What is 'Community'? Shared Perspectives of Civic Leaders in Taranaki and Implications for Civic Leadership and Community Governance

In community governance (and typically that means a local government setting (Hambleton, 2008a, p. 533)), the term community remains undefined because the pragmatism of local government supports a fluid and dynamic understanding of community (Pillora & McKinlay, 2011). This malleability is superbly useful for civic leaders who invoke a particular conception of community to rally people and mobilise resources to address issues or demand accountability for actions taken or not taken. The same flexibility in meaning also supports local government to enact a conception of community such as the ‘communities of place’ being constructed in Australia and ‘communities of interest’ being implemented in New Zealand (Barraket, 2005; Local Government New Zealand, 2003a). Whether these two categorisations of community line up with what people living there understand community to be is not known and may not be knowable.
But for those who are in civic leadership roles, as the ones in situ living in and working through community governance issues, what do they understand community to be?

To what extent are their understandings and perspectives shared? How do they differ amongst civic leaders in general but also amongst and between the civic leadership domains of community, political and managerial leadership? In what way are they consistent with the community of community governance frameworks that characterise their respective domains; namely community development, strategic leadership and strategic planning? In terms of public policy, what aspects of their understanding of community reflect the categories of ‘communities of place’ and communities of interest’? What then are the implications for civic leadership and community governance in theory, in public policy and in day-to-day life?

With the detailed research design underpinned by Q-methodology (S. R. Brown, Durning, & Seldon, 2008; Watts & Stenner, 2005), this study seeks out the shared perspectives of community. It draws on the diverse subjectivities of civic leaders living and working in the communities they are governing by asking them “what do you understand community to be?”. Data collection, analysis and interpretation spans five stages: (1) identify and sample the concourse (S. Brown, 1991) (2) conduct the Q-sort with target participants, (3) do a first and second order factor analysis and interpretation of the results, (4) present and validate the findings with participants, and depending on what ‘surprises’ (Stainton Rogers, 2010a) are discovered, (5) interview certain participants to clarify issues identified in the findings.

This study considers the diverse understandings of community and the implications for not only the theory but also the public policy promoting community governance. It also responds to a perceived scholarly need to re-articulate the theories of civic leadership  – especially as New Zealand society moves (and is moved) towards a more participatory approach to community governanc

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