Hohaia, Te Aroha L. R. (2018). ‘Community’: A Q study exploring perspectives in community governance settings in Taranaki, New Zealand. Doctoral thesis (Government), Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Abstract: Attend any public meeting in Taranaki and, more often than not, one will hear the word ‘community’ used to bolster a policy proposal, or oppose it. But when that happens, what exactly is meant by ‘community’? Taking advantage of her position as an embedded participant, the author of this thesis set out to understand what ‘community’ means to those who occupy roles of influence in decision-making settings in Taranaki, Aotearoa-New Zealand. To the study’s informants and participants, a deceptively simple question was put: ‘what do you understand by ‘community’?’

The set of techniques used to elicit responses to this question was William Stephenson’s Q methodology. Data collection began with 29 informant interviews from which 45 statements representative of what is understood by ‘community’ were extracted. Those statements were rank-ordered by 35 participants generating 47 Q sorts (the mechanism by which each viewpoint was captured). Using PQMethod 2.35, a three-factor solution generated through principal components analysis and subjected to a varimax rotation was selected for further analysis.

The interpretation of the results substantiated three somewhat highly correlated, yet nuanced perspectives where ‘community’ is:

▪ ‘Everyone and we’re all in this together’ (Factor 1),

▪ ‘Well… it depends’ given the multiplicity of interests (Factor 2), and

▪ ‘It’s everything’ (Factor 3).

The primacy of relationships and expectations to contribute to where one lives provide the basis for consensus. The nuance is in the scope and reach in terms of who counts, what matters and why it is important at a given point in time. The subsequent discussion noted there is still no agreement on a definition of ‘community’ and its malleability in meaning makes ‘community’ useful for furthering political interests. Its use in the community governance settings of this study reflects the pragmatism of everyday life. ‘Community’ is affirmed as a concept that frames policy discourse.

This study also identifies ‘community’ as a practice and as a way of governing that frames policy responses where the basis for ‘community’ is as:

▪ A preference for face-to-face interaction and usually over a cup of tea (Factor 1),

▪ A strategy of enabling that is realistic and pragmatic (Factor 2), and

▪ An account of the integrated connections to places, with people and to events across time and space (Factor 3).

The study opens up new ground as the collection, analysis and interpretation of first-person, vested responses from those ‘doing’ ‘community’ in community governance settings is missing from the scholarly and practitioner literature. This study forms a bridge in an identified gap between those who theorise in the political philosophy of ‘community’ and those who advocate in the political practice of ‘community’.

Furthermore, the three perspectives identified and discussed in this study also lead to a proposition that the phrase ‘governing communities’ would be a more apt and authentic alternative to ‘community governance’. Such a development is positioned as the next step in the evolution of the theory surrounding local decision-making and local government in New Zealand and as a normative model for political practice.

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