the Athena Group

Athena Bulletin

The Athena Group's Social Capital Assessment

An earlier entry on this topic made a case for intentional measurement and management of social capital within both organizations and multi-stakeholder or cross-sector collaborations.   We also introduced the new Social Capital Assessment designed to enable an organization to survey and assess its baseline and ongoing levels of social capital.  

This post briefly describes a recent experience with a client to assess its social capital and to identify specific ways to focus time and resources, and how to increase trust, foster more beneficial norms of working and communicating,  and build more robust and open networks.


In fact, research shows that a reasonably high degree of social capital is an essential prerequisite for functional organizations and any form of collective action.  To help organizations and teams do their best work we developed the new Social Capital Assessment (SCA).  

As we were developing the SCA, we were confident that it would provide useful data to any organization or team. The results of the SCA—a Social Capital Profile—provide multi-layered, qualitative information that can assist in identifying opportunities to better facilitate the creation of greater levels of *social capital within an organization or network.

*Social capital, according to author Margaret Heffernan, is the secret ingredient that makes some teams better than others.  It consists of trust, healthy norms, the robust flow of knowledge and information, and the number and quality of social connections).

In the earliest stages of introducing this tool with a client, (an international mindfulness organization based in British Columbia called Clear Sky), we understood that like any tool, the value resides more in the intention around its use than in the tool itself.  This was indeed the case with Clear Sky.

During our initial conversations with the leadership of Clear Sky, we emphasized the idea that unless there is an authentic desire to learn and grow, the results of their efforts would be minimal and possibly even counter-productive.  

People can become more distrustful, cynical, or disengaged if they perceive that the employee satisfaction survey they are being asked to fill out would be just another perfunctory exercise and would not be taken seriously by management.  We’ve all seen recent studies showing historically low levels of employee satisfaction with their workplaces.  A new in-depth survey of 30,000 workers worldwide by Mercer, revealed that between 28% and 56% of employees in 17 spots around the globe wanted to leave their jobs.

Fortunately for the members of Clear Sky, their leadership group entered the process with a good deal of curiosity, humility, trust in people’s knowledge and experience, and a desire for growth and transformation.  They also shared a desire to make their meetings and decision-making processes more participative.  

The first thing that the Clear Sky members saw from the leadership group was a generous email invitation.  The language served as an early signal of the genuine intention of the group.  The questions asked in the Assessment tool were not the first, but a second signal that this was going to be more than just another routine exercise.  

The process didn’t end there, though.  Once we had completed the Social Capital Profile (the results of the assessment) the leadership group had a choice.  The smaller leadership team could work with The Athena Group to interpret the results of the assessment, develop a set of strategies for increasing social capital where it was seen to be low, and then only share that with the larger membership.  Or, the group could open the process up right from the start and include the membership in the conversation.  They chose the latter.

We were invited to design and host a series of three 90-minute conversations with both the leadership group and the members about possibilities for growing even more social capital over time.  Through those conversations, it became clear that the very act of administering the Assessment within Clear Sky, along with the intentional approach taken throughout the process, helped its people feel more connected, established improved communication norms, and built more trust; in other words, built more social capital.  

Undertaking the SCA process with Athena Group’s Paul Horton allowed the Clear Sky community to engage in ways we hadn’t before, and we felt greatly enriched overall. We became more aware of how our community felt both challenged by and committed to different aspects of our organization, and the process empowered us to think about and discuss these feelings and perceptions together, without being burdened by the need of a few to trumpet or fix them.  About 25 of us engaged in the process. Much of our collaboration happens intermittently and virtually, and it was heartening that undertaking this work instilled a feeling of connection, trust, and interdependence that we hadn’t known existed theretofore.

Catherine, Clear Sky

Please contact us if you would like to learn more about the Social Capital Assessment.


  • Initial meeting to clarify client’s context and needs (e.g. assessment recipients, desired outcomes, boundaries and limitations, etc.) and outline a plan of action
  • Assist client with language for an initial email invitation to recipients introducing the SCA (what is social capital, why are we inviting you to complete it, what will happen with the results, anonymous, etc.)
  • Support client administering the SCA
  • Review and analyze the data
  • Provide Social Capital Profile including initial recommendations on opportunities to increase social capital where it is found to be low
  • Assist client with follow-up messaging / email language to recipients

Depending on the specific client and the context, The Athena Group may also be willing to design and facilitate a small handful of meetings or conversations with recipients of the assessment to explore opportunities to build greater levels of social capital.

Please contact Paul Horton if you are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity to proactively identify gaps in social capital in your world and take active steps to increase your potential for effective collective action.


Paul Horton is a leadership and strategy coach and organizational change professional with 25 years of experience working with the public, private, non-profit, and higher education sectors. He sees his work as helping leaders navigate complexity and change, lead with clarity, and achieve internal alignment and coherence. Paul specializes in using dialogue-based, participatory approaches to engage diverse perspectives, build social capital, and improve organizational outcomes. He is skilled at facilitating meetings where there is a high degree difference or divisiveness, and tha t generate personal insights and uncover innovative possibilities for moving forward. Paul is a principle member of The Athena Group.