Systems or community to meet your needs? What to do about social connection in outer-metro suburbs

APO is proud to be partnering with Swinburne University of Technology and Australian Red Cross on the event, Achieving Social Connection & Community Resilience: Joining the dots between policy, practice, research and community. In this Guest blog, Jane Farmer and Abiola Ajetomobi discuss findings from recent research and the sometimes misplaced assumptions about migrant experiences.

Photo of members of the Wyndham community - some in cultural dress - jumping in the air.
Source: Wyndham City Council

In 2022-23, we conducted more than 160 hours of interviews with outer-metro Melbourne residents about their experiences of social connection or isolation. To discover the findings and reactions from policymakers, practitioners, and community, register for the event on 6 June 2023. Meanwhile, here’s a taster from the recent research briefing … it probes experiences of connected in-migrants compared with more insecure contacts described by longer-term residents.

Connections versus contacts

While each person has their unique story of connection, in research from the ARC Linkage project, Activating Social Connection (LP200301335), we found consistent depictions of apparently quite opposite experiences. These were from two clusters of people in the data. In early feedback to councils, this was posed as a question: 

Are in-migrants more resilient in making connection compared with long-term Australians?

This raised quite a lot of contention as you can probably imagine. Some people suggested in-migrants are forced to be resilient to deal with Australia’s policies.

In the data this looks like a group of interviewees who talk about layers of community they are embedded in – cultural, church/faith, people who meet and talk, do sport, have coffee, shop. And where community has some place-based elements but reaches across Melbourne and Australia and back home to countries of origin.

In contrast, we found a group of longer-term Australians who depict trying out or being part of multiple activities but, despite solid efforts, not achieving fulfilling connection. This group spends quite a lot of time thinking about connection and trying out ways to try to get it.

Are these contrasted pictures in some way valid? If so, what is going on here?

Abiola suggests that the data highlights the contrast between Australians’ faith in – and prioritisation of – systems to meet their needs versus an in-migrant culture of interwoven dependence.

She said the findings were exciting and validating because they further reinforced how humans all have unique experiences that cannot fit into a box. And how our individual experiences shape our sense of connection and belonging. 

She said, “reading through the report, I was fascinated to see the significance of deepening the meaning of connection and what it means to feel. For more recent in-migrants, Australia doesn’t necessarily become a home, it’s a dwelling, a place they find themself by choice or by being forced from their home. The inherent resilience seen in the research data is expressive in peoples’ day to day living, and this expression of resilience should be celebrated and cherished. The sense of connection with communities of culture while living in new communities of place should not be contested but validated.”  

What should community organisations – like our council, community health and humanitarian organisation partners in research – do with this potential finding? We aren’t going to answer this here, but it’s captivating isn’t it? 

To be part of this conversation, register for the event.    

For a summary of more surprising and interesting findings see our new research briefing, ​​”When you find people like you, you don’t have to explain yourself”: experiences of social connection in outer-metropolitan suburbs which features in the Social Connection Collection

Abiola Ajetomobi is a lived experience equity and inclusion consultant and Founder of Leading Impact NOW. She is passionate about advancing lived experience voices through her work as a social services transformational coach. 

Professor Jane Farmer is the Founding Director of the Social Innovation Research Institute at Swinburne University. She’s a leader, collaborator, social innovator and Chief Investigator on the ARC Linkage project, Activating Social Connection in Australia. Check out her guide, Social Connection 101.