How to Transform Communities

How to Transform Communities

People everywhere are concerned about the sustainability of their communities. Extreme income disparities, affordable housing shortages, rising homelessness, and worsening crime are only some of the myriad of problems that surround many of us.

There is a reflexive hope that our state and national politicians can ‘solve’ these problems. This belief is, not surprisingly, often fueled by politicians so that they can be elected. The common narrative sounds something like, “if only the right leader were elected, our problems would be solved.”

The reality is that all communities are different in size, culture, region, economy and ecology – all are unique. No “one size fits all” political approach is going to make a meaningful difference to improving our local challenges; communities need to own their problems and work to solve the issues in an organized and rational non-political manner. As communities succeed, the solutions they develop can inform broader policy so that other towns, counties and states can benefit. Waiting for solutions to come from the top is like Waiting for Godot. We will be waiting forever.

Some communities do problem solving better than others, but I believe all could benefit from a methodology that incorporates what has become more common in the world of business: systems thinking, human centered design, data driven decision making, dialogue, and organized problem-solving processes.

Communities need to define their problems, identify a desired future state and then put together strategies to accomplish the desired outcomes. This sounds simple in concept, but it is difficult in practice and innovation in this process is long overdue. Let me share an example from my experience.

Fifteen years ago the community of West Michigan was awarded a Department of Labor grant: Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development or WIRED. The grant was for $15 million to be spent over 5 years to improve the conditions for economic development and training. I co-chaired the committee that was to spend the money. We did the right things: we sent out requests for proposal, we received good proposals and we decided on the best practices to fund. It seemed like a logical approach. But it basically failed to bring any real lasting benefit from our investment of $15 million into the community. So, a group of business leaders were called together and we asked ourselves what we could have done better, and what should we do now? Should we try to raise another $15 million? We concluded that a real strategy was far more important than more money. We reasoned that if we had a good strategy the money would be easy to raise.

The group decided to work at strategy and to focus on a cross cutting theme that had implications for the community and for business: increasing the supply and quality of talent in the region. Starting in 2015 the organization named itself Talent 2025, with the purpose of having world class talent in the community by 2025. 

We felt that men and women who had run businesses had the right kind of experience at developing and implementing strategy, so we invited business owners and leaders to be members of the organization. We asked each to contribute some money to support the required small staff, and formed eleven working groups led by many of our 125 business leaders, representing a quarter of the workforce in the region and a full range of organization sizes.

Robust research and data analysis, along with impassioned and invested leaders convening the broader community around critical issues produced a learning organization that led to a deeper understanding of our communities’ issues and interconnectedness.

We learned a great deal and when we prioritized our strategic focus, the group coalesced around the lever of early childhood education. Research shows that being ready for school predicts the ability of children to be reading by 3rd grade. Our group became deeply aware that in order to have an articulate problem-solving employee at age 18+, they needed to have good education opportunities at very early ages. For many of us, it was eye-opening to read studies that could predict the number of prison cells needed based on 3rd grade reading success.  Talent 2025’s mission focused on how to galvanize more state money for early education – ­an objectively logical investment. The result was striking, as the state of Michigan, with a Republican governor and Republican controlled legislature, approved vastly increased sums for early education in two successive sessions.

As the national race for the White House heats up, it is a good time to re-think what each of us can do in our own neighborhoods. Help probably isn’t going to come from above, but by developing clear local strategies to solve our community problems. We need to bring disparate parties together and effectively use data and research to change the nature of the discussion from something political to something practical. Let’s forget flash words like conservative and liberal, and talk in terms of what is right for our community and how to pay for it. The keys to making this work are to include a broad range of leaders who have knowledge of, and passion for, the needed work and to build trust by using a process that is both empirical and inclusive of those involved in the problem and of those who feel the effects. 

44 Responses to How to Transform Communities

  1. It is actually mostly unthinkable to come across well-aware parties on this issue, still, you come across as like you are familiar with what exactly you’re writing about! Appreciate It

  2. Aw, this was a very good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a very good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  3. Good day here, just turned alert to your writings through Yahoo and bing, and discovered that it’s seriously beneficial. I’ll be grateful for should you decide continue this approach.

  4. Hello there! This article could not be written much better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I’ll send this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a great read. I appreciate you for sharing!

  5. You’re so awesome! I do not think I’ve truly read a single thing like this before. So nice to find someone with genuine thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This website is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  6. It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  7. I absolutely love your website.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you make this web site yourself? Please reply back
    as I’m attempting to create my very own website and want to know
    where you got this from or just what the theme is named.

  8. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I have you book marked to look at new things you post…

  9. A fascinating discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you ought to publish more about this issue, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people don’t speak about these issues. To the next! Cheers!!

  10. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but after looking at many of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely delighted I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

  11. Aw, this was a really good post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a great article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  12. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve visited this web site before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

  13. I really love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you build this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own personal website and would love to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Thank you.

  14. I seriously love your site.. Great colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own site and would love to know where you got this from or what the theme is named. Cheers.

  15. Fact of the future: There are a lot of people that would pay a minimum of $10,000,000 USD for each founder token of appreciation known as 777 immortality smart contract.

  16. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really
    enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be
    subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

America Must Mend Many Fences on Trade

America Must Mend Many Fences on Trade

The past four years of US protectionism and unilateralism will serve as a lasting reminder of how not to conduct trade policy in the twenty-first century. The Trump administration has utterly failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, and the incoming Biden administration will have to act quickly to repair the damage. Continue Reading