Academic journal article Rural Society

A Conceptual Framework for Investigating Community Wellbeing and Resilience

Academic journal article Rural Society

A Conceptual Framework for Investigating Community Wellbeing and Resilience

Article excerpt

Rural communities are striving to build both wellbeing and resilience within their local areas as evident in the strategic plans and visions that community organisations and authorities establish (e.g., Western Downs Regional Council, 2011). Governments and other organisations are also seeking to measure wellbeing and resilience to provide a base to evaluate progress and the impact of their activities and programmes (White, 2010). However, in practice this is problematic because measures of wellbeing and resilience are often overlapping. For example, measures of resilience may include levels of community engagement which are also commonly considered to be dimensions of wellbeing. It is unclear in an applied sense how the concepts of wellbeing and resilience differ and in what aspects there is conceptual overlap.

We aim to address this problem by clarifying the distinction between community wellbeing and resilience as they relate to local communities or 'communities of place.' We present community wellbeing as a state and community resilience as a process before presenting a conceptual model outlining their possible inter-relationships, which can then be evaluated empirically in future research. The article proceeds with an initial examination of the literature relevant to community wellbeing, its definition and dimensions, and some associated issues. Next, the article examines definitions and dimensions of community resilience, before outlining a conceptual model and describing relationships between community wellbeing and community resilience over time. Finally, the article discusses some strengths, weaknesses, and potential applications of this model using the example of the rural area of the Western Downs in southern Queensland, before the final summary of insights.

Literature review

What is community wellbeing?

Wellbeing has been extensively studied in a range of research fields over many years. The notion of wellbeing has been used interchangeably with quality of life, happiness, and life satisfaction. Research has focussed on understanding and measuring wellbeing at individual, community, regional, and national levels. Such research is typically multi-disciplinary and uses both subjective and objective approaches to its assessment. Despite this extensive body of research, there is no generally accepted definition of wellbeing or quality of life, nor agreement on how best to measure it (Andelman et ah, 1998). Studies and definitions may refer to wellbeing at the individual level or at the national level but are ambiguous when explaining wellbeing at the collective level of a community. Thus, many studies dedicated to investigating community wellbeing only vaguely define community wellbeing (e.g., Christakopoulou, Dawson, & Gari, 2001; Morton & Edwards, 2012; Sirgy, Widgery, Lee, & Yu, 2010), and instead refer to wellbeing in terms of dimensions that comprise the notion of wellbeing. It is in this regard that overlap with resilience emerges with dimensions of wellbeing echoed in dimensions of resilience.

Nonetheless, one study that proffers a definition of wellbeing at the community level refers to wellbeing as, 'the satisfaction with the local place of residence taking into account the attachment to it, the social and physical environment, and the services and facilities' (Forjaz et al., 2011, p. 734, italics added). In this definition, evaluations of satisfaction capture the idea of evaluating wellbeing as a state, at a point in time, in relation to some standard of comparison. An alternate definition of wellbeing describes wellbeing as both a state and a process and refers to wellbeing as, 'a state of being with others and the natural environment that arises where human needs are meet, where individuals and groups can act meaningfully to pursue their goals, and where they are satisfied with their way of life' (Armitage et ah, 2012; Brown & Westaway, 2011). This type of definition is founded in sustainable development principles and aims to nest the individual aspects of wellbeing within a wider social sphere (Armitage et ah, 2012; White, 2010). …

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