NCERA215: Contribution of 4-H Participation to the Development of Social Capital Within Communities

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA215: Contribution of 4-H Participation to the Development of Social Capital Within Communities

Duration: 10/01/2019 to 09/30/2024

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

While the benefits of 4-H participation are well documented for youth, little is known about the impact of 4-H participation on community social capital, largely due to measurement challenges. 4-H programs foster youth-adult partnerships that encourage active participation by youth and adults, often over many years. The development of habits of community contribution is a key outcome of 4-H programs (Lerner et al, 2008) and a marker of community health that requires renewal in each generation. We wish to determine how these unique partnerships contribute to the well being of youth and of the greater community in which the 4-H development program is based. For the purposes of this project, the words 4-H and 4-H youth development have the same meaning and refer to any youth program of Cooperative Extension, unless 4-H club is singled out for specific purposes.

Does the 4-H Youth Development Program build connections between caring adults, organizations, and young people which foster social capital for both participants and the community? This is the overarching research question the Multi-State Education/Extension and Research Activity project will continue to explore. Robert Putnam (2000) defines social capital as the connections among individuals and the social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. Two central tenets of social capital are that social networks have value and relationships matter. Research has determined that social capital is an important component in the equation for positive youth development; additional research suggests the presence of social capital is a predictor of community action and engagement, and therefore, community development (Agnitsch, Flora & Ryan, 2006). Thus, our focus on 4-H programming and social capital has implications for both 4-H and Community Development educators. Over the past nine years both have benefited from opportunities to participate in research and to learn about the program implications emerging from the work of the NCERA 215 team in developing quantitative and qualitative measures and sharing findings across the system.

Transitioning to our next five-year plan, the multi-state project will continue to examine these topics by studying the correlation between social capital development and diverse types of 4-H programs across the country. James Comer, MD, in a keynote address to CYFAR attendees said, "I'm convinced we can create the kinds of social capital inner city kids, rural kids, and all kids...need to be successful in school and then in life (2008)." It is the intent of our continuing project to study how 4-H Youth Development Programs contribute to the development of individual and community social capital. We have also begun to explore what 4-H program experiences contribute to the development of social capital for youth who have inequitable access to social capital networks and resources.

Our results and related resources will continue to foster and enhance positive youth development as well as community development. This work is especially important now as funding structures for youth and community development are in flux and evidence to support positive consequences related to extension programming is even more critical to maintaining existing and developing new funding streams. Strong representation from diverse regions and both urban and rural program environments affords our team an opportunity to study the social capital implications of different Extension youth program practices across different geographies and cultures.

The Technical Feasibility of the Research

Our first NCERA project focused on developing and piloting the approaches and tools necessary to address our research questions. The California pilot provided us the opportunity to refine those tools and approaches and to determine that the larger research plan is feasible. The last five years expanded distribution to Maryland, West Virginia and Maine. There are two additional states that will be implementing the survey by 2019. As we move into the next five-year plan, we will refine the rubric and consider connections to the 4-H Thrive model that is being rolled out nationally.This will allow us to look for relationships between types of programs and social capital outcomes. While states have bought into this study, our challenges are primarily related to identifying funding sources that can support the expansion of a sample and the development of pragmatic resources. The results of the multi-year project over the course of the study will allow the team to address the research questions related to how social capital is formed as a result of 4-H programming and to test the hypotheses developed to examine the relationships among variables.



  1. To convene researchers, Extension educators, and faculty whose research, teaching and/or practice involves youth and community development in order to foster interdisciplinary work on social capital and community youth development.
  2. To fund and implement a major national research project utilizing the tools already piloted and validated by this project to explore how the 4-H Program contributes to the development of social capital within communities
    Comments: Specifically -To determine 4-H experiences that contributes to the development of youths' social capital. -To identify and analyze how the quantity and quality of the 4-H Program's community involvement impacts the level of social capital among youth and adult volunteers -To identify and analyze how the quantity and quality of the 4-H Program's community involvement impacts the development of social capital within the community-
  3. To refine existing and develop new measurement tools to identify and analyze how the 4-H Program impacts the level of the various capitals (as identified in the Community Capital Framework) within the community.
  4. To improve the quality of community youth development practice in the Extension system and beyond
    Comments: By: -Disseminating research findings -Creating and delivering training modules on effective program practices -Submitting the Toolkit for peer review. Develop Toolkit 2.0 with practical tools for educators.

