Exploring sense of community for online citizen engagement

Ann O'Brien
Dr. Murray Scott

19 Apr 2018, 3:30 p.m.
Auditorium 1

This study explores what value is created through online citizen engagement by using the community psychology Sense of Community theory to examine the behavioral aspects of eParticipation.

One of the advantages of Sense of Community (SOC) theory is that it enables the exploration of individuals’ perceptions of group interaction. However, whilst Sense of Community is well validated in other online and offline settings including virtual learning environments, e-commerce and social media communities, this research is the first to develop a SOC measure to identify the determinants of success in online interaction and citizen engagement.

Although SOC has been empirically correlated with trust and political efficacy in other domains, the search to uncover the value of citizen engagement continues, with research from Canada, Europe, Korea and Taiwan highlighting the absence of government responsiveness to citizen feedback as an important challenge to successful citizen engagement. To analyse the dynamic of the online interaction between citizen and government, SOC rules of engagement for eParticipation are developed. In addition, this research develops specific subconstructs for SOC: sense of belonging, identified participation, equitable interaction and needs fulfilment, specifically for online citizen engagement.

These SOC rules of engagement are used as part of a qualitative analysis of the interactions between citizens and care professionals on a highly successful online participatory platform in the UK — Care Opinion — in which the structure of the interactions is broken down to analyse the depth and value of the online participation process.

The contribution to the body of knowledge of citizen engagement and to the design of platforms and process arise from the identification and empirical verification of important behavioural elements of online interaction in this domain, leading to the creation of a measure of the success of online interaction in citizen engagement.