Guest post by Paula Jensen
I was on my second video conference of the day earlier last week and a peer in the meeting said, “Time-out! I need to ask everyone a question.” We all agreed, and he said, “What would you be doing this weekend, if the world hadn’t fallen apart?” Some people answered by saying they would be meeting with friends or family for a meal. Others offered special events like getting fitted for their wedding dress. Many mentioned normal things — laundry, cooking, kids, housework, or binge-watching Netflix. But, whatever the answer, we all agreed the way we are living and working today is much different than one month ago.
So, what if I changed that question just a bit and asked you, “How is your community doing after the world fell apart?”
Things are changing quickly around us — what we knew to be true yesterday, might not be true today and our tomorrow is unclear. And, I’m told change is something rural communities don’t do very well.
Rural communities are often publicly criticized for being slow to change. We prove that point by making disparaging remarks about our own hometowns and are quick to reject new ways of getting things done. Too often people around us say, “We’re fine the way we are.” Those actions lead the world to believe we are in a holding pattern. It sends a negative message that rural communities are not worthy of investment. And, if those mindsets are believed locally it leads toward a path of decline.
My life’s work is focused on empowering and connecting rural communities. To support that work, I recently learned a new facilitation practice called Strategic Doing. It is based on four principles of collaborative action that can lead to change in our organizations, communities, and society. We believe… 1) we have a responsibility to build a prosperous sustainable future for ourselves and future generations; 2) no individual, organization or place can build that future alone; 3) open, honest, focused and caring collaboration among diverse participants is the path to accomplishing clear, valuable, shared outcomes; and 4) in doing, not just talking – in alignment with our beliefs.
When I think about rural’s relationship with change, the Strategic Doing practice excites me! It has the potential to help diverse groups of people create lasting change through a new way of working together. Strategic Doing isn’t about fixing the old system – it’s about designing what’s next based on what is valued most!
And, what I discovered in the past few weeks, because of the shifts due to the pandemic, has been quite the opposite of the criticism – rural is slow to change. I have observed rural communities, with well-connected economic development professionals and progressive local leadership, respond quickly to learn new technology so they could connect proactively with numerous partners to meet the immediate and future needs of the community. Rural leaders and their partners are naturally stepping into pieces of the Strategic Doing process to ask the questions: What could we do? What should we do? What will we do? and Who will do it?
The real test for all of us in rural communities will be based on how we continue to embrace change — new ideas, new supportive practices, new technology, new leaders and new ways to lead — after the pandemic has gone.
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The Community Coach. Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula lives in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 318+. She serves as a Strategic Doing practitioner, grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.