Community Well-being – What is it and What Does it Mean for Projects and Local Communities?

The concept of community well-being is one of the frameworks for community assessment along with other concepts (e.g. local community quality-of life studies, community health or community capacity). Measuring well-being in a community is vital to knowing how that community is faring; it therefore provides critical information for decision-making regarding sustainable development in regional communities. The concept is focused on understanding the contribution of the economic, social, cultural and political components of a community in maintaining itself and fulfilling the various needs of local residents (Kusel and Fortmann, 1991).

Some studies focus on general well-being and try to identify factors forming well-being in the communities. These studies build on a mix of social indicators, historical information, and data collection in the communities regarding how people themselves and perceive different aspects of their lives. Community well-being is not easy to ‘measure’: it is largely a subjective concept. Well-being is normatively seen as a state of being for individuals or groups, and one that is often evaluated against a set of socially determined ideals (Teghe and Rendell, 2005). Well-being is associated with factors such as economic prosperity, market participation or the outcome of good social policy. Well-being has also been associated with concepts such as happiness, life satisfaction and social capital, all of which fall under the ‘social quality of life’.  The social quality concept identifies when social goals have been achieved as part of policy directions. Social quality can be defined as “the extent to which citizens are able to participate in the social and economic life of their communities under conditions which enhance their well-being and individual potential” (Beck, van der Maesen, Walker 1998, p 3).

The concept of community well-being is often used in assessing the effects of the development of a large infrastructure project (e.g. airports, municipal waste management facilities, nuclear facilities,  etc.) on a community. Moreover, the concept of community well-being can serve to assist the development of criteria to determine the effects of a development upon a community’s social, economic, cultural, environmental and physical structure. It assumes the development can have positive or negative effects on community well-being. Fostering community well-being involves a community driven process whereby local stakeholders play a pivotal role in decision making processes. When properly managed, project spending and employment can yield positive outcomes for community well-being. Taking into account issues of fairness and equity and addressing specific community needs, interests and values are also of great importance to community well-being and decision making processes. Fundamental to the maintenance of community well-being is the development of trust between project proponents and the local community.

References:

Beck, W., van der Maesen, L and Walker, A. (Eds.) (1998) The Social Quality of Europe. The Polity Press: Bristol.

Kusel, J. and L. P. Fortmann. 1991. What is community well-being? In J. Kusel and L. Fortman (eds.). Well-being in forest-dependent communities (Volume I). Pp.1-45/ Forest and Rangeland Resources Assessment Program and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Berkley, California.

Teghe, D. and Rendell, K. 2005. Social Well-being: A Literature Review. School of Social Work and Welfare Studies, CQU: Rockhampton.

Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities.  Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Societyand Women in Nuclear Canada.

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About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit www.hardystevenson.com
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