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Methods Of Identifying Community Issues: Characteristics

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Question:

Discuss about the Methods of Identifying Community Issues for Characteristics.

 

Answer:

Introduction

A community is defined as a social grouping that determines the nature of the relationship among members. It may be assumed that a community holds similar perspectives or hold similar belief pattern through a common identity and characteristics. Traditionally, relationships within a community are more direct, holistic and significant (Hawtin, Hughes & Percy-Smith, 1999, p. 103). Australians value the importance of inclusiveness through communities.  For example, health is a communal issue in Australia where health promoters often work with the people to help them meet their goals; provide programs, resources, and services. In doing so, the locals understand basic principles, values, and methods applied within their environment as far as health is concerned.  This approach also allows health promoters to learn from the community and embrace their programs, policies, and services to meet the interests and needs of the community.  These activities can be viewed as community development practice.  Apart from health, other communal issues may be politics, education, social systems, gender, and violence, among others.  Specifically, this paper shall focus on types of communities in Australia, identify methods and processes of determining community issues and interventions taking into account comparison and contrast of the techniques and finally highlight the implications of these methods for indigenous community work practice (Denscombe, 2014, p. 180).

 

Types of communities

Geographical communities. Geographical communities come into existence as a result of shared physical space. Members enjoy the virtue of proximity thus feel a sense of belonging, hold similar values and symbols. For example, Australians identify themselves by the virtue that they possess the Australian continent and enjoy the local fame ascribed to them (Munford, Sanders, & Andrew, 2003, p. 101).

The community of interest. This category is defined by the association that exists between members who have a common interest.  For example the Australian health promoters’ associate with health issues affecting the Australian people. Acting in a corporate social responsible manner helps the government work hand in hand with the community hence enhancing community growth.

Virtual communities. Virtual communities include people who interact via a medium rather than face to face, for example, computer networking online community (Roman, 2016, p. 16). The use of media in interaction is essential in community communication, and this has kept Australia one of the best corporate social responsible nations in the world.

Methods and processes of identifying community issues and interventions

Australian community includes a diverse set of people with different characteristics hence some approaches can be used to identify problems and intervention strategies in various settings. These approaches are discussed below;

Qualitative evaluation

Qualitative methods include non-countable things. Qualitative data provides in-depth information on personal experiences and perspectives (Castellan, CM 2010, p. 12).  This assessment method captures feelings, actions and community history that affect the current situation. This method acknowledges that experiences are subjective and can be filtered through perceptions and worldviews of the people under study.  Qualitative assessment methods collect information from community members by involving them directly in planning and implementation. In doing so,   community initiatives are supported. Specifically, this assessment method includes asset mapping, interviews, observation, listening sessions and public forums and focus groups. These are discussed below.

 

Asset mapping

This approach assumes that members identify assets within their locality and connect them for purposes of increasing the capacity of the community regarding needs. For instance, in the Australian context, this may include a database of skills and knowledge of residents such as physician services, physical assets like transport system and buildings, businesses, municipal services and natural resources such as rivers and trees. Specifically, asset mapping aims at mobilizing the community to use its disposable assets in developing a plan that will help in solving problems affecting the quality of life of the residents. Asset mapping builds a sense of cohesiveness and commitment that sustains community initiatives (Homan, MS 2004, p. 130).

Listening sessions and public forums

This strategy helps one to learn about community perspectives on issues revolving among them.  It as well allows a number of people within the community to express their opinions and react to situations affecting them. Basically, what the community members know and think about the issue, resources, barriers and possible solutions are well expressed through such forums. Distinctively, public forums are more significant in scope as compared to listening sessions (Jackson-Barrett, Price, Stomski & Walker, 2015, p. 44).  They are gatherings that allow citizens to address significant issues at a centrally public location at a specified time.  Majorly, these forums give the background of an issue before allowing members to express their views as far as the community needs and resources are concerned. The method uncovers disagreements and differences among the participants.

Interviews

This is the less formal approach of obtaining data from an individual or small group as few as two or three. Interviews include open-ended questions that capture the perspectives of the interviewee as well as the closed-ended question that shape the objective of the study.   Practically, to measure the community readiness to address issues of health, cultural interventions on substance use prevention may be assessed to evaluate efforts in place, Australian community leadership, community knowledge about substance use and resources related to the issues (People, money and time). Questions such as “What is your community perception on the mental, physical and cultural health with regards to substance abuse problems?  Using a scale of 1-5, how important is the health of your community to you?” what kinds of resources exist in your community? Of these resources, which one is the most important?”

The competitive advantage of interviews is that interviews allow the researcher to get more information.  Additionally, members stimulate each other to come up with more resourceful material since their thinking is probed by memories and conclusion of others. The presence of others breaks the shyness and nervousness.  On the other hand, interviews are linked to weaknesses ranging from conflict, antagonism, dislike among group members and negative feelings or history that can twist or disrupt members from the discussion (Geia, Hayes & Usher, 2013, p. 14).

 

Focus group

It is a specialized group interview in which members are not notified on the focus of the interviewer.  This assessment method based on groups of about 6-10 people assembled to respond to specific questions.  However, efforts are kept in place to ensure the participants are not aware of each other to avoid social pressure (Fredericks, Finlay & Fletcher, G 2011, p. 12). The participants give answers that are not influenced in whatsoever manner by what they think is wanted.  For example, in matters pertaining health in Australia, health promoters would ask questions on HIV/AIDS awareness level and vet the answers under the focus group responses in three constituent groups identified as elders, youths and middle-aged.

Direct/ participant observation

This involves seeing events and issues as they unfold (Wadsworth, 1997, p. 55). The approach makes the observer be part of the culture under study as he or she records the findings. For instance, the researcher may observe how many new cases of malnutrition, infant death, HIV/ AIDS infection have been reported in Australia with a view of running a community campaign on the outlined diseases to reduce the risk of infection. There are two types of observation, direct and participant observation.

Direct observation

Direct observation is the practice of examining places, people or activities without interfering with the participants. The observer is often unidentified. He or she does nothing apart from watching and recording. In some instances, the researcher may ask questions fro the target audience but never identify himself as a researcher (Twelvetrees, 2008, p. 99).

Participant observation

This involves taking part of the life of the people under observation to learn their culture, belief systems, values and customs. The observer may identify himself to the group under study and fully interact with them to understand their way of life as well as have a feel of activities revolving around the study environment (Yunupingu, 1997, p. 126). Ideally, observable characteristics would include; physical characteristics of the setting such as weather pattern, time of the day, week or year, description of participants such as age and gender, nature of interaction among people, attitudes, social position of observers, observers own responses and attitudes including the physical and psychological comfort of the observation (Castellan, 2010, p. 7).

Surveys .Surveys can be used as community assessment tools.  Surveys appear in different forms ranging from written, online, text messages, mail, or spoken. Basing on the nature of the study, respondents give answers on questions addressing a given issue.  This method, however, has a low return rate hence not the best way of gathering information in Australia (Bessarab, &Ng'andu, 2010, p. 50).

 

Implications of community identification methods on indigenous community work practice

Asset mapping, surveys, focus group, interviews, listening sessions and public forums and observation methods of identifying community issues in one way or another influence the communities under study as follows:

Inclusive participation

Community identification approaches are close to the target population since the researcher goes directly to the sources with questions and issues that need their participation. This allows a positive interaction between the researcher and the sources an additional advantage to Australians who inclusively appreciate in programs that help them meet their goals.  Additionally, the locals understand basic principles, values, and methods applied within their environment. This approach also allows researchers to learn from the community and embrace their programs, policies, and services to meet the interests and needs of the community leading to increased awareness spread through programs and initiatives.  Further, limitations to social barriers such as poverty, disability, age, race, and gender are unheard of since members embrace diversity and acknowledge rights of all participants in the processes that affect their lives (Walker, Fredericks, Mills & Anderson, 2014, p. 1223).

Enhances collaborative working. Qualitative research methods allow community participation. This participation fosters a sense of support of programs to be implemented as well as ownership thus more accomplishment. The Australian population has interest in health initiatives. This pools them together to assess their assets such as health care facilities and physicians. In a way, the full range of resources allows them to address their problems and issues collaboratively.  Working together leads to positive solutions for a better status quo (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, p. 113).

A Wider pool of resources. There is a broader pool of resources when addressing community issues as a group. This is enhanced by the fact that resources are shared among community members thus expertise task management is improved (Tropman, Erlich, & Rothman, 1995, p. 67). Technical expertise, knowledge, and facilities are easily sourced from the population. There is also access to funding since community members are granted opportunities to support their initiatives as compared to individuals who work alone.

