Vision Brookings Foundation

Report date
April 2015

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

The Community Visioning Charrette process was the most instrumental activity that was conducted “over the grant term”. A primary goal of the charrette process was to improve community engagement opportunities with the goal of increasing the retention of young leaders and workforce in the community. The process began with a pre-event planning phase to identify six discussion topics that would assist in advancing community engagement and creating a “quality place” capable of retaining and attracting human talent. This was followed by an electronic community survey.
The day long visioning charrette, attended by 115 community members, resulted in numerous comments and ideas that were then formulated into six community vision statements, primary goals and objectives, and a list of implementation ideas. Results of the visioning charrette were sent to each participant, and participating entities, with the request for individuals/entities to take the lead to further develop objectives and actions to advance community goals. Charrette outcomes provide implementation ideas and direction that will assist in guiding community building efforts over the next five years.
As a follow-up to the charrette process, Brookings Economic Development Corporation desired to expand the engagement of younger, and more diverse, leadership cohorts in our organization. Nineteen individuals of varying backgrounds, age and gender agreed to participate in an economic development leadership short course. The course consisted of ten topics covered in seven extended lunch hour sessions.
This process was undertaken to plant the seeds for short and longer term understanding of the economic development process and the various organizations involved.
Pre-charrette educational material provided to charrette participants discussed the ongoing workforce issues Brookings will experience, as well as information indicating that future economic growth goals will place much greater emphasis on entrepreneurial development. The Bush Foundation grant was amended/expanded to utilize unobligated funds to 1) develop an entrepreneurship website serving the Brookings area and 2) purchase software and business data to be used for contact/project management benefiting initiatives identified through the Charrette process.
Brookings has invested heavily in a variety of infrastructure to support entrepreneur development. However, the pipeline of entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial culture of the community are in need of improvement. The website will serve as a central point of contact to inform entrepreneurs and inventors of services, resources, events and engagement opportunities. ArcView GIS was purchased to serve as a primary tool for data management, prospect management, and as a research tool to assist in solving issues identified in the charrette.

Key lessons learned

One lesson learned during both the charrette process and the economic development leadership process was that the use of “storytelling” would have improved visioning discussions and allowed for enhanced discussion of economic development basic principles, data and trends. Brookings’ first visioning charrette, conducted in 2007, provided sample community visions to seed the vision discussions. This was not done in the current charrette process and it was difficult to keep discussion from moving directly to issue related actions, or implementation ideas.
A similar situation occurred in the economic development leadership sessions. Attendees were very inquisitive and interested in holding brainstorming discussions related to issue solutions. Providing economic scenarios, or a storytelling framework, and then framing solution discussions and the application of research and data processes around these scenarios, would have created a much better learning experience for the participants.
We would not characterize either event as a failure but the processes would have been enhanced, and no doubt additional positive outcomes generated, by a slight change in the delivery process.
An ongoing community building challenge, particularly in a community with multiple organizations and interest groups involved, is the design and implementation of a process that will adequately engage and inform each group, avoid overlap and duplication, and collectively and efficiently advance the community agenda. Even with a charrette process with broad participation and over 100 attendees, this challenge remains. A process will need to be developed to hold continued discussion on the salient community topics discussed during the charrette.

Reflections on the community innovation process

The diagram, as do many planning processes, places a central focus on a need or an issue. This is incredibly important. There is always an oversupply of needs and issues to address in any community. Needs are most frequently identified based upon a data driven model or a visual perception – a realization of a “state of being” - in comparison to some other location. However, community success can also be accomplished by adopting a perspective focused on vision and opportunity. Developing a vision by generating a new idea, or a combination of ideas, can allow a community to not only address an urgent need, but create an opportunity(s) that extends far beyond a need derived outcome.

The graphic identifies several philosophies that are critical to “community” success. Collective understanding, an ideation process, and testing solutions are all key community building concepts, as are inclusivity, collaboration and resourcefulness. The visioning process might be one additional component to add to the process that has been instrumental in the success of the work that we do.

Progress toward an innovation

Breakthroughs in addressing community needs related to our project have been produced on two fronts. First, the visioning charrette assists in developing a common vision for the future; helps build community consensus related to important community opportunities, needs, and projects; and provides a record of broad based public input that can be used to develop project support, provide funding justification for projects, and create additional opportunity to further educate the general public on the importance of community and economic development investments. These same outcomes were enhanced through the economic development leadership effort.

The second component of the project that we view as a breakthrough, as simple as it may seem, is the development of a website that will assist in branding an Entrepreneurial Support System designed to build the community’s entrepreneurial culture. This is viewed as a critical step in the community and economy building process given the general shortage of workforce in the region and the need to retain and recruit younger individuals to the area.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

We feel that we have achieved substantial progress and reached important milestones on our effort. However, our project and the processes involved are viewed as a beginning to a longer term community building process that will require continuous community engagement and nurturing.

An interesting innovation that we have just begun to discuss would be to incorporate a more entrepreneurial mindset into the community building process – which includes not only program development delivery, but also public acceptance of the effort. We are interested in exploring how we might devise a methodology that would allow “failing fast” without losing public credibility, and determining how to move forward with a “minimum viable product” with the commitment to product improvement. These core concepts of successful entrepreneurial efforts could advance community building processes.

What's next?

The visioning charrette process resulted in six broad goals and several implementation ideas related to community engagement. Distribution of the charrette results, coupled with the distribution of a project identification/tracking system, will allow the community to gauge progress regarding implementation activities. We anticipate that follow-up community discussions on key topics will need to be held to ensure that progress is made and results achieved.

Economic development leadership and education activities will continue to be conducted through the creation and use of task forces for project implementation, and various public presentations and news articles.

The entrepreneur website will be maintained and further developed/updated as new events and programming are designed and delivered. Work is just getting underway to develop the database and project tracking capabilities within ArcView. This tool will be used extensively on several development projects.

If you could do it all over again...

Create and utilize storytelling/development scenarios in the charrette and economic development leadership programs. Relaying information, ideas and development concepts in a more interesting way would have solicited a much deeper discussion process in the economic development leadership program and would have assisted in maintaining a focused vision discussion during the charrette process.

One last thought

The financial assistance provided by the Bush Foundation was very helpful and much appreciated.