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“We can help” : an Australian case study of post-disaster online convergence and community resilience

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Irons, M (2015) “We can help” : an Australian case study of post-disaster online convergence and community resilience. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Fundamental to contemporary approaches to disaster risk reduction is a focus on community resilience. Resilience is a process, and therefore one of the challenges of its study is the identification of its components. One approach was developed by Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche and Pfefferbaum (2008), who identified four networked resources (objects, conditions, characteristics and energies that are of value) critical for resilience: economic development, information and communication, social capital and community competence.
Norris et al. (2008) also suggest that there are three adaptive capacities critical for post-event functioning, proposing that there will be improved resilience if resources are sufficiently robust (strong and with a low risk of deterioration), redundant (easily substitutable with other resources in the event of deterioration), and rapid (mobilised and used quickly) to buffer or counteract the effects of the stressor.
While Norris et al.’s work (2008) dealt primarily with 'mainstream' aspects of community and societal life, it is also important to explore how virtual relationships and connectedness, particularly via social media, influence how community resilience is developed and enacted after an emergency.
The importance of examining the link between social media and community resilience is framed in terms of the growing tendency for people to turn to social media during disasters and use it as a tool for sourcing assistance, sharing information, communicating with friends and family, and forming online emergent groups in order to assist with the response and recovery. Social media platforms increase the potential for people to interrelate throughout the response and recovery. As with any new technology, there has been reluctance in multiple sectors to embrace the usage of social media during emergencies, and while both positive and negative anecdotal evidence is available, the research base and collection of empirical case studies in this area is small.
Using thematic and content analysis, the characteristics of an online emergent group that formed after a bushfire disaster in Australia in 2013 are examined. The group of spontaneous volunteers formed as a Facebook page, Tassie Fires - We Can Help (TFWCH). Using Norris et al.’s framework (2008), this thesis explores how social media facilitated the four resources in Norris et al.’s model, thereby potentially contributing to increased community resilience. This analysis of community perspectives and processes that emerged in a bushfire event is used to examine the utility of the Norris et al. model, specifically in the context of social media, as a framework for conceptualising community resilience.
Three sets of data were analysed. To form a basic understanding of the users and the usage of the page, a number of Facebook metrics sourced through social media analysts Locowise were examined, including user sex, location, age, and usage statistics such as page engagement.
Using qualitative data analysis software package NVivo, 2,443 of the page Administrator’s posts over the first year of the page’s life were also examined in order to explore the characteristics and functions of TFWCH. Six overarching themes, 173 key themes and 935 subordinate themes were established.
Three different questionnaires were administered to users of the page, targeting individuals who had assisted, organisations who had assisted, and bushfire-affected individuals who had sought assistance through the page (N= 678). The questionnaires included a number of qualitative and quantitative items, such as exploring which sources of media were most important to users of the page, and which volunteering behaviours respondents completed. Qualitative items included in the questionnaires were analysed thematically.
Evidence is provided that a community-driven online emergent group can facilitate a number of the elements proposed by Norris et al. (2008) to generate resilience, including information exchange, communication, resource provision, social support, citizen participation, collaboration and collective efficacy. There is evidence that digitally driven emergent groups can provide these resources in a robust, rapid and redundant way, potentially more so than offline spontaneous volunteers or formal responders, thereby further contributing to resilience.
It emerged in this analysis that when analysed in the social media context, the model can be complemented by the inclusion of additional factors. It became clear that the leadership or Administration of an online emergent group is a key component of its success. Therefore it is proposed that skilful leadership, including meticulous information curation, is a resource that belongs centrally in Norris et al.’s model (2008). The data also pointed to a need to develop the resilience model to complement social support provision with psychological first aid, the provision of which became a key focus for the online emergent group.
The findings have implications for the field of emergency management. Due to its functionality as a communications platform, information exchange and method to engage with the community, it is recommended that social media is embraced and harnessed, and that virtual operations support teams should be formed for surge support in times of crisis. It is also recommended that online emergent groups should be legitimated and supported, as they have the potential to contribute significantly to community resilience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Social media, resilience, natural disaster, psychological first aid, leadership, community psychology
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2015 the author

Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2016 02:45
Last Modified: 14 May 2017 17:00
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