The paper examines whether the concept of social capital can be applied to facilitate our understanding of online networks in development. It first argues that knowledge and learning are important to development and development actors. Much of the knowledge generation and social learning in development takes place in networks. These networks, now increasingly going online, thus have an important role to play in facilitating social learning and the improvement of development practices. Although there seems to be a general feeling that these online networks are a positive force in development, there are many unknowns about these networks, partly because they are in their infancy. New ideas and tools are needed to facilitate our understanding.

The concept of social capital has been applied to examine the functioning of groups and societies. More recently, it has also been applied to development and to online networks outside development. Given this background, it may offer a useful approach for increasing understanding of online networks in development. With this objective in mind, three non-development approaches for examining social capital in online networks and communities are reviewed. Elements of these approaches, into which development-related aspects are incorporated, are combined to produce a framework which aims to facilitate the analysis of social capital in online networks in a development context.

Development Informatics Working Paper No. 16

Sarah Cummings
Richard Heeks
Marleen Huysman
© Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 2003, 26 pages ISBN 1 904143 41 5