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Community Website

Websites able to enhance sense of belonging for users, research finds

By Hugh Jordan

October 21, 2011 | 2 min read

Community websites can enhance users’ sense of belonging, democratic influence, neighbourliness and involvement in their local area, according to research by community development consultancy, Networked Neighbourhoods.

The Online Neighbourhoods Networks study, carried out over the course of last year, looked at three well-developed hyperlocal websites in London: Brockley Central, East Dulwich Forum and Harringay Online.

The study found 42% of the residents had met someone in their neighbourhood as a direct result of using the website, and 69% said using the site increased their sense of belonging. 95% of users felt more informed about their neighbourhood after using the website.

Where there was active involvement in the websites by local councillors, council officers and police, a more positive impression of the public officials was noted. Almost 42% of respondents said their attitude toward local councillors had changed for the better.

The most significant barrier preventing further involvement in community websites by public officials was a ‘concern about getting involved in protracted and discordant conversations’. Uncertainty over official protocol was another reason cited.

One of the most interesting findings of the study was that 69% of users said the community website was their primary source of local news, compared to 11% for their local newspaper and 7% for TV.

The effect of national media’ sensationalism and negativity, coupled with the demise of local media outlets, is not yet known. But people’s perception of risks in society such as crime often consistently contradicts the statistical likelihood of those risks happening.

Given that 91% of respondents to the Online Neighbourhoods Networks study felt people expressed pride in their local area through the community websites, such sites may have a vital role in helping to provide a counterbalance to the negativity of the national press.

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