Procedures and Activities

The purpose of this research project is to study whether the 4-H Youth Development Program builds connections between non-family caring adults and young people which foster social capital for both participants and the community. This is a renewal of a project that has successfully sustained engagement of a diverse national team in both research and extension activities. A renewed NCERA 215 will continue to involve Cooperative Extension and land-grant university faculty from California, Maryland, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The participation of these states and possibly others, from all regions of the country, will allow the study to take place in varied communities throughout the country.

Cooperative Extension faculty/educators and researchers involved in this research project will be responsible for recruitment of 4-H programs in their respective states to expand our research study (numbers of sites within states to be determined). Members of the project team have been meeting via monthly teleconference calls, annual in-person meetings and additional meetings at various conferences.

New members have joined the team, several since the renewal project was announced via NIMSS, and are actively participating in team discussions. As an example, West Virginia became a new project member in 2017 and has been approved by the Institutional Review Board approval to replicate the survey in several counties. Findings have been shared in multiple peer-reviewed journals and conferences in addition to webinars and other training opportunities.

For our next five-year plan we have assembled a diverse, multi-disciplinary, and committed team, with the capacity to plan, implement, conduct and complete the research has been assembled. Accessing many perspectives in the group: youth development and community development researchers and community-based practitioners has been essential to our success. The research program has been piloted and launched in our first nine years and  the team is now ready for expansion and dissemination of pragmatic resources to enhance social capital outcomes. Extension activities will continue to focus on improving program quality by sharing findings with practitioners through presentations and training.

Research Questions:

  1. What 4-H Program experiences contribute to the development of youths' social capital? Specific sub questions include:

    1. What youth roles in community engagement are most associated with social capital development? How does the range of youth program delivery methods in the Extension system—clubs, afterschool programs, short-term opportunities, issue-focused activities—vary in the social capital they build for youth?

    2. What are the characteristics of programs that build bonding, bridging and linking social capital?

    3. NEW: What 4-H program experiences contribute to the development of social capital for youth who have inequitable access to social capital networks and resources?

  2.  How does the 4-H Program's community involvement impact the development of social capital within the community? Additional specific questions of interest to both the team and the Extension system include:

    1. How are population subgroups—urban/rural, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity—building social capital through 4-H involvement?

    2. How is the social capital of adult partners changed by involvement with youth in community programs

    3. How does social capital development incorporating youth in community networks contribute to overall community engagement?

Conceptual framework, research methods, data collection instruments and modes of analysis:

We have built on our preliminary research (from the 2009-14 Multistate Project), which engaged 4-H members in mapping the impact of their work on the community using the community capitals framework (Emery, & Fey, 2006; Emery & Flora, 2006). Pilot data collection in diverse communities in ten states led to initial findings about the characteristics of 4-H youth program experiences that link social capital development to youth civic engagement. An example is the finding that engaging 4-H youth in activities that are important to other organizations and adults in the broader community changes community members’ perception of youth and their readiness to engage youth in civic activities. As a result of the nationwide mapping activity, we identified key questions related to a young person’s sense of agency within their communities of place and interest; these questions will be tested with the revised version of the social capital survey, and they have also been used to update the interviews.

