To give people of the region a "big picture" view of the area's challenges through conversations and printed media so they are better informed when making decisions that affect their lives
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
Gatherings of economic developers: Getting the region’s economic developers into the same room to dive deep into meaningful conversation about the topics that are affecting their communities has been the part of our work that has led to the
most progress. The Northeast Regional Economic Developers group has already established a rapport, and participants view one another as part of a network, but having them take part in deeper conversations has led to better insights.
Expanding the reach of Dakotafire magazine allowed the conversation to essentially reach 50,000 households for the first three Prairie Idea Exchange issues. This at the very least put issues of leadership, building up Main Streets, and connecting farms and communities on the radar of a broad segment of South Dakota households. But for those who did more reading and participating in those conversations, the issues may have done even more—increasing the understanding of what is happening in their communities and why it’s happening, and encouraging them to believe solutions for communities like theirs
The careful facilitation, or hosting, of the Prairie Idea Exchange conversations has been essential to their success. Just bringing people together into the same room isn’t a guarantee of good conversation. Getting to conversations that matter requires careful preparation in terms of finding good questions (the kind that people don’t have “canned” answers for, that people actually have to carefully consider) and setting good ground rules for how the conversations will take place—making sure all voices are heard, and that people are listening for understanding and not involved in a debate.
Key lessons learned:
Conversations that lead to deeper insight rarely happen online. And, in fact, we haven’t had much conversation at all online where we designated it to happen (in our online forum space), and the conversation we have witnessed has happened
instead within people’s own social circles on Facebook—places where people are speaking to their own “echo chambers.” Maybe we could have found more success if we’d devoted more resources to hosting conversation in the online space, but it’s likely that it would have been harder for conversation agreements to hold when you can’t look people in the eye. The better conversations have happened in person.
We have not had the success we’d hoped in signing up the economic development corporations to become fiscal sponsors of Dakotafire; we did gain two community sponsors, but that was out of a pool of about 20. This would have supported
Dakotafire past the PIE grant period, including having regular Dakotafire Cafes in those communities. This is despite the support that the economic developers themselves have for Dakotafire and the benefit they’ve reported from the PIE process; their boards have not seen the benefit in investing in it. We will have to explore other options to sustain our presence in those communities.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
Resourceful – We are encouraging people in the state to see one another as resources, and to bring their knowledge and experience to the table so that others may learn from it.
Other key elements of Community Innovation:
Good conversations. Insightful, deep learning requires the creation of spaces where people are willing to share, and more importantly, willing to listen.
Understanding the problem:
We identified a need to think regionally in the face of common challenges. Our last event will address this topic specifically. In the meantime, we have learned that as a group, we really have most of the information and insight we need. A quote I saw
recently applies: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Many of the ideas that will help move the region forward are already being tried in some communities. That learning needs to have a way to be distributed more broadly, so those ideas can be tried, tested and refined.
If you could do it all over again...:
I’d advise myself to rethink assumptions about cost. We could have stretched our dollars further, and perhaps continued our expanded reach for another issue, had we pursued lower-cost methods of printing earlier.
One last thought:
We have found success with the Prairie Idea Exchange process, but based on anecdotal evidence, I don’t know that we have enough energy behind it to sustain it beyond the grant period. Perhaps people have been willing to participate in these conversations because the project was for a limited time period. We plan to do a survey of participants at our last event in December to get some more official feedback on what people thought about the project overall.