Monday, August 15, 2016

Become Informed. Get Engaged.
Betting on the People of South Wood County

Incourage believes that a healthy community is an informed and engaged community. We’ve worked in partnership with John S. and James L. Knight Foundation since 2009, to understand and invest in the connected concepts of information and engagement as key drivers of economic health and the vitality of a community.

A recent example of this work is a partnership with Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) to co-host “Community for Us, By Us,” elevating the voice and opinion of all residents on community issues that matter to them. The first two meetings surfaced three priorities:  Creating a Public Forum for Authentic Dialogue on Community Issues, Community Aquatics and Downtown Development.  

Simultaneously, the South Wood County YMCA and City of Wisconsin Rapids were separately pursuing action on the issue of aquatic facilities. They presented options to the public on July 26 (Wisconsin Rapids Aquatics Options Presentation 7-26-16).

It’s unfortunate, however, that the options were presented as seemingly mutually exclusive – one or the other - with no opportunity to ask questions, clarify information or voice opinions. Attendees were told to submit questions online or to call a council member to express an opinion. Given the format and delivery of the presentations, an “apples to apples” comparison of the information was difficult and a polarizing frame was created – are you for indoor or outdoor?   

The third WIPPS Meeting was held on August 9. An engaged group of 44 individuals showed up to discuss aquatics – not to talk about indoor versus outdoor options, rather, to fully explore this as a community issue.

Various opinions and perspectives were represented with civil dialogue and respect. Assumptions and questions were surfaced, including “How do we understand the options presented and make informed comparisons? What are the sources of funds and specifics of financing?  How can we assure aquatics are available to all? Is this really a choice of indoor versus outdoor facilities? How can we have both?” The process also encouraged individuals to think with a broader lens on the issue: to assess their own interest in aquatics, the benefit to the community and the impact on future generations. I encourage you to review the WIPPS Meeting report.

The issue of aquatics also presents an important learning opportunity that can inform future progress. In the last fifteen years, there has been research, leadership development projects and citizen action groups formed, all to address aquatics. Yet all failed to come to fruition. This is not a statement to cast blame. It is a statement that invites inquiry and examination of how we address community issues and take action. How do individuals participate?  How do institutions receive input from the broader community and make decisions?  What barriers were encountered in previous efforts? Do they still exist today?

Answering these questions will accelerate our ability to make progress in realizing a community – and an economy – that works well for all. One in which residents are informed and engaged, funders respect the wisdom of the user and don’t exert undue influence to achieve outcomes they believe are best, and organizations are committed to inclusive processes and working together for the common good. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Community Picnic: It’s About Us

Five years ago Incourage made a bet on the people of south Wood County.  We bet that if we replaced our traditional annual meeting with a community picnic celebrating local assets and designed to be welcoming and open to all, you’d show up. We hoped you might support the event in some way over time and might even help it grow into an annual, community-owned and led effort.

Here’s to the people of south Wood County. You not only showed up, you asked “What can I do to help next year?”. We have over 400 volunteers registered for this year’s picnic!  There are now more volunteers for the picnic than we had attendees at our traditional annual meeting. And, the composition of the volunteers and attendees at the picnic is more diverse and reflective of our community. People of all ages, income, professions, political views and ability are coming together to donate time, talent and resources to make the community picnic a success.    

A local farmer, Harold Altenburg, called the first year and asked, “What can I bring to the picnic?”. He showed up with 1,000 ears of corn, a roasting machine and volunteer help. Harold will likely exceed 20,000 ears of corn donated since the event began at this year’s picnic. Corn that is grown with love, served with a never-ending smile and a positive comment about our great community. Harold’s enthusiasm is contagious – take a look at his comments from a past picnic.
Partner organizations, including food vendors, have increased every year. As of this morning, 60 community partners are contributing time, labor, product and services. Although the picnic is offered at no cost to attendees, many people want to make a financial contribution – especially after experiencing the event. Free will financial contributions are accepted onsite at the picnic or online.   
Every year the number of people attending has increased – we expect over 6,000 this year – and, perhaps, we’ll even hit 7,000. The people of south Wood County are showing up and we’re happy to welcome all to this event. 

Importantly, this picnic is about so much more than food.

It’s about transitioning an economy, celebrating our assets and restoring a sense of pride and hope in our community.

Healthy communities create enabling conditions for all people to meet their full potential. We can’t support all people in meeting their full potential if we don’t know them.   

Healthy economies are local and inclusive. Local and inclusive means we know the people who live in our shared community. 

Look around at the picnic and really see the diversity of people that live in our community. Ask people to share their story. Why do they live here? What are their hopes for the future? What do they love about this place? What are their challenges?

Join us on the riverfront in downtown Wisconsin Rapids this Wednesday at 4:30. Get an ear of corn and a smile from Harold, food from generous local vendors, enjoy local talent and meet someone you don’t know. You’ll be building a healthy community and economy in the process.

See you there!