ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Is "community spirit" the missing link for flood recovery? The search for meaning and the exploration of the role of "community spirit" in flood recovery, 2014 - 2017

Strategic Research Area

Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change


ILWS Scholarship

Investigators/ Researchers

Jennifer Woods (PhD Candidate), Supervisors Dr Jonathon Howard (principal) (CSU), Dr Karen Bell (CSU), Dr Ndungi wa Mungai (CSU)


floods in waggaIn March 2012, after successive flooding, the community of North Wagga was impacted by floodwaters which breached the protective levee. Two years on, the community shows remarkable signs of recovery. Community spirit, recognised by governments, politicians, community leaders, the media and individuals, is indicated as having a role in the flood recovery process. This study will then seek to discover the meaning that community spirit has for this community and following on then to the role of community spirit in this community's flood recovery process.


PhD thesis 2017

Title: Experiences of community spirit in flood recovery: Exploring the opportunities for community development

Abstract: This thesis explores the interpreted meanings of the term ‘community spirit’ within a specific flood context to determine whether community spirit can be used as an asset for disaster recovery. Community spirit is a term used within government, the media, and by politicians with regard to a flood recovery, generally in a positive manner but often without elucidation. The literature review highlights that research presents nuanced meanings of the term but no definitive meaning or discussion about how community spirit might be used as an asset.

Social work functions at the nexus between people and government, applying ethical assumptions around supporting vulnerable people and challenging oppression. As such, it is well placed to utilise community spirit as an asset within a community development framework to achieve social work’s goal of supporting vulnerable people in difficult circumstances.

This qualitative study applied interpretive phenomenological analysis and critical social work theory to address a three-part research question. Firstly, what does the term community spirit mean? Secondly, what is the lived experience of community spirit from a range of stakeholders with regard to a flood event? Finally, if community spirit is an asset, how can it be used by social workers within an asset based community development model to enhance the resilience of that community when future floods and disasters occur?

This research study found a range of nuanced meanings for community spirit from literature, the Australian government and the media. These broader meanings could be compared to the nuanced meanings that the participants with the lived flood experience. The findings from this study concluded that community spirit is, indeed, an asset that can be used by social workers within an asset based community development framework. However, the research also found some differences between the nuanced meanings of community spirit, and these differences are significant for critical social work wisdom. This has implications for social work when utilising community spirit to assist in disaster recovery, and thus some concluding recommendations and timeframes are made.


There is potential for this study to influence policy at the local government level. The results of this study may be utilised in informing emergency management procedures and policy.


Jenny Woods,
CSU -Wagga Wagga

December 2017