Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015: Attitudes to Social Networks, Civic Participation and Co-production

Published: 29 Aug 2016
Part of:

Report of the findings from the 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.

42 page PDF

818.0 kB

42 page PDF

818.0 kB

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015: Attitudes to Social Networks, Civic Participation and Co-production
1 Introduction

42 page PDF

818.0 kB

1 Introduction

1.1 This report presents findings from the 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. It explores levels of social capital in Scotland by addressing a number of key questions:

  • How connected are people to their local area and to what extent do people belong to social networks?
  • Which groups are more likely to feel they belong to their local area and have strong social networks?
  • What is the strength of the relationship between place and levels of social capital?
  • Are people engaging in civic activities or volunteering and do they believe that things can change in their local area?
  • Are people in Scotland supportive of the idea of co-production?

1.2 Most of the questions included in this module of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015 were new and therefore do not have time series data available. Two questions were repeat items: one on whether people feel they have someone to turn for advice and support; and one on involvement in activities to register what people think about an issue. Therefore, time series data is available and reported below.

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

1.3 Run annually by ScotCen Social Research since 1999, the Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey provides a robust and reliable picture of changing public attitudes over time. SSA is based on face-to-face interviews with a representative random probability sample of those aged 18 and over in Scotland. In 2015 the sample size was 1,288, with fieldwork taking place between July 2015 and January 2016. Data are weighted in order to correct for non-response bias and over-sampling, and to ensure that they reflect the age-sex profile of the Scottish population. Further technical details about the survey are published in a separate SSA 2015 technical report. [1]

1.4 All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. All differences described in the text (between years, or between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size if there was no actual difference in the population is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance, and is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and analysis are included in the separate technical report.

What is 'social capital'?

1.5 The concept of 'social capital' provides a framework for exploring a range of individual and community-based assets (Ormston and Reid, 2012) which may have 'forceful, even quantifiable effects on many different aspects of our lives' (Putnam, 2000). High levels of social capital have been linked with 'a multiplicity of desirable policy outcomes' ( ONS, 2001) in areas such as employment (Aguilera, 2002), crime (Siegler, 2015), and physical and mental wellbeing (Mackinnon et al, 2006). Social capital is also seen as contributing to heightened levels of trust in both individuals and institutions (Reid et al, 2014) and to a sense of individual and community empowerment (Siegler, 2015).

1.6 Although social capital has the potential to bring about a range of positive effects, the impacts of social capital are not necessarily beneficial (Aldridge et al, 2002). Declining social capital may lead to individuals facing difficulties in 'accessing new opportunities or valuable resources for dealing with life challenges' (Siegler, 2015), whilst the existence of high levels of social capital within particular groups in society coupled with low levels of social capital between those groups has the potential to divide rather than unite communities (Aldridge et al, 2002).

1.7 Although social capital is a complex and nuanced concept (Reid et al, 2014) that can be difficult to define ( ONS, 2001), there is a general consensus that the concept focuses on the importance of social networks (Bordieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988) and shared 'norms of reciprocity' (Harper, 2002). These elements are encapsulated in Putnam's (2000) definition of social capital as 'networks, norms and trust that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives'. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD) view social capital as 'networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups' (Cote and Healy, 2001). More recently, the Office for National Statistics (2014) have referred to social capital as representing 'social connections and all the benefits they generate'; as Woolcock (2001) asserts, those who are well connected are more likely to be 'housed, healthy, hired and happy'.

Social capital and policymaking

1.8 The concept of social capital has become widely accepted and applied (Adam and Roncevic, 2004). It is increasingly seen in a policy context. For example, institutions such as the OECD (Cote and Healy, 2001) and the World Bank (2011) have emphasised the importance of social capital to the achievement of social and economic goals, while the Cabinet Office have recognised social capital as one of the pillars of sustainable development, alongside natural capital and human capital (Siegler, 2015).

1.9 Acceptance of the positive impacts of social capital on a range of well-being aspects has been noted by policymakers in Scotland ( SCDC, 2012; Burns, 2011; Sigerson & Gruer 2011), where strong, resilient communities are central to many of the Scottish Government's key strategic objectives and national outcomes (Ormston and Reid, 2012). High levels of social capital are seen to have an impact on helping to achieve policy aims in areas as varied as reducing health inequalities (Health and Sport Committee, 2015), improving public services (Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015) and reducing reoffending (McNeill, 2009). The achievement of such goals in turn helps to build levels of social capital, thus creating a cyclical relationship between social capital levels and beneficial outcomes. Robust measures of social capital in Scotland are therefore of significant value to policymakers tackling a range of issues across key policy areas.

1.10 This acceptance has been coupled with an increasing interest in involving the public more actively in reshaping how public services are designed and delivered in Scotland (Loeffer et al., 2013). One such approach is 'co-production', defined broadly as 'delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours' (Boyle and Harris, 2009). The concepts of co-production and social capital can be seen as interrelated; co-production approaches both have the potential to build trust and improve relationships between service users and service providers, and to contribute to 'more cohesive communities and offer new channels for the creation of social capital' (Barker, 2010). A greater understanding of public attitudes towards co-production and how this approach works in practice enables policymakers to maximise the benefits of such processes, and to allow communities 'to become far more effective agents of change' (ibid.).

1.11 SSA has included questions on aspects of social capital in previous years. Most notably, SSA 2011 findings were used in two reports: one exploring how attitudes varied in relation to different dimensions of social capital (Ormston, et al, 2012a); and one exploring the relationship between health and social capital (Ormston, et al, 2012b).

1.12 The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter Two discusses social networks and examines people's sense of belonging to their local area.
  • Chapter Three explores levels of civic participation, volunteering, community action and contact with local community groups.
  • Chapter Four looks at attitudes towards public involvement in the design and delivery of local public services, with a focus on co-production
  • Finally, Chapter Five summarises the main conclusions of the report.


Email: Paul Sloan,