Community self-determination. Community members freely interact, address their concerns, assess options and make a concession decision based on their own conclusions.  Strategically, members obtain expert advice and streamline it to other informational sources and own experiences before settling on a suitable option that suits their needs (Snow et al., 2016, p. 370). 

Service integration. Individual service providers run a risk of replicating services.  This results in gaps. Addressing issues collectively ensures services are well coordinated to strengthen and support the community and family initiatives through effective communication among the involved groups (Tsey et al., 2002, p. 278). 
Conclusion

In a nutshell, Australia is defined by three types of communities which are geographical, virtual, and community of interest. Qualitative methods of identifying community issues such as asset mapping, surveys, focus group, interviews, listening sessions and public forums, and observation are vibrant in Australia. Majorly, health is a communal issue that drives the interest of all Australians and has a community backing.  These methods contribute to service integration, community self-determination, enhances collaborative working, inclusive participation and creates a wider pool of resources. Corporate social responsibility is a principle that the Australian government must always put into concern when planning for community development. Community backing is key to the success of governance and hence must be emphasized by the country. 

 

Bibliography

Bessarab, D &Ng'andu, B 2010, "Yarning about yarning as a legitimate method in Indigenous research," International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, vol 3, no.1, pp. 37-50.

Castellan, CM 2010, "Quantitative and qualitative research", International Journal of Education, vol 2, no. 2, pp. 1-14.

Fredericks, B, Finlay, S & Fletcher, G 2011, "Engaging the practice of yarning in Action Research," Action Learning and Action Research Journal, vol 17, no. 2, pp. 7-19.Denscombe, M 2014, The good research guide, (5th ed.) Open University Press: Maidenhead. (EBook)

Geia, LK, Hayes, B & Usher, K 2013, "Yarning/Aboriginal storytelling: Towards an understanding of an Indigenous perspective and its implications for research practice," Contemporary Nurse, vol 46, no.1, pp. 13-17.

Hardcastle, D, Powers, PR &Wenocour, S. 1997, Community practice: Theories and skills for social workers, Oxford University Press: New York pp. 176 – 182.

Hawtin, M, Hughes, G & Percy-Smith, J 1999, Community Profiling: Auditing social needs, Open University Press: Buckingham pp. 69 – 119.

Homan, MS 2004, Promoting community change: Making it happen in the real world, Brooks/Coles Publishing Company: California pp. 135 – 150.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, Bringing them home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra. Pp. 110-150

Jackson-Barrett, E, Price, A, Stomski, N & Walker, BF 2015, "Grounded in country: Perspectives on working within, alongside and for Aboriginal communities," Issues in Educational Research, vol 25, no. 1, pp. 36-49.
Munford, R, Sanders, J & Andrew, A 2003, “Community development: Action research in community settings” Social Work Education, vol 22, no.1, pp. 93–104.

Roman, C 2016, "Indigenous people and qualitative research - making it work" Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, vol. 40, pp. 11-16.

Sherwood, J & Kendall, S 2013, "Reframing spaces by building relationships: Community collaborative, participatory action research with Aboriginal mothers in prison," Contemporary Nurse, vol 46, no 1, pp. 83-94.

Snow, KC, Hays, DG, Caliwan, G, Ford Jr., DG, Mariotti, D, Mwendwa, JM & Scott, WE 2016, "Guiding principles for Indigenous research practices," Action Research,  vol 14, no 4, pp. 357-375. 

Tropman, J, Erlich, J & Rothman, J 1995,  Tactics and techniques of community intervention, F.E. Publishers Inc.: Illinois – pp. 66 - 73.

Tsey, K, Patterson, D, Whiteside, M, Baird, L & Baird, B 2002, “Indigenous men taking their rightful place in society? A preliminary analysis of a participatory action research process with Yarrabah Men's Health Group”, Australian Journal of Rural Health, 106, pp.278-284.

Twelvetrees, A 2008, Community Work, (4th Ed.) McMillan: Basingstoke pp. 98 – 138

Wadsworth, Y 1997, Do it yourself social research, (2nd Ed.) Allen and Unwin: Sydney pp. 35 – 60. [ebook]

Walker, M, Fredericks, B, Mills, K & Anderson, D 2014, " 'Yarning' as a method for community-based health research with Indigenous women: The Indigenous women's wellness research program" Health Care for women International,  35, pp.1216 - 1226

Yunupingu, G (Ed.) 1997, Our land is our life: Land rights – past, present and future, University of Queensland Press: St. Lucia.pp. 100-130.

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