Cultivating communities of circumstance to enhance community resilience through knowledge sharing using collaboration and connections


Detailed descriptions of communities of practice and purpose, as provided in Chapter 11 and Chapter 12, explicitly highlight how the formation of such communities are crucial to enhance the knowledge capability of communitarian members. The said communities act as engagement premise, because of which communities of practice and purpose can be rightly identified as drivers of selfdevelopment along a socio-economic axis. While cultivating communities of practice and purpose using social knowledge management framework yields positive outcomes in rural context, it does not ensure creation of a resilient community, a community “that can withstand hazards, continue to operate under stress, adapt to adversity, and recover functionality after a crisis”. However, communities of practice and purpose account to be mandatory prerequisites in building community of circumstance among rural urban communities. Communities of practice and purpose serve as engagement premise, which, by contextually involving rural participants, subsequently act as facilitating platforms in cultivating participatory abilities of rural members. It is only when the rural community derives collective participatory credentials that they are able to mobilize local resources crucial to achieving resilience through formation of community of circumstance.

According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, a disaster is defined as “a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources. Though often caused by nature, disasters can have human origins.” The ability to withstand disaster can only be derived from collective participation on a communitarian level. Communities of circumstance refer to mechanism towards building a resilient community, possessing a high rate of adaptive capacity to withstand disaster on a collective level. Communities of practice and purpose, undoubtedly, can be identified as major driving forces to enhance individual credentials and knowledge capability. Communities of circumstance, on the other hand, can help a community to develop the desired adaptive capacities on a collective level, transcending individual enhancement and thus making it a resilient community.

Development of collective capacities on a communitarian level is impossible to achieve in a short time. It is a gradual process, where only a prior democratic engagement premise (communities of practice and purpose in this context) can pave the path for a participatory premise, mandatory to mobilize local resources. This collective participatory premise is the base of community of circumstance, which offers communitarian resilience.

Communitarian resilience refers to the collective power to act locally using local resource and agency. External developmental agencies are undoubtedly important in devising beneficial policies and undertaking measures that promote resilience on a communitarian level. However, it needs to be remembered that the presence of a conducive external environment, while accounting to be a necessary condition, is not a sufficient one. A community can only develop and advance its adaptive capacities through active participation of communitarian members, not individually but as a connected collective.

This reiterates the indispensability of an inter-connected developmental ecosystem where, although external developmental agents have a significant role, the network is primarily enlivened by communitarian participation on a collective scale. While communities of practice and purpose can be rightly identified as crucial drivers towards enhancement of individual knowledge capability, community of circumstance can be identified as a precursor towards achieving communitarian empowerment on a collective scale. Such empowerment is the product of a community actively participating in the developmental process as an integrated collective (Steiner &C Farmer, 2017). Communities of circumstance facilitate communitarian resilience by building on the social capital of the entire community as a single entity, an integrated collective, which enables them to get connected to different agencies and thereby improve their adaptive capacities as a collective. It is by ensuring active participation on a collective level in the process of enhancing communitarian adaptive capacities that cultivating communities of circumstance can truly be identified as an important milestone in the process of achieving holistic empowerment. This makes development along communitarian axis an intrinsic aspect of communities of circumstance, different from the comparatively individualized focus of communities of practice and purpose.

This chapter is organized as follows. It starts by introducing the concept of community resilience from the perspective of rural empowerment and highlights major components or characteristics of a resilient community. The characterization of community resilience indicates that making a resilient community primarily depends on: (i) formation of a network that connects intra- and intercommunity stakeholders; and (ii) collaborative knowledge transactions among various agents (the nodes) of this network. Moreover, building a resilient community doesn’t come from a top-down, government-only, command-and-control approach; it comes from a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches through establishing collaborative connection among community members and external agencies. Thus, building an active community is a precursor to the formation of a resilient community. We call them communities of circumstance.

However, communities of circumstance cannot be created or built out of vacuum; there has to be a framework that facilitates formation of community of circumstance. In Section 3 we illustrate how a distributed framework towards building online communities of circumstance can be created and operationalized that would mobilize a community towards resilience. The conceptual foundations of the framework that we have proposed to build an active online community of circumstance are primarily derived from two industry trends of the 21st century, driven by social technologies: sharing economy, as a form of platform economy, and virtual enterprises.

