How Care Opinion creates a "sense of community"

Change from Care Opinion Ireland

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We are grateful to Ann O'Brien, a PhD researcher at NUI Galway, for contributing this guest blog post.

The exciting potential of the social value of the internet – what could be enabled by technology to build a better society – has often been promised, but rarely delivered. To discover why people participate online and what might affect how they feel about this, I have been researching ‘sense of community theory’ at NUI Galway.

Aula Maxima

Having looked at many different types of web site, I believe that Care Opinion is a stand out platform, because of the openness and responsiveness it enables. Care Opinion gives people the opportunity to participate online in a meaningful and useful way.

The value of sense of community theory has been recognised in many kinds of community, both online and offline. It looks at the way individuals interact with each other, and an index is used to analyse an individual’s perception of being part of a community. Sense of community theory helps to examine the quality of interactions, because it breaks down interactions into identifiable parts.

Care Opinion gives people the opportunity to participate online in a meaningful and useful way

Like many sites, Care Opinion gives people an opportunity to share information with others. This requires a leap of faith on the part of users: people need to know that the platform is a safe place to join in. The norms of participation on the Care Opinion platform set the scene for respectful interactions, using empathic language that supports a sense of community through ‘equitable interaction’ on the platform.

Sense of community theory is also interested in ‘sense of belonging’: do other people like me participate on this site? The Care Opinion site is easy to explore using the linked tags and services, enabling someone to find the type of story or location they are looking for. It is very open and transparent. Further, staff responding to stories can use pictures, names and job titles build a sense of legitimacy, openness and trust into their responses.

People using Care Opinion have an opportunity to show their support of other peoples’ stories or their different experiences, with a variety of ways to participate. This gives people an opportunity to show they have ‘identified with the participation’ of other people.

Irish politicians should now come forward and start listening to Care Opinion Ireland stories

The activity section of the Care Opinion platform shows openly who has read the story: this gives story writers a way to know that they have shared their experiences with people who plan or run services and can make changes, giving these stories a real opportunity to influence care in the future. I believe that Irish politicians should now come forward and start listening to Care Opinion Ireland stories in the same way that, in Scotland, MSPs are listening to the stories their constituents are posting on Care Opinion there.

People participate for all kinds of reasons, and it is important that they experience some kind of ‘needs fulfilment’from participating on the Care Opinion platform. For story readers/writers, this might include: having the opportunity to share experiences, learning more about the experiences of others, receiving a reply from staff, influencing a change, or receiving appropriate information.

For staff responders or readers, needs fulfilment could come from receiving validation for their work, being part of making a change, or from receiving useful information that could influence change.

Through my research, I’m really looking forward to learning more about the experiences of people who use Care Opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts on sense of community. Do respond to this blog post or find me on Twitter at @anncarlowgirl.

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