! Understanding communities
Dysfunctional communities !
disability service organisations ! An
alternative model ! Community
research ! Community survey
of a community
What is society?:
society or a human society is (1) a group of people related to each
other through persistent relations. (2) A large social grouping that
shares the same geographical territory, subject to the same political
authority and dominant cultural expectations.
The term society came from the Latin
word societas, which in turn was derived from the noun socius
("comrade, friend, ally"; adjectival form socialis) thus used to
describe a bond or interaction among parties that are friendly, or at
least civil. Human societies are characterized by patterns of
relationships (social relations) between individuals sharing a
distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described
as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent members.
Without an article, the term refers either to the entirety of humanity
or a contextually specific subset of people. In social sciences, a
society invariably entails social stratification and/or dominance
Societies are more than a bunch
of people stuck together in the same space and time. They are organised into groups that have various functions
within society. These functions are organised
into various roles that fit together like a clock or a play.
These groups can be described in
any number of ways according to the relationship of the group with other groups in society. They provide a way to
understand our relationships with each other and
the others around us:
probably the most inclusive or generalised
... Community: defines our relationships within
... Clubs: defines our relationships within the
... Teams: defines our relationships within clubs
... Groups: defines our relationships within
can be reorganised any way according to the perspective of the user)
The expressions "society", "social" and "community" have often been
used to mean the same things. A social group describes the common
characteristics of a group, but not the personal relationships within
the group. A community group is the shared interests, networks and
relationships we have with each other within society. While a person
can move from one community to another easily according to his/her
needs at a particular time, it is more difficult to move from one
society to another. As a result we see lots of communities that are a
part of the same social group.
If someone wants to build a nuclear reactor in a suburb, I would be
more inclined to protest if it was planned to be built in my suburb. If
the nuclear reactor became a social issue, there would be a great deal
of discussion about the project.
Characteristics of a community:
A community is not "My Community"
It is "Our Community"
Communities are as varied and individual as its members. Often people
belong to two or more communities. Family, education, business, work,
sport, religion, culture all involve communities that we take for
granted as a normal part of our lives. They seem to be a part of the
background. It’s only when things are not going the way that we want,
that we take any notice of them.
Most people think of communities as a place or setting, or a suburb or
city that they live in. Communities are much more that that. They are
the very essence of how we live and socialise with others. We have our
own personal communities, the communities that we are a part of and the
communities that we associate with. Communities are the building blocks
that allow us to make sense of the world in which we live, participate
and share experiences. They provide a sense of identity and purpose, a
sense of being a part of and belonging.
The origin of community is from the
sociology, the concept of community has led to significant debate, and
sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition of the term.
There were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the
mid-1950s. Traditionally a "community" has been defined as a group of
interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used
to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is
attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location,
generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also
refer to the national community or global community.
The word "community" is derived from
the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin
communitas (cum, "with/together" + munus, "gift"), a broad term for
fellowship or organized society." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community
The origin of the word "community" comes from the Latin munus, which
means the gift, and cum, which means together, among each other. So
community literally means to give among each other." (http://www.seek2know.net/word.html
The idea of "community" probably came about where people gathered
around a common area for their mutual benefit. Sharing a language,
customs, ideas, skills, goods and services, or protection from enemies
would be some of the advantages in being a part of a group. Over the
years the idea of community has change to accomodate different things.
While different definitions mean different things, the idea is the
same; that a group comes together or lives together to share something
that is of value to the members of that community. Today the word
"community" has taken on whole new meanings, New technology in
communitation and transportation mean that a community is no longer
where we live. While we may live in a suburb, town, city or some
geographical location, they no longer define the communities that we
are a part of. Communities have also become so specalised these days
that we no longer look for one community to fulfill our needs.
While communities are as individual as
their members, they are usually
organised or built around a set of principles that allows the members
to participate in the community
... Access: the members must be able
access the community
... Communication: the members must be able to communicate with each
... Presence: the members must have some sort of relationship with
other members (see themselves, and are seen, as a part of the community)
... Participation: the members must have some sort of involvement
within the community
The community also needs ...