Finally, in Section 4, we have highlighted some empirical investigations from the area of disaster management to show a three-stage process, exploring how community participation can be enhanced through collaborative knowledge transaction, which eventually will lead to development of resilient community. Taking a cue from the Engagement-Participation-Empowerment model (Steiner &C Farmer, 2017) indicating stages in transferring power from external actors to local communities, we have shown that the process of community resilience starts with engagement, is followed by participation and subsequently facilitates community empowerment, a precondition for realizing a resilient community.

Understanding community resilience

The discussions on rural empowerment would be incomplete unless we talk about how community empowerment can lead towards developing resilient community. In simple terms, resilient communities “can withstand hazards, continue to operate under stress, adapt to adversity, and recover functionality after a crisis” (National Research Council, 2011). One of the greatest challenges encountered by governments, organizations and communities today is how to cope with large-scale crisis situations faced by the communities in the event of natural or man-made disasters, be they political, social, environmental or economic. Interventions from external agencies, both public and private, are undoubtedly needed to manage large-scale crises. However, several policy documents from across the world suggest that community participation in crisis management helps to deliver more effective services (Steiner Sc Atterton, 2014). And, to engage the community members in a participatory service, community empowerment is important in facilitating local democratic participation and developing confidence and skills among local people (Scottish Government, 2014). For example, the Scottish Community Empowerment Bill highlights that “communities are a rich source of talent and creative potential and the process of community empowerment helps to unlock that potential. It stimulates and harnesses the energy of local people to come up with creative and successful solutions to local challenges” (Scottish Government, 2012). Several studies report the positive influences of participatory processes on community empowerment (Fraser et al., 2005).

Although the concept of empowerment goes beyond participation and researchers have perceived empowerment as an “enabling and motivational construct that leads to the transformation of power structures through collective action and individual capacity-building” (Mohan Sc Stokke, 2000), empowerment is a process of self-mobilization in which individuals participate in the process of community-building and become agents of their own development (Elliott, 1999). Philips and Pittman (2009) suggested that “community development consists of capacity building (developing the ability to act), social capital (the ability to act), and community development outcomes (community improvement)”. Zimmerman (1995, p. 583) indicated that “community development programs must develop empowering processes where people create or are given opportunities to control their own destiny and influence the decisions that affect their lives”. Hence community development is a process that enhances the capability of citizens to act collectively towards betterment of the community (be it social, economic and/or cultural) (Steiner 8c Farmer, 2017).

The notions of empowerment and resilient community development are intimately related, where people acquire the ability to act collectively in order to improve the adaptive capacity of their community (Perkins 8c Zimmerman, 1995; Steiner &C Farmer, 2017). McAslan (2010) defines resilience as “the ability of something or someone to cope in the face of adversity - to recover and return to normality after confronting an abnormal, alarming and often unexpected threat. It embraces the concepts of awareness, detection, communication, reaction (and, if possible, avoidance) and recovery.”

Resilience is a term that has been used in physics, psychology and environmental sciences for many years, but use of this concept is relatively new in the context of community development. For example, in physics, resilience refers to the ability of material to bend and bounce back, rather than break (Skerratt, 2013). Folke (2006, p. 259) defined the term from an ecological perspective as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and re-organise while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks”. In a community setting, resilience is conceptualized as “the existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterised by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise”, and that “resilience, simply, is about the capacity to adapt to change” (Magis, 2010). This adaptive capacity enables a community to flourish in spite of disruptive changes in a dynamic socio-economic as well as natural environment (Milman Sc Short, 2008; Steiner Sc Atterton, 2014). Aked et al. (2008) argued that community resilience fosters wellbeing among community members by creating common objectives and motivations to work together for the benefit of the community at large.

On July 29, 2009, Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, articulated the spirit of resilient community in a presentation to the American Red Cross when she said: “Building a resilient nation doesn’t come from a top- down, government-only, command-and-control approach; it comes from a bottom-up approach; it comes from Americans connecting, collaborating; it comes from asking questions and finding new solutions. And it comes from all of us as a shared responsibility.”

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