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Social networking drives inclusion revolution


Writing for The Australian, sociologist and commentator Frank Furedi recently wrote in negative terms about the concept of social inclusion. Furedi is an international scholar and social commentator of note, and I take his point of view seriously. However I also take issue with a number of his points.

For me social inclusion is neither theoretical nor ideological. It is not merely about 'feelgood policies'. It is about clear targets and tangible outcomes and improving the lives of people experiencing disadvantage. Cutting through red tape and pushing government departments to get things done in homelessness and mental health. Action, which can be measured, not slogans.

That said, neither would I easily dismiss the exploration of immaterial or intangible goals such as personal fulfillment and happiness in the lives of citizens. The important role for government in developing such goals is to explore ways to develop tangible outcomes that can be measured.

Various governments and institutions have been exploring a social inclusion agenda since the 1970s with varying levels of success. I believe social inclusion is resonating more and more with citizens and will become even more relevant in the 21st century. This is because the two pillars on which social inclusion is built — access and participation — are becoming more central to citizens' expectations.

Access means access to opportunities (education, training, employment, housing) and to services (health, mental health, disability, justice) that allow individuals to participate as fully as possible in the economic and social life and networks of community.

I believe access and participation will be seen more and more as a social right of citizenship in Australia. And it is the communication explosion and the ease of use of new technology that are driving the embrace of access and participation by citizens.

For example, we now pay online not only to purchase but to access products. And you only have to reflect for a moment on the world of wikis, social networking sites like Facebook and blogging to realise participation in sharing information and ideas is becoming an increasing practice.

People are becoming more familiar with the experience of access and participation — and they like it! These are becoming high values for 21st century citizens.

Through these experiences of instant access and participation, we are seeing a new awakening in citizens. It's easier to be involved online; more citizens want to have their views and opinions heard as part of the process of social living and decision making. Governments need to be aware and alert. Citizens will increasingly desire a more active role in their system of government.

In a limited way governments have been trying to engage their citizens through forms of consultation, that in the years ahead I think we will see as crude if not primitive. Unfortunately the word 'consultation' has become for many a euphemism for engaging and then politely ignoring the views of individuals and different communities.

Governments continue to struggle to keep engaged with their citizens and to develop ongoing dialogue with them. Successful governments of the future will take note of how citizens are connecting through technology. Smart governments will find new ways to use these kinds of connections to develop new trust and new dialogue between citizens and government.

Access and participation, the two pillars of social inclusion, are taking centre stage in the public mind. They will be a dynamic force for decades to come because citizens will demand them as a right. The signs of the times are there for all to see. Governments in Australia will rise or fall depending upon their ability to connect, to dialogue and develop trust, and then to deliver. 

David CappoMonsignor David Cappo AO was chair of the South Australian Social Inclusion Board 2002-2011 and deputy chairman of the Australian Social Inclusion Board 2008-2011.

Topic tags: David Cappo, social inclusion, social networking



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Existing comments

I would argue that most of the forms of participation you mention still exclude those who have literacy barriers, which is a very high proportion of those experiencing social exclusion.

Melita | 25 January 2012  

Social inclusion could ameliorate the mental states and lives of people with a serious, treatable but incurable, mental illness. This aspect of therapy is almost totally neglected. Members of the RANZCP are too busy providing medications (and, too frequently, being financially recompensed for doing so by drug companies). When has the College tried to influence governments by emphasising the necessity of social therapies; secure, decent, long-term housing, assistance with vocational training for that majority of clients who could benefit from this, decent community living with 24/7 care available for those whose condition is more resistant to improvement, financial help for those groups working to help sufferers handle their voices and become freer, less terrified people. Our treatment of the seriously mentally ill, their life expectancy and suicide rates have not improved since 1916, as shown by ANZ Health Policy research in 2009!! Monsignor, you have the ability to publicise this 'third world' neglect in our supposedly first world country. You must do so.

Caroline Storm | 25 January 2012  

David, thanks for a clear response to Furedi. Your clear statement of the goals and pillars of social inclusion is refreshing and very helpful in a context often muddied by misguided self-interest. The role of technology in providing avenues of access and participation essential to social inclusion is under-appreciated.

Gary Bouma | 25 January 2012  

When I read the precis at the head of this article, I thought David Cappo must have been writing about Bill Morris, the Australian Church and Rome. Perhaps he was but didn't say so precisely!!
All organizations, including the Catholic Church "will rise or fall depending upon their ability to connect, to dialogue, and develop trust and then to deliver"! Ask the Toowoomba and other Catholics: I am sure they will agree.

garry | 25 January 2012  

"Governments in Australia will rise or fall depending upon their ability to connect, to dialogue and develop trust, and then to deliver. " I presume David means "Church governments", not only in Australia but throughout the world.

Ted Hewitt | 27 January 2012  

Facebook does indeed have the potential to completely change the lives of all those homeless people who have blackberries.

Geoff Fox | 05 February 2012  

The recent public attention on social inclusion highlights a lack of ‘whole of government’ approach within the decision-making realm. Minister Butler’s incapacity to provide a coherent explanation of SI when asked was embarrassing. It had a debilitating impact on those of us on the ground who use SI as a means to pursue more meaningful and efficacious models of intervention when addressing disengagement. This was the more so given his long and close association with the concept in his home state before it became fashionable in the federal sphere. Not much point paying out on bureaucrats for policy blunders when their masters display such ignorance. And another thing. The recent riots and social unrest in the UK occurred in areas where SI (or social exclusion as it is known in the EU) was well entrenched. Ten years of actively implementing social exclusion policies in these communities was not enough to instil a sense of ‘community’ in many younger citizens. The power and the role of social networking facilities and behaviours to drive the unrest was demonstrated. Access to social networks certainly contributed to participation here.

Toby oConnor | 08 February 2012  

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