Social Infrastructure: Cementing Community Futures
The word ‘infrastructure’ is a familiar one. We usually equate it with ‘economic infrastructure’, roads, bridges, water, gas, electricity, and telecommunications. But economic infrastructure is only one part of the equation.
Strong communities need economic infrastructure to function, but to flourish they need social infrastructure.
To explore this theme in more detail, the Regional Australia Institute is conducting a survey to learn about attitudes towards social infrastructure. We want to know how it is defined, what motivates communities or individuals to invest in social infrastructure, how projects are implemented and what the expected outcomes are.
With this information we want to build an evidence base for further research to better understand the need for social infrastructure.
Why invest in social infrastructure?
Social infrastructure includes any physical infrastructure that is social in nature, together with the services that infrastructure helps to provide.
Social infrastructure provides the services and facilities that meet the needs of residents, promoting social interaction and enhancing overall quality of life.
The economic benefits of social infrastructure have been well-documented overseas. Research conducted in the USA and UK has shown that:1
• There was a net return of $2.60 for every dollar invested in providing universal pre-school education in California;
• For every $1 invested in community networks and services, $10 were saved in costs on poor health, reduced crime and better employment outcomes; and
• There was a saving of $4 for every $1 invested in a Michigan pre-school program which benefits to society in general were factored in.
It often makes good sense to invest in social infrastructure. However, regional Australia is not metropolitan England or America. We need to know more about how regional communities benefit from investment in social infrastructure or suffer from the lack of it.
The RAI is compiling an evidence base on the benefits of investing in social infrastructure.
Our suspicion is that the social infrastructure needs in many regional areas are the same or even greater than the economic needs. But the evidence about that need are not well established enough to support good local decisions and better policy approaches.
How you can get involved
If you have experience working with social infrastructure in regional, rural or remote communities, we want to hear your story through our Social Infrastructure Survey.
The survey will take approximately 30 minutes of your time, it explores your views on social infrastructure and experience with social infrastructure projects.
This survey is part of a project supported by the Australian Government to better understand social infrastructure issues. Findings from the survey, case studies of success and other information will be available later in the year.
1. Casey, S. (2005) Establishing standards for social infrastructure. Ipswich: UQ Boilerhouse Community Engagement Centre, University of Queensland.