Survey: The quantitative social capital survey assesses social capital stocks to determine the level of social capital, both at the individual level and in the community. The questions on the survey are informed by existing research on the factors that relate to the development of social capital, including the ongoing work of researchers and practitioners at the University of Minnesota. Pilot study data analysis was completed in the fall of 2013. The process was discussed in Enfield & Nathaniel (2013). The adult survey, to be used with community stakeholders, has already been validated by the University of Minnesota (Chazdon, et al, n.d.). A sampling process will focus on representing the 4-H population of participating states. Data will be maintained and analyzed by the team with reports to participating states.

Program Practice Rubric: A rubric for categorizing 4-H club community engagement is also being tested along with the other instruments. The rubric is based on community youth engagement theory and on findings from the data on program quality gathered earlier in the project. The team is working on developing an instrument sufficiently sensitive to allow comparison across 4-H units. This focus on strengthening the youth social capital survey to develop effective and valid instruments, will prepare us for the next step in the multistate research, which will scale up to include youth involved in 4-H programs in over 10 states.

Ripple Impact Mapping: Ripple Mapping is an evaluation tool, developed by members of our multi-state research group, which identifies changes and impacts resulting from the actions taken by the youth group (Baker, Calvert & Emery, 2011). Our Multi-state Research Group has chosen to combine a mapping strategy with Flora and Flora's (2008) Community Capitals Framework (Built, Natural, Cultural, Social, Human, Financial, and Political) as touchstones for three probing questions that encourage youth-adult partnership members to think about the impact their projects or activities have had on their community.


Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Strengthening the Capacity of 4-H Youth Development and Others to Measure and Communicate Community and Individual Social Capital Change Comments: The research methods and instruments developed by the team will be more widely used across the Extension system, making reliable information about social capital development available for the first time. The team’s experience has shown that this information is important to stakeholders and program participants. This project will address the need for more evidence-based programming in the areas of youth community engagement and citizenship.
  • Sharing Quality Program Practices in Building Youth Social Capital Comments: The team will develop and deliver training materials based on the findings of the research study. As we engage states in implementing the social capital research, we will develop a parallel process to examine and improve practices that lead to positive outcomes for youth and communities. The team will determine the best format for these materials, but they are likely to include national or state-level webinars and curriculum for in-person workshops. We will also provide coaching and follow-up for those implementing the materials leading to broader collaboration across program areas and states to generate programming that leads to measurable changes in social capital and youth and community efficacy.
  • Engaging Multiple Cooperative Extension Program Areas Comments: The Cooperative Extension system has increased its focus on the intersection of community and youth development. Two examples from the North Central region are Wisconsin’s Interdisciplinary Team Engaging Young People in Sustaining Communities, Families, and Farms and Nebraska’s focus on community development through the Rural Futures Institute. The team is an excellent venue to convene people to focus on related research and extension questions once we have implemented our current research program. We intend to convene team members and others to address questions such as: How can each of the program areas in Extension implement the identified social capital-building practices in their work with youth and communities? What are the applications of this work with 4-H youth to other underserved age groups, such as those aged 20-29?

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

This multi-state ERA project will benefit 4-H programs across the nation in a number of ways, including learning how the social networks formed as a natural outcome of 4-H involvement add value to young people and communities and that how we intentionally build relationships matters a great deal in the overall impact of youth programming. Specific actions proposed by the project's membership to disseminate findings and expand the awareness of the importance of social capital within 4-H, and between 4-H and communities will include:

  1. Publication of research findings within youth and community development journals such as Journal of Extension, Community Development Society Journal, or reports published by National 4-H Council or centers housed at land grant institutions.

  2. Publication of articles through professional organizations like NAE4-HA newsletters, other periodicals and interactive websites like 4-H ACCESS or CYFERnet.

  3. Presentation of findings at practitioner conferences such as the Children Youth and Families At-Risk (CYFAR) Conference, National Association of 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) Conference and/or Community Development Society Conference.

  4. Presentation of findings at youth-centered conferences such as National 4-H Conference, National 4-H Congress or Citizenship Washington Focus.