... A way of defining itself as a
:... An agreement between the members about what the community
how it is to be done
These principles could be described as the characteristcits
of the community.
Characteristics of a community:
... Has one or more roles
define its identity within
... Has a set of goals - provides a sense of direction.
... Is organised within a set of formal/informal
values, expectations and behaviours that defines the boundary of
... The boundary may be explicit (physical) or implicit (defined by the
shared characteristics of its members).
... Has ownership of it's members.
... There is some form of communication between members.
... Has skills and resources that are shared between the members.
... Balance the needs of the community with the needs of its members.
... Often has clubs, teams, groups etc. within the
While different communities have
different roles in society, they all share the same characteristcits.
These characteristics could also be described as its social
. They provide
the building blocks that the community is built on. While it is
preferable for communities to have all these characteristics,
communities that do not have all, or where a characteristic is severly
lacking, could be considered as a Dysfunctional
institution is an improtant part of the social construction of the
community. The institution describes the means of cooperation, order
and stability within the community.
Communities have five main roles or finctions:
… To provide a service to the members,
… To provide the skills and rescources necessary for the community.
… To maintain the community to a standard that can be used by all
… To balance the needs of the members with the needs of the community,
… To share and draw on skills / resources where needed.
community is based on a model that
loosley describes it's function or role within society.
Three broad (and simplistic) models could be
described as, but not limited to:
(holistic): is concerned with who we are,
and how we socialise with each other. Human interaction with each other
environment play an important part. Settings are all about how the
members interact with each other and how
environment affects the members as a group. Members also have the
to change their own environment to their own needs without affecting
community as a whole. The purpose (objectives, goals, policies etc.)
community are less formal with less defined roles.
… Professional (holistic/specialised): is concerned with providing an
environment that accommodates the particular profession or the activity
profession (educational / medical / business). The members have to fit
structured environments that are less accommodating to the needs of
members and how they interact with each other. Settings are about
people, and how the person fits into the environment rather than how
environment fits into the person. The purpose (objectives, goals,
etc.) of the community is formal with clearly defined roles for its
Community services are often built around the professional model, where
or volunteers are employed by the service to support the service users
the goals, values etc. of the service provider. Records are kept on
expenses, care plans, progress notes, medical histories etc.
… Scientific (specialised): is concerned with research,
figures. The setting is highly structured around a set of standards,
procedures and principles that do not allow for individuals. Focus is
on objective systematic enquiry of objects, patterns
of behavior and interactions, time and resources, balance sheets and
scale, opportunity cost etc. Research communities need to have a
consistent approach to inquiry so results can be analysed and compared.
Sporting communities are about finding the best performance of the
players to achieve a desired outcome - to win the game.
The three models and how they relate to the community.
Communities are generally a
the three types (Social, Professional
and Scientific). Social groups need to have the freedom to socialise,
need some order and structure to coordinate activities and work within
etc. Work places etc. need formal structures and environments to
desired goals, but there also needs to be some flexibility to allow for
individual needs. Scientific communities study, measure and analyse the
behavior, performance and the environment of the individual and the
they also need to have some flexibility to allow for individual needs.
the community provides the
members with a sense of belonging and purpose. Community roles
can be active in providing a
service, supportive, where
the members support the activities of another community, or a mixture
where the members share experiences,
resources, skills and knowledge with each other. Communities can be
recreational, and provide a social role
in enabling its members to
participate in various activities, or provide an educational role in
providing its members
with knowledge, skills and resources. A community could also be a
organisation, a local community group or
any service that supports people with high support needs (Characteristics of the service
), or fulfill
any other role
that is valued in society
as well as other communities that it is a part of.
provide a common cause or
the community. The
members develop a sense of pride and purpose in being a part of the
community that bond and strengthen the community. The role
is valued in
a sense that it brings something to the wider community that it is a
part of, as well as the members of the community. Valued roles
about community leadership
that is intouch with the community and can create a feeling of
importance within the members.
... Community members that support
disadvantaged people in their community
are valued by those people, as well as the community that they are a
part of, Meals on Wheels etc. Members offer support and provide a
service in helping others in their community. I remember the LIONS club
was involved in supporting people in the community. It is possible for
community to institute this culture. We often see this happening
spontaneously in communities where a member is sick etc.
