changed their views on the topic.

Almost half of respondents said that they answered some questions differently because they gained a new perspective during the discussion time.

From City Hall to the Unincorporated Areas of King County, the buzz is about how to better connect individuals to the welfare and long-term health of their communities. While participation in formal social institutions maybe on the decline, we can still harness new technology and the need for human interaction to increase civic engagement.

Forums begin May 1 and run through June 13. Come and build a bridge! Sign up here to join Countywide Community Forums.

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