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Title: Building Social Capital in the Polish-German border region: An Evaluation of the effectiveness of EU-funded Small Projects
Authors: Sarmiento-Mirwaldt, K
Płoszaj, A
Keywords: Development of 'social capital';Border regions;Small projects
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: EUROREGm, University of Warsaw
Citation: Building Social Capital in the Polish-German border region: An Evaluation of the effectiveness of EU-funded Small Projects, EUROREG Reports and Analyses 6 / 2014
Abstract: Our research examines the development of 'social capital' in border regions. Specifically, we analyse whether participating in social or cultural events such as creative workshops or sporting competitions – so-called small projects – promotes neighbourly trust and the emergence of cross-border networks across one of the historically most difficult borders in Europe: in the Polish-German border region. Social psychologists have long argued that under certain conditions contact between the members of different nations leads to improved relations between these nations. The small projects fund (SPF) is an EU-funded financial instrument to encourage municipalities or NGOs to organise events that permit personal encounters between Poles and Germans who live in the Euroregions across the Polish-German border. The goal is to help potentially prejudiced border region residents realise that their fears are unfounded, to develop a sense of trust in people from the other side, and to gradually develop cross-border networks. However, there is so far no unambiguous empirical evidence that cross-border contact leads to greater trust in, or stronger networks with, the neighbours from the other side. Our research takes a qualitative, interview-based approach and examines this proposition, as well as the conditions under which social capital develops as a result of thorough personal contact. In the summer and autumn 2013, we observed 17 small projects with a variety of themes and conducted 90 interviews with 51 Polish and German participants. We interviewed most of these participants twice: once before they participated in the project and immediately afterwards, to trace how perceptions change as a result of personal contact. We also interviewed project organisers as well as a control group of 30 Poles and Germans to determine if the people who participate in small projects are in any way atypical. We found no major differences between our control group and the actual project participants, which indicates that small projects do not attract a completely atypical group of people. The border region is a site of lively and regular exchanges, though these are often quite cursory, for example to go shopping. This lively exchange goes hand in hand with a sense of familiarity and no major prejudices. When asked how they would react if a neighbour of the other nationality moved into their street, or if one of their family members wished to marry a person from the other side, most people reacted positively. We encountered hardly any dislike and distrust of people from the other side. On the contrary, there is much affinity and readiness to trust. Most of our respondents described people from the other side in very positive terms, such as likeable, sociable, open or hospitable, though some negative attributes were also mentioned, including chaotic, sly or stiff. Most participants became involved in the project through their membership in an organisation, such as a club or through voluntary organisations. For many youth projects, recruitment took place through schools or youth organisations. Quite a few people had heard of the Euroregions and could define their activities in the border region. However, most of our respondents had either not heard of the Euroregions or were unable to define them. In the context of small projects, communication between Poles and Germans is often hindered by the language barrier, though some basic communication is possible in English, through interpreters, or using body language. And indeed, we observed a range of contact situations in small projects. For example, several projects such as joint workshops offer many opportunities to interact, while certain solitary activities by nature make it harder for the Polish and German participants to mingle. In such circumstances, it is even more important to have a strong supporting programme on the side of the main activity of a project, such as concerts, parties or barbecues. In some projects there were many such surrounding activities, while in others there was no real programme to bring people together outside of the main project activity. We also witnessed some spontaneous and very cordial interactions, for example during unplanned evening activities or on the side of village fetes. To be sure, sometimes contact gives rise to conflicts or misunderstandings. We observed one such conflict in a youth camp. However, all in all, Polish-German exchanges during projects tend to be very positive experiences. For the vast majority of our interviewees, no opinion change occurred because their perceptions were already very good to begin with. We observed change in only five cases. In two of them, this was a change for the worse that directly resulted from the conflict during the abovementioned youth camp. In the three remaining cases, a noticeable improvement took place in young participants' opinions as a result of their positive experiences during the project. While a good deal of trust in the neighbours already exists in the Polish-German border region, there is still room for building new relations as well as deepening and developing the scope of existing cross-border networks. To this end, and based on the conclusions from this research, we recommend the following measures to perfect the small projects fund.
Appears in Collections:Dept of Social Sciences Media and Communications Research Papers

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