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Current project

Social Capital

Researching social media data to better understand how different forms of social connections between people affect the opportunities they have in their lives.

We are leading a partnership with the RSA, Stripe Partners, and the Neighborly Lab on a unique research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation.  

Working with Meta’s ‘Data for Good programme’ we will leverage insights from social media data to better understand how different 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 long been a challenge, due to the difficulty in observing and measuring social relationships. However, for the first time, we will have exclusive access to social connection data from Facebook and Instagram’s UK users, enabling us to shed new light on our relationships, and how they impact our lives.

Our work will mirror and extend ground-breaking work done in the USA by Prof Raj Chetty and Harvard colleagues. Our project will first draw on similar UK data to examine how social capital relates to social mobility and other life outcomes, such as health and education. We will then conduct in-depth qualitative research in those areas to better understand the mechanisms underlying social capital, before co-developing policy recommendations to foster social capital locally and nationally.

Our research

  1. Quantitative researchunderstanding the impact of social capital and where it is created. We will analyse anonymised data from 50 million Facebook users and 30 million Instagram users to identify the impact of social capital on social mobility and other life outcomes
  2. Qualitative research – understanding how social capital is created. We will adopt an ethnographic approach, comparing demographically similar areas with differing social capital, to gather insights into how social capital is created in the real world.
  3. Policy designactionable approaches for building social capital. We will develop policy solutions by combining the insights from the quantitative and qualitative research, participatory research with people living in the community, and input from policymakers to ensure the recommendations are practical, feasible and impactful.

Our goals

  • 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 and academic publications.

To get in contact with BIT about this project please contact Dr Antionio Silva

Our funding 

The work of the Behavioural Insights Team, the RSA, Stripe partners and the Neighbourly lab on this project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Contributions from Meta and Opportunity Insights are self-funded.

The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

Nuffield Foundation