Social Dynamics in Rural Community

Policy Development

Social Dynamics in Rural Community

Saleena Ham, University of Southern Queensland

We know that rural and regional communities are facing a number of challenges, ones that invite social, economic and environmental change to the way we have done things in the past. We know that this is a tough challenge for frequently conservative communities that have layers of complex cultures and social needs and that they deal with more than the average levels of disadvantage and inconvenience due to distance and expectations of where rural and regional communities fit in Australian society.

We also know that rural people are courageous, curious and compassionate people who are well and truly capable of bringing new solutions to the table, to the paddock, to the Board Room, to the Chamber.

We know that they are the people best placed to know what is suitable for their people in their particular situation.  But often they do also need support, facilitation and shared learning with people from outside their sphere. They need outsiders who are willing to become residents and allies, to bring their unique external qualities and experiences to partnership with the knowledge and experience of the locals in writing the new future stories of community and country life.

This makes it important to know how to welcome and teach and integrate and cooperate to build and experiment. This makes managing the social dynamics and building social capital a critical foundation for success. And this research provides some insights in that direction.

Few studies have considered the impact of social identity dynamics in the context of Australian small rural communities. These research findings from 2019 are drawn from 89 interviews with diverse residents of two small anonymous rural communities in Queensland, Australia, with town populations under 2000.

 Applying social identity theories and a three-part discursive analysis of the interview data the efforts of the established residents and newcomers seeking to negotiate local social legitimacy and belonging are identified and the implications for small community life are explored.

 For more information or assistance in co-design, learning and collaboration :



Social Dynamics in Rural Community -


The Influence of Identity Narratives in Small Towns.  -


Why Don’t They Just Fit In.    -


Dr Saleena Ham

Saleena Ham works as a leader, mediator and co-design facilitator, helping people assess and learn, manage and create to be ready for change.

She was brought up on a property in central west NSW, attended the local Nyngan public school and then boarding school in Sydney. She has a degree in Agricultural Science from Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Moving to Queensland she was for many years an advocate for primary producers with rural representative organisations including the Queensland Farmers Federation. She was employed as a Director in the Queensland Department of Natural Resource Management for several years and then ran her own consultancy from 2001 working with local governments, community organisations, state and federal governments and private companies on contested community issues across Queensland and Northern NSW. She has worked in many rural and regional communities and lives in a motorhome while on those projects for lengthy stretches.

Seeking a new experience she took on a role as Shire Services Manager living and working in the Northern Territory, Utopia Indigenous Homelands Community (2013-2015). Here she managed the day to day functioning of essential infrastructure and essential service delivery, within the realities of a very remote community.


She returned to Queensland to complete studies in mediation and conflict resolution and then to research with the University of Southern Queensland on topics including digital connectivity, access to health services and social dynamics of rural towns. She has continued as a contracted specialist serving private business and non-government interests in regional communities including codesign of private business efficiencies and addressing loneliness, conflict and social connection for problem solving in rural communities.

She is experienced with contested issues and contexts where we need to work together. She works with messy real-world problems and humans, resolving situations where often there is an untidy history. Saleena facilitates, coaches, teaches and learns with those invested in the situation, to build trust, work through problems, learn skills, reframe and generate new stories of what is possible.

Saleena has a Doctorate in Rural Sociology, a Masters in International Studies, (Peace and Conflict Resolution), a Diploma in Professional Coaching and has been a nationally accredited mediator. However, she also has ample on-the-ground, in-community, alongside-in-problems experience. She is an effective community connector and facilitator, especially involving contested community issues but the primary goal and objective is to build the knowledge, awareness and skill of local people working together.