Published date01 September 2016
Date01 September 2016
doi: 10.1111/padm.12237
Managers concerned with the performance of their organizations will exploit available social,
administrative, and human capital resources. However, extant theory and mixed empirical evi-
dence leave the effect of social capital on performance unclear. The gains from these norms of
reciprocity, participation, networking, and trust may disproportionately benet only some of
their clients, leading to disparities in outcomes among diverse clienteles. We argue that in such
contexts, management will put in place policies to counter these disparities. Indeed, our empirical
evidence from the management of public education supports the expectation that an institutional
commitment to diversity successfully mitigates the uneven effects of social capital on organizational
performance. This nding carries important implications for public management and equity in
public policy outcomes and may be of particular relevance to management of outcomes relying on
Although the study of social capital has generated an extensive literature examining the
connectedness of communities, little work has examined how social capital affects public
organizations and their management (notable exceptions include Tsai and Ghoshal 1998,
and Andrews and Brewer 2013, 2015). Understanding the successful management of
social capital may have important implications for public administration because this
resource may facilitate effectiveness and efciency in public programme implementation
through pre-existing networks and coordination in communities (Putnam 1993, 2000).
Social capital can play an important role in public administration, and managers should
be able to interact with or shape the inuences of social capital on the performance of
public organizations.
In this article, we investigate how contexts of greater trust, networking, and reciprocity
can inuence organizational performance, and further how this social capital may dis-
proportionately benet some advantaged client groups. We argue that management can
address this potential disparity with policies specically aimed to help less-advantaged
clients. In the context of education, an institutional commitment to diversity is one such
managerial strategy to mitigate the uneven effect of social capital among disadvantaged
students. We test our expectations with a set of original surveys of school principals that
are linked to public data on programme performance. Our ndings indicate that social
capital is signicantly associated with improvement in some students’ achievement, but
not with others, and that diversity management has little direct effect. Neither is a panacea.
Further analysis, however, shows that diversity management can curb the impact of social
capital to mitigate unequal performance. These ndings call for more nuanced theorizing
concerning public management, programme performance, and social capital.
Following in the Tocquevillian tradition, scholars across the social sciences have long
viewed social capital as a resource to be leveraged for better public policy outcomes
Mallory E. Compton and Kenneth J. Meier are at the Department of Political Science, TexasA&M University, USA.
Public Administration Vol.94, No. 3, 2016 (609–629)
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
(Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1988; Putnam 2000; Bowles and Gintis 2002) or community
resilience and recovery from shocks (Aldrich 2015). Many of these theorized expectations
assume the concept of social capital as dened by Robert Putnam (1993, p. 167) as the
‘features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the
efciency of society by facilitating coordinated actions’. We adopt Putnam’s denition
of social capital as the interpersonal trust, norms (especially that of reciprocity), and
networks, but we hesitate to wholly accept the latter contention of improved efciency.
It is this relationship between social capital and performance of public organizations that
we reconsider.
Within public organizations, strongersocial networks, shared norms of reciprocity, civic
participation, and trust among individuals and institutions should encourage coopera-
tion and productive sharing of information to improve performance and outcomes. More
generally, intellectual capital should be improved by social capital, leading to better orga-
nizational performance and problem solving (Nahapiet and Ghoshal 1998). These effects of
social capital are expected to advantage public organizations in achieving goals that lead to
better government performance (Andrews 2011a).Shared norms of reciprocity and greater
trust among individuals and public institutions help resolve collective action problems,
making coordination in these environments less costly (Ostrom 1990). Put another way,
social institutions and attitudes condition the effectiveness of individuals and institutions
in achieving performance goals. This expectation is acute in the context of public orga-
nizations that rely on the efforts of clients and other community members to co-produce
public goods, including re and police services, social welfare and public health services,
or education (Sharp 1980; Whitaker 1980; Schneider 2006; Andrews and Brewer 2010).
Empirical evidence has accumulated across disciplines that student achievement, partic-
ularly student behavioural outcomes, is higher in the presence of social capital (Coleman
1988; Portes 1998; McNeal 1999; Israel et al. 2001; Dika and Singh 2002; Goddard 2003;
Perna and Titus 2005; Sandefur et al. 2006). In addition to the direct effects of family and
community social capital on student performance, these group resources benet organiza-
tions by improving resource exchange, innovation, the creation of intellectual capital, and
cross-functional effectiveness (Adler and Kwon 2002). Research in public management
has contributed to this line of inquiry by theorizing and testing how management can use
social capital to affect organizational performance (Andrews 2011a, 2011b; Andrews and
Brewer 2013). Early empirical evidence supports this expectation that aggregate outcomes
and organizational performance are improved by social capital (Tsai and Ghoshal 1998),
including school performance (Leana and Pil 2006).
More recent evidence suggests, however, that the anticipated benets of social capital
do not always accrue in public service outcomes (see Andrews 2011b for a review) or in
private organizations (see Kwon and Adler 2014 for a review). Not only is social capital
unevenly distributed within communities (Lin 2000), but public service clients do not ben-
et equally (Hero 2003; Kao and Rutherford 2007; Hawes and Rocha 2011), the effects of
this resource are conditional on substitute resources available to management (Meier et al.
2016), and benets may be conditional on economic context (Doh 2014). Given this mixed
and conditional evidence, and because education policy recommendations have relied on
the nding that social capital improves educational outcomes (e.g. Israel et al. 2001; Sande-
fur et al. 2006), it is an important task to identify when, where, and how social capital can
benet public organizations.
The reason for these inconsistent results may be the uneven distribution of social capital
within society (Lin 2000), leading to disparities in outcomes across groups. Rodney Hero
Public Administration Vol.94, No. 3, 2016 (609–629)
© 2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

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