Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Concept of ‘Community of Ownership and Interest’

Communities of people have many items in which they share a sense of ownership - for example roads, schools, a health service, even a landscape. Those with such an interest form the Community of Ownership and Interest its COI for those items.

All too often a COI's shared ownerships and interests are down played and may even be belittled or denied –particularly when contentious or complex issues are involved. However, recognising the layerings of ownerships and interests, and the social cum cultural dynamics involved, can offer a way forward in dispute resolution plus better, and more inclusive, understandings of 'place'.

If we listed items that had a COI we would include items and locations that were owned by the public – public places and spaces – such as a park, or a river, a monument and/or memorial; an institution and/or a heritage building; a museum; a water supply and/or a forest; a festival and/or a ritual; clearly the list is as endless as the kinds of attachments people have for places, things and events. And the there is the issue of 'cultural property' and 'cultural knowledge' where there are subliminal layers of 'cognitive ownerships' that increasingly come into play with the changing ways Indigenous cultural material – Australian & other – is currently being understood.

Indeed, individuals within a place’s/event's/space's/knowledge system's COI will almost certainly have multiple layers of ownership and interest in it. The ‘truth’ in the ownership and interest here is ‘cognitive,’ a matter of ‘lore’ rather than ‘law’ – that which is taught; hence to do with wisdom; concerning cultural knowledge, traditions and beliefs. It pertains to cognition, the process of knowing, being aware, the acts of thinking, learning and judging. If we take a museum as an exemplar, museums are to do with cognition – musing; the contemplative; the meditative. If we look at courts, then they are to do with power over conduct; enforcement and authority; control and regulation, guilt and innocence – none of which have a place in musing places, nor much to do with musing.

Furthermore, members of the COI should be understood as having both rites and obligations commensurate with their claimed ownership, expressed interest and their relationship to the institution and its overall enterprise.

A member of the COI may also be referred to as a “stakeholder” but stakeholdership in its current usage has generally come to mean a person, group, business or organisation that has some kind vested or pecuniary interest in something or a place.

Typically, 'stakeholders' assert their rights when there is a contentious decision to be made. However, 'stakeholders' are rarely called upon to meet or acknowledge an obligation. Conversely, members of a COI will have innate understandings of the obligations that are expected of them and the rights they expect to enjoy – indeed, there are likely to be stakeholders in the COI mix.

It is just the case that for an institution say, the COI mix, when assessed from outside, is intentionally, functionally and socially more inclusive. That is more inclusive than say a list of stakeholders drawn up in respect to a development project that governments – Local, State & Federal – typically make decisions about.

Stakeholder groups and Communities of Ownership and Interest are concepts with kindred sensibilities – law and lore, the former reinforcing the latter. Nonetheless, they engage with different community sensibilities; with different expectations and different relationships – even if sometimes many of the same people have a ‘stake’ in something as well as other relationships as a member of a COI.

Ray Norman 2010

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