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Measuring Belonging and Civic Muscle

Updated: Apr 17

Belonging and Civic Muscle, a Vital Condition for Well-Being, is about having fulfilling relationships and social support that people need to thrive. It’s about being part of a community and contributing to its vibrancy. Here at IP3, we work with communities and organizations that are committed to increasing belonging and civic muscle but are unsure how to measure it. Through constructs such as social support, social inclusion, social cohesion, civic engagement, social capital, and social infrastructure we can unpack and understand our community’s experience of belonging and civic muscle capacity. The measures offered here are exploratory--a starter list for learning together about what it takes to engender belonging and build civic muscle in our communities.

Social Support & Well-Being

Social support through friends, family, and other networks contributes to our practical and emotional needs, enhances mental well-being, helps us navigate life’s challenges, and reinforces healthy behaviors. People with a stronger sense of efficacy, belonging, and social connectedness tend to live healthier, happier lives. Thriving and social and emotional support indicators paint a picture of social support and well-being.

Social Inclusion

Social inclusion is the process of creating equal opportunities for people to achieve their full potential. Many groups including people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA2+ people, women, and incarcerated people experience social exclusion--lack or denial of resources, rights, goods and services--resulting in and exacerbating health and economic disparities. Several useful indicators through which to examine concepts of social inclusion and social exclusion include disconnection among youth, incarceration levels, linguistic isolation, and access to information and resources.

Social Cohesion

At the community and neighborhood level, social cohesion strengthens social ties and engenders collective attachment and belonging. Higher levels of social cohesion are associated with higher levels of trust, cooperation, and social capital, providing the necessary foundation for working together across groups and sectors, and building the “civic infrastructure” for community members to co-create a shared future. These patterns can create a virtuous cycle—working together supports stronger communication and develops a sense of connectedness and mutual obligation. Indicators related to population change and mobility, racism and hate, and political isolation aid in understanding social cohesion at a local level.

Community & Civic Engagement

Relatedly, the concepts of community and civic engagement is about participating in society, and political and non-political actions to protect public values or make change. Engaged communities often have greater social capital, or networks of and between groups and individuals with shared norms, values, and understanding that facilitates cooperation within and between groups. Through increased community and civic engagement and the growth of social capital, civic muscle is built. These concepts can be examined with indicators such as voting participation, census engagement, and Social Capital Index.

Civic Institutions & Social Infrastructure

Civic institutions like parks, libraries, cultural facilities, and other public and nonprofit institutions are cornerstones of civic democracy. Such institutions are vital for healthy, connected communities that enable all people to thrive. They make up our social infrastructure--which when robust fosters relationships, engagement, collaboration, and connectedness between individuals and across groups. In this respect, social infrastructure sets the stage for building civic muscle. Below are several indicators that help us measure the strength and capacity of our civic institutions and social infrastructure.

This list is certainly incomplete, and publicly accessible data only paints a picture with broad strokes. When used in combination with community engagement activities and local data, the picture comes into focus and we can begin to see how we continue creating together.

Learn more about the Vital Conditions for Well-Being and Belonging & Civic Muscle on Community Commons.


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