A note from Executive Director Andrea Malmberg: “Toward a Vision of Sustainable Community Wealth: Taking Time for Process”

Andrea Malmberg

“I think it is pretty safe to say that there are few opportunities to productively engage with the diversity of people in our communities to solve problems of mutual concern. When we do “mix it up” it often results in conflict rather than consensus…”

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This, in my opinion is not a conducive environment to create the change needed in our communities. Instead, if we are going to someday see communities that are ecologically, socially, and financial prosperous we need to work together across group and ideological lines. But do we have the skills or the patience to seek consensus on the strategies that will lead to sustainable communities?

 

Most problems, especially ones as big as creating community wealth, appear irresolvable because the information base used to solve them is limited. Beliefs and behaviors become frozen in time, as our minds seek to create comfortable patterns in which to respond. The problem with this tendency is that it is exacerbated when we end up only hanging out with people that have similar beliefs and behaviors as we do. Learning and growing requires the thawing of the old pattern or belief and refreezing to the new.

 

Learning and growing is a requirement for consensus seeking, which means that a learning environment must be created. Consensus seeking recognizes that: (1) We learn through experience; (2) We must be able to experience uncertain, uncomfortable conditions to learn; (3) It takes time in the front end of a decision to create a common knowledge base sufficient to make a consensus decision; and (4) Changing behaviors is more powerful than changing words.

 

With the intention of providing a place where people from all walks of life could build their capacity to find consensus on strategies that will lead to community wealth, Oregon Rural Action hosted Building Community Wealth: A Program for Change in Pendleton, Ontario, Baker City, Cove, and John Day this spring. Facilitated by Jeff Goebel, nearly 100 people began the conversations about what sustainable community prosperity would look like.

 

The gatherings utilized a consensus seeking process created by Bob Chadwick (though I think he would say that all of the people that have ever used it created it). Bob Chadwick, coincidentally a former resident of La Grande, is nationally recognized for his abilities in bringing differing groups together to communicate and develop common solutions. He has pioneered the development of consensus-building that fosters creative solutions to old conflicts. The concept of conflict goes beyond the idea of a squabble or a war to include things like the conflict that arises when there are job losses or when there is a natural disaster. Bob’s meeting format yields very different results from conventional styles. Not compromise, not middle ground, not voting on priorities, but it is a respectful, honest, and effective method for moving diverse groups into new beliefs and behaviors. The Building Community Wealth Workshops showed that information from many different perspectives, when listened to, can create a new, shared knowledge base with which to resolve problems.

 

Participants in each workshop established what the best outcomes are for creating community wealth in each place. Fostering the best outcomes requires looking at beliefs, behaviors, strategies and actions. Yet, typically our outcome-based society is only focused on action plans or strategies. What we learned through this process is that if the beliefs are not consistent with the plans and strategies, they will not be carried out. The behavior will tend to be incongruous with the action. The collective statements that resulted from these workshops (which look as different as the individual communities themselves) can all be found on our website or by stopping by our office for a copy. From these statements we can now develop the movement to make the best possible outcomes a reality.

 

Though it might at first appear that there were few tangible results from these meetings, the workshops lay some powerful foundations: voices rarely vocalized were heard, an amazing sense of diversity and respect filled the room of each gathering, and new relationships were created. This I believe is the first step in creating the communities in which we wish to live. Won’t you join us in continuing that journey?


Building Wealth in Local Communities: A Program for Change

“Building Wealth in Local Communities: A program for change” is a community-based process for attaining short- and long-term sources of revenue and employment by identifying local resources, engaging local initiative and talent, and designing a locally endorsed and sponsored vision of community quality of life. This process can rebuild wealth for individuals, businesses, communities, and governments through a community visioning process focusing on the triple-bottom line: people, profit, and planet.

Many of you may have attended the ORA Annual Meeting in 2009, which featured a community wealth building component facilitated by Jeff Goebel.  In early 2010 we brought Jeff back to Eastern Oregon to help facilitate these workshops in five counties: Umatilla, Malheur, Union, Grant, and Baker. The sessions were as diverse as the participants, as diverse as our communities – and just as inspiring in the sweep of ideas that came out.

Communities

Scroll through the following workshop locations to read a summary about the event and the notes and Collective Statements that came out of each.

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Pendleton: March 13 – 10am-5pm – Pendleton Arts Center

Download the group’s Collective Statement (Word doc)

Download the original event flyer (PDF)

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In March a group of Pendleton citizens came together to spend a day listening to and learning from each other at the Community Wealth Building Workshop. The day was spent defining what they see as community wealth and success in Umatilla County. While it was a diverse group, including, business owners, farmers and social service advocates, it was a respectful environment and at all times the participants were tolerant of each other’s views and opinions.

