The Links Between the Tangible Dimensions of Building Community
We've already examined the tangible dimensions of a community; the physical and institutional tenets which support a successful local society. Now we need to look at the links between these tenets, and at what connects these tangible dimensions together and enables them to support a positive and effective community.
These three links are based on respect and inclusion. Australia is a deeply multi-cultural country and if we are to continue to celebrate diversity and solidarity in this nation, we need to practice this respect and prevent exclusion of all kinds, including along the lines of age, race, ethnicity, gender and religion.
You can find more information on each of the factors below.
Strong and Diverse Leadership
Leadership is not simply about the people at the top of the tree, in the highest office. Instead, it is an extensive structure, and one which must permeate down through all levels of society. At each level, there are new concerns, new needs, and new issues which must be addressed. This requires a diverse set of voices at each stage in the structure to ensure that all these needs are fulfilled.
But leaders must do more than this. They must also serve as connectors between people. They must serve to enable, and to empower. In a democracy, participation, decision-making processes, engagement, and involvement, should be accessible to all, and the best leader will facilitate this across their area of jurisdiction.
A society, of any size, is made up of numerous different factors and components which must be linked together and orchestrated into harmonious action. A leader must achieve this orchestration, bringing together business leaders, non profit organisations, community figures, public servants, law enforcement, management level works, and, of course, the individuals who make up a community.
Combining diverse approaches, warm and personable attitudes to problems, innovative and clear-minded decision making processes, and strength and reliability, is not always a simple task, but it is a necessary one for effective leaders, and so it is similarly necessary for the communities they serve.
What Strong and Diverse Leadership Looks Like
Ed Husic, Member of Parliament for Chifley, is an example of these above qualities in action. As the first Australian Member of Parliament to adhere to the Islamic faith, Husic has given a voice to an often under-represented community in Australia, and has striven to forge positive, inclusive links between a range of different groups in the country.
However, it is not his ethnic and religious background which defines him, but his humanity, his deep love for his constituents, and the manner in which he empowers, enables and facilitates effective communities at all levels.
Informal Networks, Links, and Information Outlets
Leadership is an important part of the connective fibres which exist between the pillars of community, but leadership can only go so far. Structures of leadership can implement some of their own networks and information outlets, but, beyond this, they must encourage and nurture the growth of informal networks within the community itself.
These informal networks exist to engage individual members of the community, as well as organisations and institutions, bringing them together so that they can cross-fertilise and achieve unique viewpoints, perspectives and solutions. These may include hobby groups, self-help associations, craft groups, environmental activists, adult education centres, and many other community organisations and bodies.
These groups must be supported by leadership. Individuals attend such groups and engage in the exchange of knowledge on a personal and a cultural level. They also exchange fears, hopes, and aspirations, and build a mutually accessible network of resources to use as increasingly strong community bonds are built.
Through these groups, social norms and conventions can be formed, and base models can be formulated which contribute to successful communities. The application of these models to different communities, and across different groups, in Australia, becomes far easier to achieve if demonstrably effective sets of rules and best practices can be agreed upon.
Such networks have always existed in communities, but the information age has added another dimension. Social media is highly useful in facilitating effective communication, but it should not be viewed as a replacement to traditional one-to-one interaction. It is simply another tool in an ever-developing arsenal.
Examples of Informal Networks
The Charles Sturt University is the host of the Booranga Writers' Group; an organisation which aims to connect local writers to their immediate community and also to their history and culture. Art and culture are two of the most critical factors in strengthening a community and making it robust and resilient, and so must be preserved.
Conscious Community Discussion
The final factor which links the tangible elements of community development is conscious discussion. Individual members of a community need to foster a sense of belonging and ownership within themselves, enabling them to take responsibility for trying to build and grow an effective society for the future. This communication gives communities an opportunity to gain different perspectives on, and to work through, problems and issues as they arise.
Social media is effective at facilitating and supporting this communication, and for providing a platform by which such communication can take place, but, as we have discussed above, these platforms cannot do the job alone. They must be accompanied by face to face meetings and interactions, giving individuals the chance to get to know one another, and to take an active interest in the ideas and development plans of others.
This generates serious social capital, as citizens take ownership of community issues and of the wider societies around them. This is necessary if a community is to grow effectively, and if local people are to feel included and engaged, and that they have a stake in society. Such discussion must be encouraged and supported at all levels if it is to be successful.
Discussion in Action
In 2016, Bondi residents won the right to have their voices heard regarding upgrade plans for the Bondi Pavilion building. A team of locals banded together to form the Save Bondi Pavilion Group; an organisation which sought to take the pulse of community opinion on the development plans and to decide upon the best course of action.
The group were concerned about secrecy and uncertainty regarding the cost of the project and alternative plans, so they launched a formal complaint. This complaint resulted in a discussion at Parliament House, and subsequently in the opening up of the alternative planning procedure to the general public; a significant victory for the power of community discussion.
People are a Community’s Strongest Asset
Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.
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