... Recreation communities are valued within the wider community in
providing a means for its members to participate in
activities, develop skills, share experiences and and friendships
within the activity.
... Supporters that support a sporting
are valued by the club and have a valued role
the club. The club
also has a valued role
in the wider
... Volunteers that work for and support organisations are valued by
organisation and have a valued role
... Events such as 'Clean up Australia' provide a valued role
communities and groups to clean up Australia.
There are lots of other examples of
communities and groups that have a
This can happen in any community where disadvantaged people can be
included in activities through various strategies.
By providing a valued role
education or employment) through some form of participation where a
person is included in the community (active role
rather than the
current model (supportive role
learns new values and
skills in supporting people people with high support needs.
Minority communities generally have devalued roles in society. These
communities have a charecteristic, agenda or function that is not
representive of the society in which the community participates.
Institutions define the way we interact with each other within the
are determined by the formal and informal cultures and values of the
society in which the community participates, and provide order and
stability within the community.
Without a form of order and stability ...
... the community can not fulfill its
... there are no boundaries that define the community,
... the members do not see themselves as a part of the community,
... communication brakes down, or is nonexistent
... the commnity looses its skills and reources,
... the community can not fulfill its needs,
... clubs, teams, groups etc are no longer are a part of
These 6 broad characteristics can be further broken down to describe a
Institutions can be thought of within two main groups:
1) Institutional care: provides the
mechanisms for providing support for a group in society.
... Short term care
... Long term care
2) Social institutions: provides the mechanisms for social interaction
Types of institutions:
Boundaries can be physical, virtual or psychological. They define the
identity of the community. All communities need a way to determine what
the community does and how it does it. Without boundaries, the roles of
the community become meaningless. Does a sporting community focus on
transportation or scientific research? While transportation or
scientific research may be a part of the community, they are not a part
of the role on the community in society.
Without boundaries the community may ...
... become unfocused,
... become too diversified and uncoordinated,
... not adequately provide for its own needs, or the needs of its
... create tensions within communities that it is a part of, or a
part of it,
... create layers of bureaucracy that become communities in their own
Boundaries are often defined by the ...
... the institutions of the community
... the members of the community
... the settings (physical, virtual or psychological)
... government (local state and federal) policy and practice
... other communities that it is are a part of, or are a part of it
... there is a sense of ownership and
responsibility of the members that are a part of the community,
... coordination and cooperation between members is vital for any
community to achieve its goals,
... leadership - leadership defines institutions of the community.
Just as a community has valued/devalued roles
in society, the members also have valued/devalued roles
community. These roles
provide the members with a sense of purpose in achieving the goals of
the community. Members with low valued roles are generally
marginalised in the community.
Teacher - student, doctor
patient, painter - art
lover, friend - friend all suggest there is a positive co-relationship
between the roles
such as policeman, politician, professor,
accountant, fisherman, businessman, banker all suggest a value in
providing a service within the community. How these roles
depends on the person in the role
banker for example
have valued roles
but may use the role
to their own advantage in
abusing his/her power or stealing money.
are usually assigned to
people that do not fit into the community (marginalised). These roles
negative characteristic of
that sticks out. Others may also be assigned the same role
in order to legitimise or justify the person or group being treated
differently to others in the community. Deviant, sick, druggie, dole
bludger etc. are some labels that are used to devalue a person or group.
The community needs to be able to communicate with its members in order
to achieve its goals.
The members communicate with each other to share thoughts, feelings,
experiences, skills and knowledge. Clear thinking and expression of
thoughts is essential to effective communication.
The community also needs to communicate with others outside the
community. To function effectively as a community, the community needs
to be able to respond to events that are outside the community and have
an impact on the community.
“Communication is the process of exchanging information, beliefs and
feelings among people; it may be oral, written, or nonverbal.
Information may travel up, down, or horizontally.” [5
The most common form.
