Applied Research in Quality of Life

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 239–261 | Cite as

Measuring Social Sustainability: A Community-Centred Approach

  • Liam Magee
  • Andy Scerri
  • Paul James


Efforts to measure social and community sustainability confront a series of methodological dilemmas. We present four key distinctions that tend to orient such efforts: between objective and subjective assessment; between “communities” as the sum-of-their-parts, or as holistic and distinct entities in themselves; between present and future aspects to be measured; and between use of “top–down” and “bottom–up” indicators. We then propose a questionnaire for sustainability assessment in light of these. We administered the questionnaire to various communities in the Middle East, South and South East Asia between 2006 and 2010, and present descriptive summaries and a factor analysis of the results here. The results serve two aims: to augment existing qualitative research conducted in the respective areas, and to test the validity and reliability of the instrument itself. Several limitations of the questionnaire emerged during analysis, which we discuss. The results also show strong correlation with national Human Development Index figures for the communities surveyed and moreover, point to several interesting attitudinal divergences between the communities sampled. We conclude with an outline of a revised sustainability assessment instrument that has application for research looking to bridge the gap between psychological orientations towards wellbeing, on the one hand, and sociological or organizational studies on sustainability, on the other hand.


Community Wellbeing Quality of life Sustainability Indicators 



The people who have contributed to the development of this questionnaire are too numerous to list, but to give a sense of the reach of our indebtedness to others we list the researchers who were involved in the Papua New Guinea project: Albert Age, Sama Arua, Kelly Donati, Jean Eparo, Beno Erepan, Julie Foster-Smith, Betty Gali-Malpo, Andrew Kedu, Max Kep, Leo Kulumbu, Karen Malone, Ronnie Mamia, Lita Mugugia, Martin Mulligan, Yaso Nadarajah, Gibson Oeka, Jalal Paraha, Peter Phipps, Leonie Rakanangu, Isabel Salatiel, Chris Scanlon, Victoria Stead, Pou Toivita, Kema Vegala, Naup Waup, Mollie Willie, and Joe Yomba. In addition, given the issue that the PNG project involved many languages across 50 villages in five provinces, we need to thank in particular, Gerard Arua, Vanapa, Central Province; Monica Arua, Yule Island, Central Province; Viki Avei, Boera, Central Province; Sunema Bagita, Provisional Community Development Advisor, Milne Bay Province; Mago Doelegu, Alotau, Milne Bay Province; Clement Dogale, Vanagi, Central Province; Jerry Gomuma, Alepa, Central Province; Alfred Kaket, Simbukanam/Tokain, Madang Province; Yat Paol from the Bismark Ramu Group, Madang Province; Joseph Pulayasi, Omarakana, Milne Bay Province; Bing Sawanga, Yalu, Morobe Province; Alexia Tokau, Kananam, Madang Province; and Naup Waup, Wisini Village, Morobe Province. They became our formal research leaders in their respective locales and guides to language nuances.

Parts of this research were supported under Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects funding scheme, and for that we thank the ARC.

We also gratefully acknowledge the comments and suggestions of three anonymous reviewers in the preparation of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V./The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Global Studies, Social Science and PlanningRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityCarltonAustralia

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