Creating Better Communities – Benevolent Society Study
Saturday, 23rd February 2008 at 12:25 pm
A new report looks at what makes communities caring and inclusive and the role that all institutions, especially Not for Profits can play in creating better Australian communities.
The study by Karen Healy from the Benevolent Society is called "Creating Better Communities: A study of social capital creation in four communities".
This report outlines the key findings of a three year study into social capital creation and the implications of these findings for The Benevolent Society’s role in helping to build stronger communities.
The project was funded jointly by The Australian Research Council (Strategic Partnerships with Industry) and The Benevolent Society.
The Benevolent Society says it initiated the project because of its concern with extending the organisation’s commitment to strengthening communities and to promoting collaboration across the sectors of government, business and the Not for Profit sector to contribute to community capacity building.
The project team conducted research in four distinct geographic communities in Urban, Urban Fringe, Regional and Rural areas in NSW. These communities were chosen because each had been disadvantaged by rapid social and economic change and had demonstrated resilience in the face of these transformations. The project team interviewed almost 700 participants across the four study sites.
The research found significant correlations between various measures of family, friendship and community participation and perceptions of social inclusion. People are more likely to report feeling that they are part of their local community – that they are ‘included’ – if they:
– Have regular contact with friends living close by
– Are members of local organisations and cultural, sporting or civic groups
– Volunteer in their local community
– Exchange goods and services with friends and neighbourhood members or live in a community where there is a high reported level of bartering
– Believe that there are plenty of things to do in their community.
Respondents’ perceptions of social inclusion differed significantly between metropolitan and country areas, and between older and younger people.
In the focus group interviews, the Rural and Regional dwellers said they felt that their communities were more ‘inclusive’ and that there were more activities to be involved with in country areas than urban areas.
These respondents often pointed to lower living costs and a ‘slower pace’ of life in
their communities as being primary reasons for their ability to participate more readily
in activities, compared to their perceptions of life in urban areas.
This contrasted with responses from the Urban and Urban Fringe study sites, where respondents more often commented on the lack of opportunities for local community engagement outside involvement with formal institutions, leading to a greater sense of social isolation.
The study also indicated a greater overall risk of social isolation amongst older respondents (those over 50), often because they lacked close family ties. In particular it found that older respondents were significantly more likely than younger people to report they were living alone.
Older respondents were also less likely than younger respondents to report that they could ‘turn to someone in their family for emotional and financial support’.
On the other hand, it found that older people were more likely to participate in local
community groups. The study also found that they were more likely to report feeling part of a community and more likely to report that they could rely on their neighbours
for practical help.
The findings also suggest that older people are more vulnerable than younger people to social isolation within their communities, even though older people may be more dependent than other citizens on these networks for practical and emotional support, often because of reduced mobility.
The study says that Not for Profit organisations can create opportunities which encourage social inclusion, such as facilitating volunteering, local social groups, activities and formal and informal exchange networks. In this way organisations can enhance social inclusion and create opportunities for friendships to emerge amongst community members.
This study also found that established groups can be excluding so formal groups need to be open to new members and diverse enough to reach a broad cross-section of people. NFP organisations can encourage a diversity of informal and formal options for social networks to suit different needs.
The study says NFP organisations can play an important role in helping to integrate members of the community who are more vulnerable to social exclusion and encourage networks which target them.
To download the study go to: http://www.bensoc.org.au/uploads/documents/creating-better-communities-nov2007.pdf