People communicate using words, signs,
The most misunderstood form of
communication. All behaviour is communication. When we talk to someone
or write to someone we also convey messages in our behaviour (gestures
etc) to reinforce the communication. When there is no verbal or written
communication associated with the
behaviour, the respondent has to interpret the behaviour into something
that can be made sense of. Mostly the message is obvious but sometimes
the message does not get through.
A good example:
Person A is shouting and screaming.
Person B may think:
Person A is shouting and screaming because the person happy.
Person A is shouting and screaming because the person is upset, angry
or in pain.
Person A is shouting and screaming at me and needs to be disciplined.
Person A is shouting and screaming to draw attention to some event (the
place is on fire etc).
The main function of communication is to make decisions. The
effectiveness of the community is dependent upon the quality of the
decisions, and the quality of the decisions is dependent upon the
quality of the communication between its members. Communication and
decision making involve the exchange of facts, ideas, and opinions.
Winn & Guditus [5
describe communication, as
well as decision
making, as essential to all other functions such as planning,
organising, coordinating, goal setting, directing, evaluating, managing
conflict, and managing change.
For a community to be able to effectively communicate to each other,
there needs to be a code, or set of principles. Anderson [6
] lists some
examples of productive behaviours.
... All members participate and freely
... Members are listened to and receive
... Supporting and having respect for each other
... Treating everyone equally, whilst valuing difference eg. Gender
... Taking time to appreciate one another’s point of view
... Aiming for mutual understanding
... Respecting the knowledge and experience each brings to the task
... Being non-judgemental / avoiding negative criticism
... Being open to learning
Skills and recources:
collection and information
... Understanding the services and
... Identify existing resources in the community
... Identify resources not in the community
... Adequate and appropriate service delivery strategies and mechanisms
An available source of wealth that can be drawn upon when needed.
The community needs to have resources that it can depend on in order to
achieve its goals.
Inventory and control of resources
... The most important resources are
the members themselves. Members bring their own resources
knowledge, tools, equipment etc) to the community.
... Tools and equipment
... Natural resources
Allows for reliable, effective and efficient use of the resources.
Resources can be quickly distributed and used where necessary.
Resources that are not used can be identified.
A community generally needs a set of skills and resources in order to
achieve it's goals. They provide an available source of wealth that
can be drawn upon when needed.
The skills and resources of the community ...
... knowledge based skills : the
skills of the community. While
communities generally have a set of skills, there is a specific skill
or charasteristic that defines the community.
... physical resources : community facilities or services that are
available to the members.
While community skills and resources are available to the community,
they may not be available to all members within the community. The
members also need their own skills and resources to access those skills
and resources. Just as a country may have a known amount of resources,
these resources ane not automatically available to its citizens. The
members may need to invest some personal time and resources in gaining
access to the skills and resources of the community. There may also be
some negotiation, payment, policy, process, induction or rite of
allows or disallows a person access to those skills and resources.
The skills and resources of its members ...
... the skills that can be shared by
... the physicial wealth that can be shared by the members
... the social networks of its members
While the community has it's skills and resources, the members also
have their own skills and resources. These are needed to access the
community. They are also shared between the members where there is a
common need between the members. The members may also share their
personal skills and resources in times of crises or where the community
is threatened. Often the needs of the community come before the needs
of it's members, and as a result some members may become disadvantaged
where their skills and resources may be taken from them and used to
provide for the needs of the community. Rates and taxes that are used
to provide community services and facilities is one example where
personal wealth (skills and resources) is used to fulfill a need that
all members may be unable to acces. A community need may be a new
football stadium, however, only a small group of members will take
advantage of the stadium. What happens to the poor, the aged, the
members with no education, health or transportation?
needs Vs Community needs
Communities are "a one size fits all"
individual needs are less inportant to the overall health of the
community. Where a particular personal need is not prioritised as a
community need, a specalised service may be provided to fulfill that
need. Any minortiy groups within a community have this problem where
their individual need is not important to the survival of the
community. It is only through social action, change and awareness that
an issue can be resolved. Often this may create other problems where
other members are disadvantaged through the change.
