Change in our community comes about through communication, getting the facts, sharing information, coming together around a shared vision and choosing to take the type of action that over time produces change.
We have individual priorities as to where change is most needed. Those are a function of our interest, personal experience and how any given set of circumstances impact our lives.
Nothing changes, however, absent reflection, discussion and a decision to do something.
Family and friends are our usual sounding board. We need to go beyond this level of interaction. This requires reaching out beyond our immediate circle.
Identifying who share similar concerns and finding an opportunity to engage around important issues is difficult. More often than not our effort to identify those with kindred interests falls short of being successful.
Virgin Islands Capital Resources believes that a virtual community forum web site can change that dynamic and bring individuals with similar interest together to make change happen.
A forum is an online discussion site. Conversation unfolds in the form of real time posted messages that can be as long as the writer chooses to engage. The site and the posted conversations are continually available and can be expanded and added to by any participant.
The idea of forums existed in ancient Greek and Roman cities. It was the public place for open discussion of issues.
In Liberia, West Africa, the palava hut serves a similar function, as does the community long house in several first nation and Native American cultures. Pacific Island communities come together in meetinghouses and New Englanders gather in town hall meetings.
Similar venues exist in most societies, though with population growth a physical venue is increasingly difficult to house the entire community and time constraints limit the exchange of ideas.
The Internet and social media address these constraints.
The web-based forum allows connecting with others at a time of the individual’s choosing and through a multiplicity of devices. The limiting constraint is Internet access and web connectivity. Members of that virtual community can collaborate in ways that advance their thinking to action in an effort to bring about change.
Many communities have on-line list serves that allow residents to share information relevant to their neighbors. The VI Cap virtual forum focuses on issues germane to our Virgin Islands’ community. It bridges the communication distance between individuals and islands.
Jean-Claude Elias, writing in the Jordan Times, comments that web-based communities allow greater interaction and the exchange of information.
The forum portal promotes conversation among Virgin Islanders and those interested in the future of the Virgin Islands on issues of arts and culture, heritage, medical and social services, politics, environmental concerns, government and business practices and community.
It affords members access to different points of view. Those with less developed thoughts have the opportunity to learn from others, and in the process identify those with kindred interest.
With the existence of larger social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the question can be why can a local communication platform accomplish what those larger platforms do not.
A recent article in the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior provides an answer.
The University of Exeter’s Louis Pendry and Sweet Bria College’s Jessica Salvatore research suggests “…users of discussion forums may find themselves with improved well-being and may [be] …empowered and galvanized to work for the cause offline.”
Pendry and Salvatore support the proposition that a community forum offers something different from large social media. A forum has the potential to provide social capital and affect related off-line civic activity because it brings members closer together by identifying common interests and providing a dedicated online space to congregate and discuss what is relevant to their community.
Patricia Radin, the award winning journalist and editor who wrote about medical activism in cyber space shares a similar position. She believes the forum formula transforms many casual visitors into people who wholeheartedly contribute to the community and plant the seeds of revolution.
Larger social media, lacking anonymity, is less effective in enticing individuals into a candid sharing of thought and opinion.
Pendry and Salvatore’s research indicates that the initial anonymity afforded by discussion forums is an important aspect in forming community, as this anonymity reduces the feeling of threat and allows the development of a sense of identity and closeness to like-minded virtual interaction partners.
Nationally we hear calls for a conversation around the subjects of race, gun violence, identity politics, gender issues and immigration to mention a few. The hope is for a robust exchange of ideas around each of these critical topics that leads to favorable resolution.
Locally, until we all get involved in a freewheeling exchange of ideas on matters important to our community, little will get positively resolved.
A community forum can begin the process of identifying a trajectory of change to improve the quality of life within our Virgin Islands.
https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/community-action-blog/2011/dec/08/facebook-social-media-community-development- Louise F. Pendry, Jessica Salvatore, Computers in Human Behavior, “Individual and social benefits of online discussion forums”
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.06.022 -Patricia Radon, Social Science and Medicine “To Me, Its my life”: Medical communication, trust and activism in cyberspace”
http://www.jordantimes.com/news/features/good-social-networks-and-virtual-communities-do -Jean- Claude Elias “The good that social networks and virtual communities do”