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Community voices redefine well-being: Ontario study highlights residents’ priorities

In a recent study published within the journal PLOS One, researchers investigated the aspects that community members prioritize for his or her well-being and the way policymakers can incorporate them to advertise community engagement and overall community health. They utilized qualitative focus group methodologies comprising intensive group interviews with adults (aged 18-75) from 4 Canadian communities across the nation’s largest province, Ontario. Their findings revealed that in residents’ minds, well-being is achieved through a mix of amenities, accessibility, and community engagement, with a scarcity of marginalization highlighted within the latter.



Study: Towards a community-driven definition of community wellbeing: A qualitative study of residents. Image Credit: VectorMine / Shutterstock

Can community health affect personal and social well-being?

A discordance between what the federal government thinks its residents need and what they really want themselves has been the cornerstone of most civil uprisings, essentially the most historically notable of which was the French Revolution. In recent a long time, research from each the scientific and social lens has increasingly recognized the role played by communities because the constructing blocks of countries, with attention paid to the influence of community health on individual and societal well-being.

Despite existing since time immemorial, community well-being has recently been formally defined as a framework encapsulating the environmental, economic, social, political, spiritual, and cultural domains that shape the goals and priorities of any community. Community-centric research goals to discover or develop objective indicators of community well-being. A community’s amenities, services, and social resources are rapidly being formulated into discrete constructs comprising points of social, political, economic, cultural, and political aspects related to individuals living inside that community. These constructs, in turn, are used as metrics to judge residents’ satisfaction.

“More recently, researchers have underscored the importance of aligning community well-being tools (e.g., indicator measures and survey instruments) with the social and political values of the community in query to provide outcomes which might be based on local evidence and reflect community perspectives.”

An encouraging growing consensus amongst researchers is that analysis and assessment metrics, hitherto devised by social scientists, should as a substitute be conceived as a collaborative effort between experts and members of the community. A growing body of evidence suggests that each community is exclusive, and no metric or policy can suit all communities. Evidence from social distancing measures accompanying the recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019) pandemic indicates that residents of communities actively promoting engagement presented higher compliance with COVID-19 restrictions while still maintaining higher mental health outcomes in comparison with communities where crosstalk between residents and policymakers was minimal.

“…participatory processes in indicator development can improve their relevance in policy and governance. Inductive approaches that generate domains directly from community actors have been demonstrated to (1) enable participatory engagement and transparency in regional decision-making, (2) promote using local evidence, (3) help define the shared goals and priorities of a community, and (4) help shift the main target towards practical outcomes for residents.”

It’s, subsequently, evident that understanding the wants and wishes of a community is crucial in measuring resident satisfaction, in addition to a prerequisite before the conceptualization of policies geared toward promoting community well-being. Unfortunately, research of this nature is scarce.

In regards to the study

In the current study, researchers aimed to make use of semi-structured group interviews in tandem with thematic analyses to elucidate the critical perspectives and themes related to community well-being. The study cohort comprised focal groups from 4 distinct communities across the Canadian province of Ontario. The included communities comprised the City of Toronto, the City of Greater Sudbury, the Regional Municipality of Peel, and the City of Thunder Bay.

Adult volunteers (over the age of 18) from the areas mentioned above were invited for screening and eligibility confirmation between May and July 2022. During screening, data on demographics was collected, and participants were informed concerning the technical points of the study. The Community Well-being Survey, a web-based survey employing the cross-sectional study methodology, was used for screening.

Chosen participants were cherry-picked to maximise diversity in the ultimate study cohorts. Care was taken to make sure that a minimum of 50% of the ultimate cohorts comprised women and included representation for all racial groups (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Variations in age, education, and economic aspects were further represented.

The focal group interview comprised 3-4 participants per cohort (N = 15). It consisted of a 2-hour-long semi-structured interview specializing in community perceptions regarding 4 prespecified community well-being domains: social, environmental, physical, and political. Participants were queried on each individual and intersubjective experiences.

The NVivo 12 code generation tool was used for thematic analyses. Each descriptive and interpretative methods were utilized in qualitative data generation.

Study findings

The current study identified 4 major themes of community well-being across the assessed communities. The primary pertained to the sense of community belonging and was found to be significantly related to shared spaces, support, routines, and identities. Identities were found to correspond mainly to age and social responsibilities. Encouragingly, while ‘groupism’ was seen to foster community participation and a way of belonging, respondents recognized the demerits of excessive groupism leading to the marginalization of outliers and the formation of ‘siloed communities.’

The second theme pertains to the amenities and social contexts which promote community development. Amenities, including places of worship, grocery stores, recreation centers, health care facilities, and public greenspaces inside the community’s geographic confines, were essential requirements for resident satisfaction. Notably, the accessibility of residents to those amenities, specifically availability, affordability, proximity, and physical access, were key to a community thriving.

The third theme highlights that just about all respondents felt that effective policy and community decision-making have to be informed by community residents as a substitute of being entirely within the purview of policymakers. Moreover, equal representation of all members of the community, no matter cultural, racial, or financial background, was emphasized.

“The politicians have to get this little catchphrase out of their vocabulary altogether, “It is not on my agenda.” Simply because it is not in your agenda doesn’t suggest it is not on everyone else’s. To me, inexpensive housing is absolutely lacking… [as is] food security. So poor people, their concern is, how do I get food on the table? Middle class people say, is it nutritious? The rich say, is it pretty? So, the decision-makers say, is it pretty? … [Decision-makers need to understand] what happens once we do not have a liveable wage.”

Theme 4 forms a definite yet underlying factor of all pieces – community well-being relies on the equal, non-marginalized opportunity for participation and engagement of all residents. “Flourishing mustn’t be a privilege”.

Conclusion

In the current study, researchers conducted prolonged semi-structured interviews with focal representatives from 4 communities across Ontario, Canada. Their subsequent qualitative analyses revealed 4 themes broadly encompassing culture, politics, social connection, amenities, inclusive decision-making, and equity. Notably, marginalization based mainly on financial stability and race and a communication breakdown between residents and policymakers were identified as the important thing barriers stopping community growth and citizen satisfaction.

“As local governments gain interest in understanding the well-being of their communities, such efforts should recognize community residents as experts on their very own needs and value their essential role in constructing communities that support higher lives.”

Journal reference:

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