Mapping social capital, economic vulnerability, and collective action in times of COVID 19 - Part II

During this experience, we learned about the importance of networks of collective action and mutual aid and launched a learning loop to study their role during the first year of the pandemic in Paraguay.

Posted 26 de Mayo de 2022

From day one of the COVID-19 Pandemic, solidary collective action emerged everywhere in Paraguay. Despite the fact that, in the pandemic’s first wave, over 60% of Paraguayan households saw their income reduced and 20% of households faced food insecurity on at least one occasion, it is difficult to find someone who didn’t donate food to a community soup kitchen, buy a solidary raffle ticket, or didn’t offer help to someone in need. At the start of the Pandemic, #AccLabPY focused on supporting these initiatives to build networks of collaboration and social innovation that can respond to these challenges. 

During this experience, we learned about the importance of networks of collective action and mutual aid and launched a learning loop to study their role during the first year of the pandemic in Paraguay.  In the first installment of this blog series, we introduced the concept of social capital and described how we mapped the density of social capital in relation to levels of need in Paraguay, as a method to discover and visualize the relationship between interpersonal networks, trust, and the articulation of solidary collective action. The lack of primary data on social capital, the lack of disaggregated secondary data, and the difficulties of constructing indicators to clearly distinguish between cause and effect in this phase of the project, limited the kinds of localized analysis that could inform and support public intervention. 

Therefore, for the exploration phase of the study, we designed and conducted a nationally representative survey of social capital, collective action, and economic vulnerability. In this installment we present the initial findings that emerged from analyzing the survey data, which are discussed in more detail in "Social capital and community action: do they contribute to the resilience of vulnerable territories in Paraguay during the COVID-19 pandemic? An analysis of the Survey of Social Capital, Economic Vulnerability and Collective Action." (English version coming soon)

Figure 1. Types of social capital according to the structure of interpersonal networks

Refining our learning, glimpsing the way forward

The question underlying this phase of the study is: what is the effect of social capital and trust on collective action and household vulnerability? 

To generate a more robust answer to this question, between December 2020 and January 2021, we carried out a survey of 1,200 households, representative of Paraguay’s eastern region as well as three population strata : the metropolitan area of Asunción, large non-metropolitan urban agglomerations (Ciudad del Este, Encarnación and Pedro Juan Caballero and their agglomerates), and medium and small districts.

Figure 2. Map of collected responses to the survey, by department

Figure 3. Summary table of collected responses to the survey, by strata of our sample.

Figure 4. The full survey design is available clicking this image (in Spanish)

After the survey responses were collected, we constructed indexes for each of the surveys modules (Figure 4) to measure the phenomena observed during the pandemic: trust, social capital, collective action, collective assets, and economic vulnerability. Then, these data were submitted to a series of statistical and econometric analyses to build regression models that test the set of hypotheses about the relationship between these variables. As a whole, the models test whether the level of of trust and social capital within a household is related to the level of collective action in their community and whether community collective action reduces household vulnerability. 

Figure 5. Summary of the most salient results from analyzing this survey

Given these results (Figure  5), what are some potential social or policy interventions to 1) increase access and facilitate participation in the management of public spaces and other collective assets, 2) strengthen the networks of mutual aid and social capital that were activated during the pandemic to reduce vulnerability, and 3) link these processes to territorial development?

To explore possibilities, we posed these questions to expert representatives of the public, private, and civil society sectors and recorded their ideas and comments in a supplement to the study, which will guide our exploration of opportunities for participatory governance as a space for experimentation in this learning loop. 

In brief, the recommendations included linking the findings to other variables and indicators, such as the Human Development Index or measures of clientelism, and participants suggested interventions to invest in the maintenance of public spaces and collective assets. 

One possible mechanism to reduce vulnerability stands out from the study and the expert feedback: fostering interpersonal relationships with institutional authorities for the construction and strengthening of collective assets that reduce vulnerabilities, for example community water and sanitations systems or communal public spaces. 

Specifically, a possible follow-up to the present study is a social innovation process that involves neighborhood commissions (or other types of local spaces for citizen engagement) in the participatory design of community spaces, in which the commissions' decisions on budget allocations for the construction and operation of a community space or service with the potential to reduce vulnerability are binding. AccLabPy is currently exploring opportunities for this type of process and for evaluating its impact on the levels of trust, social capital, and vulnerability among participants. If you have ideas, please contact us! 

By Claudia Montania, Cristhian Parra, Gustavo Setrini, Monica Rios. 

Translation and contributions by Steven McCutcheon Rubio. 

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Para leer en español, click aquí.