‘Just being there for someone can sometimes bring hope when all seems hopeless’ (Dave G Llewellyn)
The Growth at the Edge project will be measuring the impact that social enterprises have on health and wellbeing in rural communities. In designing a methodology I am becoming increasingly aware of the effect that ‘just being there’ will have on participant’s wellbeing, particularly in areas where community members may have little contact with external practitioners, such as researchers. This led me to ponder further about how open people might be to experiences that may affect their health and wellbeing, and their perceptions of their environment and relationships around them. What kinds of emotional tendencies do people have? What if someone’s life is filled with pessimism and scepticism? But mostly, to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “wellbeing exists in two dimensions, subjective and objective. It comprises an individual’s experience of their life as well as a comparison of life circumstances with social norms and values”. The subjective side of wellbeing relates to how people perceive the quality of their lives; their emotional judgements towards happiness and how content they are with specific areas of their lives. Studies have found that being in good health generally makes people feel happier, and such happy emotions can have a positive effect on subjective feelings of wellbeing. Similarly, wellbeing can be generated if a person feels optimistic about their future and in control of their life.
Antonovsky (1967) expressed this with ‘Sense of Coherence’ theory, which describes how feelings of health and wellbeing are underpinned by three main components. Firstly, having a comprehension that things happen in an orderly fashion and life events are predictable; secondly, that life is manageable and you have the support and resources to take care of things; and thirdly, a belief that things are meaningful and worthwhile, giving you a sense of purpose.
My project will be adopting a participatory action research (PAR) approach embedding the principles of design thinking to measure the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises. Potentially, by taking part in social enterprise activities, individuals and communities may feel empowered and less socially isolated. Communities may gain collective and individual responsibilities, and work in collaboration with stakeholders to develop and engage in something socially beneficial; the health and wellbeing effects of which could be increased physical, mental and emotional health. I can only hypothesise at this stage.
Nevertheless, in using participatory action research to measure the effects of social enterprise I will be working alongside individuals and communities to co-produce research methods and will allow them to guide the research topics. Individuals will be given the resources and support to engage in issues that are important in their lives; they will be given a voice and will become important stakeholders in the future of their social enterprise. PAR will allow participants to take part in meaningful practices such as workshops, interviews and focus groups, giving them a sense of purpose in the research arena. PAR methods could be as big as organising a community wide photography project, or as small as visiting an elderly community member for a cup of tea. I may form friendships and bonds with participants, much like Clemmie has highlighted in her previous blog //tinyurl.com/mertqbd. The very nature of PAR is that it goes straight to the heart of community engagement, much like social enterprises themselves.
So going back my original question- to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing? What if the processes involved in participatory action research has more of an effect on individual’s wellbeing than the actual social enterprise itself? How do we unpick this, and should we unpick this?
The answers to this may be as simple as explicitly stating what I am aiming to measure from the outset, and asking participants to only comment on the social enterprise. Yet one cannot foresee the impact the presence of the researcher may have on the social enterprise itself.
The web continues to weave.