Monday 25 October 2010

Quantifying community cohesion

This is a wonder in the other direction, I freely admit, but it ties into social media quite closely, I think.

One of the biggest potentials often quoted for social media is improving community cohesion. I don't like buzzwords, so lets call it.....getting people to talk to each other a little bit more without any of the barriers in the way which the recent evolution of society has created.

Putting it that way makes one of the things I've been musing over today a little easier. You see, thinking of ways to quantify community cohesion is a little difficult. Or rather thinking of ways to measure the effeciveness of social media as a tool to increase community cohesion is a little difficult which is where all of this stems from as I attempt with some determination to wrestle all my thoughts, hopes, aspirations, doubts and questions on social media and its use to us into something approaching a professional document.

It's taken 5 hours of background processing but I'm finally at least at a place where I can understand that talking about community cohesion isn't terribly helpful, but that encouraging people to talk to each other and understand where each other is coming from actually is. So where does that get me? Well, if conversations are happening in places I don't know about, then chances are I wont be measuring those conversations. So the obvious answer to me is to bring the conversations into an arena where I can see them, which involves asking the right questions, providing some house rules and then listening very carefully.

But the other thing which I am wondering about is how you measure a sense of community within a town or county or country. In fluffy terms, it would be obvious - are people being nice to each other, do people help each other on and off buses or across roads, do people grit their own drives and the rest of the street be damned or do they grit the road as well, do people knock on their next door neighbours door to find out if they need a hand with the weekly shop, do people share information regarding dodgy people randomly loitering in the neighbourhood, do people investigate when they hear smashed glass at 3am............

None of this is quantifiable, measurable, put a finger uponable. It's all wavy hands stuff. I'm not interested in wavy hands stuff for the purpose of this exercise, I'm interested in real world outcomes.

Which I suppose is where big society comes in, isn't it. It's where it's come in all along. You can take the temperature of a towns sense of community by the amount of community projects which spring up inside it. By the amount of volunteers registered within it. By the amount of free time people donate on a daily/weekly/monthly basis in order to help someone they don't know out for no other reason than that they felt like helping someone. It's about people helping to build things physically, like youth clubs and church halls, but it's also about the more ephemeral stuff, the time spent leading the youth groups, leading local walks and bike rides, teaching people how to do the fundamental things in life like read and write.

If you wanted to measure community cohesion, which I think is less about people talking to each other, than perhaps about people practically helping each other, then I think I would map the community projects, efforts, outings and outcomes of the local community. It would be an interesting temperature to take in Blackburn with Darwen.

Of course, what I've actually done here is talk about community. Because talking about cohesion is a whole other post. What I wish, more than anything, is that I could march up to certain people within our Department and sit down and ask them if they'll talk to me so I can pick their brains. But I just don't know that it's appropriate, that it would be welcomed, that I am brave enough to do that without some kind of introduction or preamble. So the question then becomes, how on earth will I ever understand cohesion, or rather where people are and aren't talking and why and why not, unless I do.


  1. I think the Govt has given a lot of thought to measuring cohesion under the heading of social capital. The citizenship survey on the DCLG website looks at things like interactions between people from different communities, sense of belonging and a raft of other measures.

    For more on cohesion,

    is worth a visit.

  2. Many many thanks, I will pick that up tomorrow and read it properly.

  3. Search for measuring social capital.

    Social cohesion and social capital aren't quite the same thing. Cohesion is about pulling disparate people and groups together. Capital is about having access to social resources beyond yourself, but this could be in quite a heavily-bounded way such as a strong extended family or even the Freemasons.

    I'm sure there has been social research done on the correlation between the size of people's social networks and their ability to find employment, for example.

  4. You mentioned kindness on Nat Wei's blog Louise.

    So let me introduce you to compassion in the context of people and economics.

    And then, within a community context to the heart of the matter: