Region Nine Development Commission

Report date
January 2023

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

The equity blueprint serves as a starting point and guide that can be adapted to each community and the existing dynamics as they look to start and implement projects. Building an equitable, adaptive and resilient regional economy would require a system of vital feedback loops across diverse stakeholder groups: the private sector, the public sector, K–12 education, higher education, occupational/vocational training, environmental management, non-profit sector, research centers/labs, labor organizations, others.
Engagement sessions with the five communities that were part of this three year long project were diverse and quite different given local conditions and preparedness. Each of the communities reflected different demographic compositions from the onset and had varying degrees of history when it came to integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the community level. With one exception, Le Center, all communities were either fully (St. James) or partially (Fairmont, St. Peter, and Waseca) socio-economically distressed. Strong correlations existed between place of residence, demographic patterns, and socio-economic standings, which is a tell-tale sign of structural lack of integration in community activities associated with prosperity.

As the Equity Blueprint indicates at the aggregate level, visioning sessions, facilitated group discussions, and equity planning at the community level indicated that utilizing existing local resources and community capabilities relevant to all members was a common denominator in each of the communities, although the expression of these needs varied according to level of engagement of underserved representation, past history, and readiness.
The previous welcoming communities aspect of the work undergone with St. James has been instrumental in the exchange of experiences that we were able to share in Germany. Comparing methods and approach has been key to creating a guide that can serve other communities within the region. Through this work, we were able to see that part of creating prosperous communities is also creating happy and resilient communities. The communities of the future are energy efficient and in the pursue of the SDGs, this learning experience has been instrumental in showing and inspiring on how this can be achievable.

Key lessons learned

During this project, RNDC developed an Equity Blueprint. The goal was to document the region's current state, goals, recommendations, and resources in the DEI space. The focus was for us to understand and celebrate our region's successes and challenges so that we could continue learning and improving. However, as we gathered information, conducted interviews, held community conversations, and wrote, we learned that a regional effort requires an extensive "boots on the ground" approach. This project required intensive project management to conduct interviews and community conversations while gathering relevant data. RNDC focused on engaging diverse stakeholders from different sectors and cultural and linguistic backgrounds while navigating community dynamics and interests. Through this process, we found that this blueprint is only a starting point. It must continually be updated and adapted as we interact and learn from our communities. To drive true change and impact, RNDC needs to develop community relationships further, make connections, and provide resources.
During the course of this project, we have learned that a developmental and inclusive approach takes time. We know that creating welcoming communities is directly linked to the well-being of a community and creating prosperous and thriving ecosystems; however, this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes significant time to take a developmental approach and create responsiveness that is reflective of multiple community cultures. In many ways, this project was a continuation of the 2018 RELC groups and the Welcoming Communities Project that followed. Interviews were held with diverse stakeholders from across the region and community conversations in Le Center and Waseca. One important factor to note is that community engagement changes over time and whether a particular group or project is successful depends on adapting to changes in their local community, access to additional services, funding opportunities, etc. For example, we found that in the City of Waseca, the work they began in 2018 as part of the RELC program now sat still. This led us to take a step back and discuss the community’s direction, its needs, and readiness as they look to the future.
This project led us in many different directions and led us to learn that each community requires flexibility to create its own approach. From holding our community conversations in Le Center and Waseca to interviewing diverse stakeholders from across the region, we learned that no two communities are the same and they cannot be treated as such. We learned that it is important for each community to develop and design what inclusion and equity mean to them. For example, from conversations in our region, we learned of interest and desire from multiple communities to learn more about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they are intertwined with creating diverse, prosperous communities and securing future generations. Drawing on our connections and resources, we held a learning exchange with Germany that focused on learning more about sustainability, DEI, and how they intersect. This allowed community members to hear about successes and challenges that happened in German communities, selected for their similarities and uniqueness, which inspired them to think differently about what it means to create a resilient, sustainable, and equitable future for their communities

Reflections on the community innovation process

Each plan recognized that to better weather volatility, anticipate change, and prepare for it, communities need to develop critical feedback loops across different segments of the local economy and communities. This was particularly articulated in the St. James work, leading to active participation in discussions of equity, environmental and economic justice, and future-oriented systems building.
The trip to Germany was an exchange opportunity that addressed the first stage of the diagram, increasing collective understanding. Once this was done, we were able to move forward to the second stage and create a white paper while in Germany to generate ideas to implement in the communities based on the work done in Germany and the experiences learned from them. Following through with this white paper developed, we have the expert from Germany come visit 3 communities in our region to help set the communities goals and start working on a solution that works for all through clear objectives and a joint vision.

Progress toward an innovation

Tri City United – a multi-community school district that includes children from Le Center – identified opportunities to work with the community to not only heal “wounds” that had been severed when the community lost its school to neighboring Montgomery, but also participated in brainstorming sessions to identify opportunities to fill the gap for families that were newcomers to Le Center and lacked a focal point for community integration, recognizing that the local school typically serves this role in small communities.
We have succeeded at bringing to the table underserved communities and assisting them in navigating the process of accessing opportunities despite their size. This has been the highlight of caring for the small rural communities and showing and inspiring them to continue despite their size because they could see in Germany that other small rural communities were also able to achieve great things.
This brings us closer to representing small rural communities and underserved populations. Hearing their voices and input not only helps us better understand but also affects change at a state level where we can see the aftermath in how to reach smaller communities and make the opportunities accessible to them.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

Addressing new social dynamism in areas where the economic and social fabrics were changed (e.g., increased racial and ethnic diversity) were generally recognized as requiring a set of integrated approaches. The three communities of Fairmont, St. James, and St. Peter were certainly ahead of the other communities when it came to paving the path for such integrated approaches. Uniting Cultures (St. James) and Our St. Peter both worked with local public and private sector entities to change the communities’ narratives of identity to the extent that their visions were communicated through forums and summits on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We are working on having the expert from Germany come to follow up on the work already done. With this, we plan on creating a roadmap that three communities have said they are willing to work on that can be the beginning of a ripple effect and regional effort moving forward.

What's next?

We are anticipating the visit from the German expert, Guido Wallraven, to generate a document that will show the communities' objectives with three selected communities. Then, we will work on achieving and facilitating them with the tools and expertise needed to move forward with this work.
We are also working in having our communities participate in the Welcoming America initiative as a next step. Becoming members in the near term and then facilitating further exchange opportunities to develop more sustainable communities, share experiences and best practices.
We are listening to feedback and would be open to organizing another exchange in the future in order to continue to educate and inspire more communities on what sustainable communities look like and the steps to achieve it. No No

If you could do it all over again...

We came to realize that representation and having the underserved communities at the table makes a real impact. We would have probably allocated more funding to get more representatives to come to the exchange as well as allocated funding for simultaneous interpretation.

One last thought

A major achievement of the collective efforts was witnessed by the articulated (at various degrees) need for adaptation to everchanging environmental conditions. Each community, with different visions for the future, identified that the status quo represents a major vulnerability for community resilience and sustainability. Hence, each plan recognized that to better weather volatility, anticipate change, and prepare for it, communities need to develop critical feedback loops across different segments of the local economy and communities. This was particularly articulated in the St. James work, leading to active participation in discussions of equity, environmental and economic justice, and future-oriented systems building. As a result, the progress of the St. James work, the community not only spurred conversations about participation with German partners, a knowledge exchange, but also participated and led conversations with their European partners across dimensions of community development, community integration, and future cyclical programming in their respective community.