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Individual and Community well-being
by Larrissa Ribova
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Concept of community well-being
  Many, if not all, of the communities in the Circumpolar North are now in an active state of transition. This process is shaped by technological advances, increasing competition in the markets for goods, and changes in the welfare state. Currently, the state's engagement in the well-being of peripheral northern communities is clearly being reduced.
  Northern community economies are often resource based (fisheries, forestry, mineral resources) and are especially vulnerable because they share a narrow economic base. As a result, many of these communities in the process of transition, are faced with sharp population decline, loss of employment and income, and public services retrenchment (Aarsaether & Baerenholdt, 1998). For some communities, rapid social change opens new jobs and new perspectives (Hamilton & Seyfrit, 1993). However, in both cases, the key element to keep these communities attractive places to live, is the "good life" that people could enjoy living there.
  But what is the "good life" for people living in remote northern communities? How do we measure it? How can communities create and take advantage of opportunities to make individual and communal life better in accordance with national standards and/or their notion of the "good life"?
  One of the common ways to deal with defining and measuring the "good life" is to use the concept of individual and community well-being. According to Wilkinson (1991), well-being is a concept meant to "recognize the social, cultural and psychological needs of people, their family, institutions and communities". From this definition, the complexity of the concept is clearly seen. It indicates a necessity to consider different aspects of a community (such as quality of life), as well as economic and social structures.
  The concept of community well-being is one of the frameworks for community assessment (among with other concepts, i.e. local community quality-of life studies, community health or community capacity). As Kusel and Fortmann put it in their works on the forest communities in Canada, the concept is focussed on understanding the contribution of the economic, social, cultural and political components of a community in maintaining itself and fulfilling the various needs of local residents (Kusel and Fortmann, 1991).
  The studies of community well-being use several approaches. Some studies analyze certain factors influencing well-being, such as poverty or economic development (for example, Cook, 1995). Other studies focus on general well-being and try to identify factors forming well-being in the communities (for example, Kusel and Fortmann, 1991). These studies build on a mix of social indicators, historical information, and data collection in the communities, regarding how people themselves perceive different aspects of their lives.
  Despite the differences of the approaches, what is common for all of them is the use of social indicators as one of the main tools of well-being assessment. There are two well-being indicator approaches: qualitative-subjective and quantitative-objective. Subjective measures often require individual/community self-assessment (by selected informants or through surveys). Objective measures are based on data sets that document social structure variables. The discussions on the limitations of each approach can be found, for example, in Kusel's or Beckley's works on forest-dependent communities (Kusel, 1996; Beckley, 1995).
  The selection of indicators reflecting individual/community well-being, depends upon the purpose of the assessment. For example, locally generated indicator lists may differ from public service generated lists. Nevertheless, there are certain widely accepted sets of indicators that focus on aspects of individual/community well-being that are easy to quantify, generalize and compare. These sets normally include such indicators as poverty, unemployment, personal physical and mental health, education etc. They also may include suicide, crime, divorce and other measures of social dislocation.
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Individual and Community well-being, by Larrissa Ribova.
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