  5. Creation of white papers that synthesize the research findings on the potential for social capital formation within different 4-H modes of delivery and programs, such as Youth in Governance, 4-H Tech Teams, and GIS Community Mapping.

  6. Integration of the project’s methodologies and findings into credit-generating courses offered by the participating universities (e.g., Youth Development graduate courses through the Great Plains-IDEA alliance).

  7. Project member sharing of information in local forums emphasizing how youth development ultimately affects community development and social capital.

Many members are actively involved in education and outreach within their own states and institutions. There will be intentional focus on sharing 4-H program experiences and practices that contribute to the development of social capital for youth who have inequitable access to social capital networks and resources.  In addition, members will disseminate project findings though their state and national level networks through training that will ultimately benefit client groups.Therefore, a great deal of outreach and education regarding the role and importance of 4-H for building social capital will occur naturally and informally through the many connections and collaborations of the project's membership. Activating our networks to assist in disseminating the results of the research and the toolkits will increase opportunities to generate social capital in communities that stand to benefit from improved community social capital. We will capitalize on strengthened relationships between land-grant staff and faculty in in each state and/or tribal college to increase access to the research and use of the programming materials.



Project governance closely follows the recommended guidelines outlined in the Guidelines for ERA Projects. The recommended Standard Governance for multi-state ERA Projects includes the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. The Chair and Chair-elect will be elected for two-year terms to provide continuity, and the Secretary will be elected for a one-year term. Administrative guidance will be provided by the assigned Administrative Advisor and the NIFA Representative. The Chair is responsible for calling the meeting(s) and teleconferences, developing the agenda and conducting the meeting(s). He/she is also primarily responsible for coordinating with other regional committees. The Chair-elect is responsible for meeting(s) program(s) and conducting the meeting(s) and teleconferences in absence of the chair. The Secretary is responsible for keeping meeting minutes, including teleconferences, maintaining mailing lists, handling registration fees, and distributing meeting minutes to project members and other interested parties.

Literature Cited

Agnitsch, K., Flora, J. & Ryan, V. (2006). Bonding and bridging social capital: the interactive effects on community action. Community Development, 37(1), 36-51.

Bazeley, P. (2007). Qualitative Data Analysis with NVivo. London: Sage.

Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Calvert, M., Emery, M. & Kinsey, S. (eds.). (2013). Youth Programs as Builders of Social Capital. New Directions for Youth Development. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Charmaz, K. (1983). The grounded theory method: An explication and interpretation. In R. Emerson (Ed.), Contemporary field research (pp.109-129). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

Charmaz, K. (1995). The logic of grounded theory. In J. A. Smith, R. Harré & L. van Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology (pp. 27-49). London: Sage.

Comer, J. (2008, May). Parents, Educators, and Community Collaboration to Promote Student Success in School and in Life. Keynote Address, CYFAR 2008, San Antonio, TX. Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), USDA. Retrieved November 2008 from

Emery, M. and S. Fey. 2006. “Using the Community Capitals Framework.” CD Practice, Issue 13.

Emery, M. & Flora C. (2006). “Spiraling-up: Mapping community transformation with community capitals framework. Journal of the Community Development Society: 37: 19-35.

Fields, N. & Nathaniel, K. (2015). Our role in and responsibility toward social justice. Journal of Extension, 53(5), 5COM2,

Fields, N. (2017). The contribution of urban 4-H to social capital and the implications for social justice. Journal of Extension, 6FEA1,

Flora, C. & Flora, J. (2008). The Community Capitals Framework. Iowa State University and the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. Retrieved from:

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publications.

Grootaert, et al. (2004). Measuring social capital: An integrated questionnaire. (World Bank working paper no. 18.) Washington, DC: World Bank.

Putnam, R.D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

QSR International. (2012). NVivo 10 for Microsoft Windows. Melbourne, Australia.

Seidman, I. E. (1991). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in educational and the social sciences. New York: Teachers College Press.



Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

University of Missouri - Columbia
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