Community Participation Is Declining: Here’s Why That Needs To Change

Community participation is declining, and as a result, we are experiencing significant backlashes and political turmoil. Without community, we may be facing a future full of loneliness and mistrust.

The data shows a decline


According to multiple research reports spanning across sporting communities, not-for-profit associations, and sociologist studies, community participation is declining. There are fewer volunteers, fewer members, and less funding is being given to local community clubs or groups.

61% percent of the survey respondents reported that they were having difficulty in finding new members, and 67% said that they were having difficulty recruiting new committee members…

Australia’s Science Channel

There are multiple possible reasons for this, but no one definitive answer. The onset of coronavirus has resulted in a rapid decline in participation for many communities, while other factors have taken effect more slowly i.e. globalization, consumerism, and the rise of individualism.

According to Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone:  America’s Declining Social Capital,” it’s not only a recent development; community participation has been declining since the late 1950’s.

But why is that a bad thing?

The role of community

 

Community membership and participation play an important role in both an individual’s wellbeing and the overall functioning of a healthy society. Yet in our modern society, community has taken a backseat.

Well known economists like Raghuram Rajan state that ‘community’ (as in a network of people that share common beliefs and/or purposes, and provide each other support) is the third pillar in a functioning society, alongside the ‘state’ and the ‘market’.

According to Rajan, the current system’s failure to acknowledge the importance of community has in turn created a backlash of ‘economic and social divides’ and ultimately, political turmoil.

Rather than focussing on the state and the market, he argues ‘we should instead put the health of our local communities front and center. Stable families, good jobs, strong schools, abundant and safe public spaces, and pride in local cultures and history – these are the essential elements of prosperous societies. Neither global markets nor the nation-state can adequately supply them, and sometimes markets and states undermine them.’  

We should instead put the health of our local communities front and center. Stable families, good jobs, strong schools, abundant and safe public spaces, and pride in local cultures and history – these are the essential elements of prosperous societies.

Raghuram Rajan

In Robert D. Putnam’s well known article, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” he speaks about a term called ‘social capital’, which is measured by participation in ‘networks, norms and trust that facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit’.

Communities with ‘social capital’ are proven to have better outcomes including less violence, better health and hygiene, higher pooling of resources, and stronger support networks for those who may be less able.

Without social capital, theorists like Putnam believe that society will become more selfish, and less interested in the greater good, and ultimately our system will suffer from it.

These concerns about a rising tide of selfishness and mistrust, paired with a decline in social and economic equality, paint a worrying future of what life might be like without strong communities.

Loneliness, globalization and social media


Meanwhile, although technology has enabled us to be more connected than ever before, loneliness and isolation are at an all time high.

The long term effects of globalizations and social media platforms are having a negative effect on individuals, causing us to become more isolated.

This sense of isolation impacts our sense of purpose, feeling of belonging, and overall well being.

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Benefits of being part of a community


At an individual level, being part of a community can have significant positive effects on your wellbeing.

“Community involvement provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness. It can also offer extra meaning and purpose to everyday life.”

HeadtoHealth.gov.au 

The chance to communicate with like minded people in a community can boost your self-worth, improve your mindset, and give you a better quality of life.

Being part of a positive, inclusive community can even reduce the risk of mental illness, and help ease anxiety and depression.

For elderly, participation in a community or social club can reduce the declining health effects of aging and also prevent a decline in mental health, which can result in conditions such as dementia.

A study in Tokyo of community-dwelling elderly aged ≥65 found that participation in various groups was associated with the preservation of effectance for both genders. Put simply, participating in a neighbourhood group, committee, social club or community helped to prevent the negative health effects of aging.

How to re-engage
 

The important thing to remember is that community participation can become a normal part of our lives again. Being part of a community has significant benefits for individuals and society as a whole.

One of the most cited reasons for not being able to participate in a community is due to a lack of time.

Community organizations and clubs can somewhat overcome this by providing more opportunities to engage outside of a physical meetup or location. By allowing people to participate in a way that fits with their other obligations, the number of people participating is likely to increase.

It’s important that community organizations and clubs can adapt to the modern changes of technology and globalization, and where possible, use them to their advantage. If you were once a local-only community, consider building up a group of like-minded individuals online.

If you are only operating online at the moment, consider finding out where most of your members live and host an in person event to foster deeper connections.

For an individual, finding a local community or online community that suits your interests, hobbies, and beliefs can be as easy as doing a google search or talking to people you know that might already be part of a community you could join.

Joining a community is beneficial for both your wellbeing and society as a whole. For clubs and community organizations looking for members, being able to adapt and use things like technology to your advantage will give you a new ability to engage and keep your members interacting with your community.

References:

 

Tomioka, K., Kurumatani, N., & Hosoi, H. (2015). Social Participation and the Prevention of Decline in Effectance among Community-Dwelling Elderly: A Population-Based Cohort Study. PloS one, 10(9), e0139065. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139065

The Disintegration of the Community: Why We Feel Alone Even When Surrounded By People 

 Robert D. Putnam: On the Decline of Communities 

 How unmanaged globalisation is damaging communities | World Economic Forum  How social media is actually making you feel more alone 

Community groups battle volunteer decline

Advocacy – Help Sheet: How the global affects the local and how the local can effect the global – ourcommunity.com.au 

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