Analysing Social Capital for Career Development

Monday, 26. September 2016
Kevin McAreavey


Social capital is a broad term in Sociology. One definition is that “social capital consists of the stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind members of human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible” [1]. There is growing acceptance that social capital is as important as that of traditional human capital (i.e. the skills, knowledge and experience of employees) for individual career progression and for organisations as a whole [2]. For example, social capital is a key indicator of the potential for cooperation, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Thus, social capital supports the efficient use of human capital.


Social Capital
Social Capital [3]


In DEVELOP, we aim to study how computational social network analysis (SNA) can be used to evaluate and measure an individual’s social capital through evidence from virtual social network data. It is hoped that this information can then be used to highlight suitable learning interventions for individuals to pursue their personal career goals.  Moreover, it is hoped that we can provide feedback about the development of an individual’s social capital over time through the analysis of concept drift. While our focus is on the employee, this work will also have clear benefits for the organisation as a whole.

In a previous blog post, we described how DEVELOP will model virtual workspace social networks as graphs. Through the application of SNA techniques on these graphs, we aim analyse an employee’s position within these networks as a means to characterise their social capital. For example, using SNA, it is possible to identify communities (i.e. social groups) and then to identify bridges between communities (i.e. those actors who form important connections between two or more social groups). Other possibilities include measuring the strength of ties, identifying knowledge brokers, and so on.  From the perspective of the organisation, this information will provide useful insights for talent management and for the identification of skills gaps. For the employee, this information will offer valuable insights into personal career development opportunities within the organisation.

Social capital has proven benefits for organisations and for individuals, ranging from improved employee retention [2] to faster career progression [4] to increased performance [5]. Over the coming years, DEVELOP will offer important contribution to this emerging field through new state-of-the-art computational techniques for SNA.



[1] D. Cohen and P. Laurence (2001). In good company: How social capital makes organizations work. Harvard Business Press.

[2] V. Krebs (2008). Social capital: the key to success for the 21st century organization. IHRIM Journal 12(5): 38-42.

[3] K. Lend (2016). Social Capital. Retrieved 27 September 2016, from

[4] R.S. Burt (2000). The Network Structure of Social Capital. Research in Organizational Behavior, eds. R.I. Sutton and B.M. Staw, JAI Press.

[5] E.A. Rosenthal (1996). Social Networks and Team Performance. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.