Communities (clubs, businesses,
organisations etc) have internal needs as well as external needs.
distinction has often been misunderstood, and as a result, communities
often treat these needs the same way. Internal needs are essential to
the community fulfilling its role in society, external needs allow the
community to participate in society. While external needs are essential
to the survival of the community, they are not essential to the role of
the community. External needs are needs that do not need to be sourced
within the community, While communication is an internal need, the type
of communication used is an external need. While transportation may
seem to be an internal need (to get from one place to another), it is
an external need, unless the role of
the community is to provide transportation. While community access is
an internal need, I would argue that the way the members access the
community is a personal need, unless the existance of the community is
threatened. A person or group of people may negotiate with others in
the community, or, provide regulations or services that facilitate
access into the community.
Communities that do not
prioritise these needs often find that their role becomes blurred,
unfocused or to generalised. This also creates a state of imbalance
within its own role in society, and the roles of the other communities
that it associates with in society. We see communities taking on roles
that are already provided by other
communities. Societies are probably
for this blurring of
Social values, attitudes and expectations dictate government policy and
determining what a community can and can't do.
The community needs to function as a
community. The principles described above allow the members to
participate with each other as a community.
... presence and participation - the
community must see itself as a
community by its members and others within the wider community.
... access - the members must be able to access the community
... space (physical or virtual) - defines the arena of the community.
... leadership - leadership defines institutions of the community.
... goals - provide a sense of direction.
... boundaries - allows the community to define itself as a community.
... safety needs - members feel that they can call on other
members in times of need or when threatened.
... belongingness and love needs - ownership, shareing, affection,
... esteem needs - self-esteem, values,
expectations and behaviours, etc.
... self-actualization needs - empowernment, realising potential,
(Taken from Abraham
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
What factors influence the way the
community fulfills its internal needs?
... what skills and resources are available within the community?
... what skills and reaources are available outside the community?
... government policy and practice - rules, regulations.
... available skills and resources within the wider community.
... relationships with other communities - how do other communities
advantage or disadvantage the community?
Any activity that we participate in, usually involves others in groups
teams that have the same interests.
So, what is a community, and how is it different from a
group or a team?
I feel it is important to explore the various ways people
come together for a common cause or purpose:
A community centre is a place where
people gather for a specific purpose. A community library, swimming
pool, recreation centre or hall are all facilities that allow groups of
people to fulfil a particular need.
At a football match, for
example, people come together for a purpose: to participate in the game
a spectator, or 2) a player or 3) umpires. It is immediately obvious
that there are
fundamental differences in the individual members of the group that are
A business has 1) staff that work towards the success of the
2) has a customer base.
A collection of people in a
restaurant participate as, 1)
a staff member, or 2) a customer, and can become a group / team, or a
number of groups / teams,
when there is
cause or purpose for which individual members become interdependent
other. A disaster (such as a fire or flood), quiz or competition etc,
the catalyst in transforming the individuals into groups or
In a factory, a group of people
work toward a common cause and share rescources, facilities etc,
between each other. However
individuals in the group are not necessarily working as a team.
At a school or club, people come together as a group for a common
cause, they share interests and participate in the activities of the
school or club.
Suburbs are groups of people that do
not necessarily share interests or
participate in common activities.
A group of people may share a particular characteristic that
distinguishes themselves from others (minority groups), such as wealth
(or lack of), culture or ethnicity, or have a particular physical or
condition that disadvantages their ability to participate in the
They generally rely on support from each other or support networks and
share interests or
participate in common activities.
Human service organisations are groups of people: 1) staff who work
towards a common goal and may work as teams, and 2) clients/customers
share interests or
participate in common activities. A home with 4 or 5 residents, a group
of units, a
boarding house, a hostel or nursing home that is managed by a service
provider or organisation. The residents may share
characteristicts and have the same needs. The residents may communicate
with each other and may be supported by staff that are employed by a
community service or organisation.
In a family, the members may have strong bonds to each other and share
participate in common activities, but at the same time are involved
with other groups that have different interests and activities.
We also see communities of interest, communities of practice,
scientific communities, communities of disadvantaged (AIDS, cancer,
drug related etc). Technological advances are alo redefining
communities. New generations are socialising in ways that we never
dreamed of 100 years ago.