It was agreed that there is a need to develop a long term vision for the community that is inclusive and creates diverse opportunities and a stable and flexible economic base. Collaboration, diversity, harmony, quality of life and respect were repeatedly declared as critical components of a healthy, wealthy community that works for everyone. The group thought that the best outcomes would be achieved by creating a safe, respectful environment to share ideas, encouraging participation by all members of the community and bringing non-traditional partners together to create an action plan for moving forward.

Ontario: March 20 – 1pm-7:30pm – Treasure Valley Community College

Download the workshop notes (Word doc)

Download the original event flyer (PDF)

Read about our Snake River Chapter’s work in Malheur County and environs

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Because of a common vision, everyone works for the common good. Everyone’s basic needs are met: food, health, shelter and happiness. People participate and are invested in community building, which benefits all. Systems are looked at, improved, or new ideas brought in, such as bartering. By getting away from old paradigms and dogmas this will allow us to become better and more resilient and become a community based on understanding and collaborative solutions.
Baker: March 26 – 10am-5pm- Baker City Hall, Council Chambers

Download the group’s Collective Statement

Download the original event flyer (PDF)

Read about our Baker County Chapter’s work in Baker County

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The Building Wealth in Local Communities workshop in Baker City was attended by about 30 people. They represented a broad cross-section of the community and many new relationships were made.

When asked to define community wealth, everyone said that it was more than economics. People said it included relationships, the local environment, diversity, natural resources and a sustainable future. They also said a wealthy community needs to include all its members, present and future, in its wealth. Everyone expressed their love for their community and shared both their concerns and their aspirations for its future.

Participants also came up with a list of behaviors, attitudes, and strategies that will help them achieve their best possible outcome in Baker County. The most impressive result was the intense respect that everyone had for one another. As one woman stated during the adaptive learning phase at the conclusion of the day when asked “What did you learn today that will help you be successful?” I met a whole group of people that I didn’t know. I feel that if I need anything I could call any of you up and you would help me.

Cove: April 3 – 10am-5pm – Kimsey Commons at Cove Ascension School

Download the group’s Collective Statement (Word)

Download the original event flyer (PDF)

Read about our Blue Mountain Chapter’s work in Union County

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The Cove Building Wealth in Local Communities workshop was attended by about 40 people. They represented a broad cross-section of our community, but what was extremely interesting about the workshop was the amount of common ground the group had and the plethora of terrific ideas.

Everyone defined community wealth as more than economics. They said it included relationships, the local environment, diversity, natural resources and a sustainable future. They also said a wealthy community includes all its members in its wealth. They said they felt good about our community and people were both extremely concerned and hopeful about the its future.

Participants also came up with an impressive list of strategies and actions to help us achieve our best possible outcome in our community. Everything from doing an import/export assessment of our community to mentoring young farmers. Many others expressed the need to keep supporting local organizations and especially ORA to promote our local community wealth.

We are still developing our next steps but some action is already occurring. Many folks are attending the community workshop meetings to help bring a community workshop and commercial kitchen to Union County where folks can start new business or expand. Others are moving ahead to connect local non-profit organizations and to improve the local food system.

John Day: April 17 – 10am-5pm – Outpost Restaurant in John Day

Download the group’s Collective Statement (Word doc)

Download the original event flyer (PDF)

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Several residents of the grant county area and environs met on a sunny Saturday in April to share their ideas for their respective communities. Each came with distinct and individual thoughts, but all left feeling a greater kinship and camaraderie for their neighbors and fellow workshop participants.

A few participants had been involved with the leadership programs in the past, but several indicated they had never been involved in the community in this way before – so it was an inspiring moment for them to find their voice and ability to take a role in shaping their community.

The issue of the Aryan Nations looking at establishing a base in Grant County was still on everyone’s mind. As the community had successfully rallied together to make sure they loud and clear that a hate group was not welcome, essentially staring down one of the country’s most heinous groups, they were wanting to look beyond this one incident to the bigger picture of how to make their community the kind of place they envisioned it being. Everyone was positive and optimistic about the process, and about the opportunities in store for the communities of Grant County and its neighbors. Their Collective Statement is testament to that fact.

The purpose of these workshops was (and is) to create a community vision and develop real solutions to create sustainable, profitable local economies based on the triple-bottom line: people, profit and planet.

For more information on the original workshops, you can read our general invitation letter and background information (both PDFs) about the Building Wealth in Local Communities process. You can also learn more about the program and about Jeff Goebel at his website.

Stay tuned for more information on our work on building community wealth. In the meantime, we’d love to have your help making this ideas a reality. Please join us at an upcoming meeting or eventbecome a member of Oregon Rural Action, or email or call us at 541-975-2411 to find out more about how you can get involved.

We can do it together.