The above shows that groups and teams can be spontaneous or planned,
formal or informal. Depending on the situation, the members of the
group can just arrive on impulse, or arrange with each other to be at a
certain place at a certain time. It can also be seen that the members
of one group do not necessarily have to be a part of or belong to the
other groups, At the football, for example, there are three distinct
groups; the spectators and the players and umpires, but together they
are all there for a purpose; to participate in the game. They all
participate at the oval, identify with and support each other,
communicate and share their feelings and knowledge, and act within a
set of informal / formal rules, laws,
ethics, customs etc. Even though the settings, members and activities
are different in the other examples above, they also contain the same
Characteristics of groups: (What
are the characteristics of a group
... Members share interests or
participate in common activities,
... Informal / formal rules, laws,
ethics, customs etc
... They identify with one another, or share common characteristics or
... They share values, knowledge, skills, resources,
... They feel a sense of collective responsibility, achievement and
... They act in a unified way towards a common objective,
... Define themselves, and are seen, as members of the group,
... May contain groups or teams within the group.
So, what distinguishes a team from a group?
A team is a group of people
together for a particular reason, common
cause or purpose. John K. Brilhart [1
lists five important elements of a team, which
distinguishes itself from a group
A number of people
sufficiently small for each to be aware of and have some reaction to
interdependent purpose in which the success of each is contingent upon
success of others in achieving this goal.
Each person has a
sense of belonging or membership, identifying himself with the other
(not all of the interaction will be oral, but a significant
characteristic of a
group is reciprocal influence exercised by talking).
Behaviour based on
norms and procedures accepted by all members.
Larson and LaFatso (1989, p.19) define
a team as:
team has two or more people: it has a specific performance objective or
recognisable goal to be obtained: and coordination of activity among
members of the team is required for the attainment of the team goal or
seen that the players in the football game are teams, where their
performance determines the outcome of the game. Or at the restaurant
where the cooks and waiters work as teams in satisfying the needs of
the customers. They have to coordinate their activities to achieve a
... Generally a group (or groups)
within the group
that specialise in, or focus on a specific task.
... Shared identity and purpose.
... Clearly defined goals and objectives.
... Formal / informal rules, laws, ethics, customs etc.
... Coordinated activities to achieve a desired outcome
... May contain groups or teams within the team.
what is a community?
definitions of communities (Wikipedia
) are as
varied as the
communities themselves. I prefer to think of communities as being
generally organised in a setting where all members have the opportunity
to participate in, share skills and experiences, and work towards a
common goal. It
could then be argued that at a football match,
restaurant, working in a factory, or living in a suburb the members are
a community because:
There are common elements within the
group that make it a community:
... Define themselves, and are seen, as
members of the community.
... The members feel connected to each other and are interdependent
each other for various reasons.
... Members are motivated / work towards achieving a desired outcome.
... The members are expected to behave according to formal /
informal rules, laws, ethics, customs etc.
... Value (there is a sense of worth in) the activities of the other
... The members communicate with each other.
... The members share resources etc
... Generally contain groups that share interests or
participate in common activities.
... Generally contain teams within the groups that are directed towards
specific task or objective of the group.
Groups, teams and communities are all
about relationships, and the way
relate to each other in different circumstances. How we comminicate to
each other, and behave towards each other depends on our own personal
rescources (what we have, and what we can bring, or contribute to the
relationship), our relationships to each other, the environment and the
It is important to understand communities on three different levels;
own personal communities, the communities that we participate in and
the communities that we associate with.
While these are seperate communities, they are interdependent on
each other in as much as they provide the structure which
determines how we see ourselves and the world around us. They define
our own identity and roles and the identity and roles of others:
... personal communities (Private,
how we define
our relationships to each other,
... communities that we are a part of (Social): the communities that
sense of belonging, security, shared interests and relationships,
... communities we associate with (Public): the communities that we
in but do not belong to.
When providing the most appropriate
care for people with high support
1) The community is not where the
person is living, but where the
person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.)
will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education,
employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and
resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the
community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another
whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group
determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department,
profession or service define the way the person is supported within
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not
need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the
that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that
offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the
wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our
society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in
being a part of society.