Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Better Together

In this season of renewal, I’m reflecting on our value of ‘shared stewardship’ and its importance in the midst of change and transition.

Shared stewardship implies we all have a responsibility to take care of each other and this community. Incourage believes our role in shared stewardship requires an approach that seeks balance between change and preservation – with an unwavering commitment to the common good.

With the passing of time, I see our community transitioning and beginning to shape a new identity: an identity that reflects an appreciation of community assets, a sense of possibility and engaged residents, businesses and organizations. An identity that respects the past and looks to the future.

Tribune represents both our past and our future. And, as I’ve said many times, Tribune is about more than the building. The development process itself demonstrates this. Our motivation wasn’t simply to renovate a building or improve downtown. We set out to support new capabilities that enable resident-centered and community driven decision-making; the type of decision-making that is essential to realize shared stewardship, inclusive economic growth and long-term sustainable change. 

Recognition of these capabilities in the form of increased civic engagement has been lauded recently by elected officials – including local, state and national – who’ve received residents’ advocacy efforts for Tribune support over the past year, in volumes they’d previously not experienced from our community. 

This civic engagement is just one example of how priorities identified by over 4,000 residents in our 2012 Community Survey, particularly ‘openness to new ideas and change,’ are being realized. 

Five years later, with the 2017 Community Survey currently underway, we’re witnessing an increased desire to be involved through the number of requests received for ‘community conversations’ – deeper discussions hosted by residents representing many facets of our community. This is another encouraging indicator of positive change and increased engagement. Results will be presented at a community forum on March 13, 2018 at the Performing Arts Center of Wisconsin Rapids.

Stewardship that balances meeting changing needs and preservation has been in Incourage’s DNA since inception. 

We adapt when necessary to best address the community’s changing needs – such as seeding new approaches in workforce development strategies, as we have this past decade. Today, those seeds are growing strong and evolving in multiple ways that build capabilities and increase capacity across the community. 

Incourage does this work while preserving our core values and beliefs. We believe that all human beings have value and should have equal opportunity; that positive change happens when people are engaged in decisions that affect their lives; and when they feel a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for their community. We believe we are better together. 

In looking forward to 2018, I feel we are turning the corner in terms of progress in one of the most important and ‘least measurable’ areas that will define our future success: belief in ourselves and this community. 

I hear residents, young and old, asking questions, exploring possibilities and working together in new ways. 

I hear an emerging belief that we know this place is worth investing in – so important, as shared stewardship falls flat when you do not value what you’re stewarding.

There is a growing sense of pride in our place. I listen for it, nurture it and hope you will, too.  

It is priceless.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Sharing Power

As we’ve said from the beginning – and I’ve said many times in this blog – the Tribune Building is about far more than a building. It is a testament to the resilience of a community. It is a new approach to community development. It is a physical representation of our belief in the wisdom of residents to determine and shape the community they desire. At its core, it is about people.

Incourage is honored to have the Tribune’s user-centered process featured in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s recently released cover story “Creating Breakout Innovation”. The research is about a new way of working – of collaborating for solutions – that consistently delivers better results. 
As the article shares “…even more important than the [Tribune] building was the transformation and sense of leadership built within the community through the design and decision-making process.”

Take a moment to read the article and learn more about the five practices of breakout innovation, as well as why incorporating an authentic user-centered approach is challenging work.  

For an on-the-ground perspective of whether engaging residents and sharing power matters, view the 2016 Tribune Participation Survey results.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Putting People at the Center: Establishing, Restoring and Growing Trust

The divisive mood and behavior of our country is eroding the very thing that is essential to our vitality: trust. We are near record lows on measurements of ‘trust’ in many areas according to Gallup, Pew Research Centers and others. Lack of trust in media, news and information sources. Lack of trust in government. Lack of trust in institutions and each other.

We can identify with this in central Wisconsin.  When economic crisis struck our community 17 years ago, there was no clear path forward. The sense of loss – which included jobs and a company headquarters - was palpable. The accompanying uncertainty, fear and anxiety did not engender collaborative behaviors or trusting relationships. In retrospect, trust is what we needed the most and it was in the shortest supply. Not unlike what we are experiencing in our nation today.  

Incourage began our trust building efforts in 2005. Our goal: increase individual and collective action to rebuild a strong, local economy in a community that works well for all people. We offered leadership training programs that equipped residents with the skills, tools and knowledge to build trusting relationships. We supported study tours that fostered relationship development among participants, created shared knowledge and motivated new thinking. We coordinated a civility initiative. We co-created norms and collaborative guiding principles for community initiatives with partners and vendors. We helped businesses identify shared value propositions and mutual interests, and establish norms that guided their relationships with one another. We invested in approaches that integrate adaptive skills into school curriculum. We changed our own policies and practices for authenticity and values-alignment.   

Incourage evaluated and applied what we learned through these efforts to our organizational strategy, understanding that “building trust” and “authentically engaging residents in shaping the future of their community” was central to achieving our goal.

The Tribune Building embodies this learning. It is more than a building. It represents a user-centered approach to growing a community – one in which we trust, value and respect each other. We began by asking the community a simple question: what do you want this building to be? This question launched a multi-year process of engaging residents and helping them gain confidence, skills to build trusting relationships and a sense of ownership for the future of our community.

Incourage has learned a lot about listening, building trust and the importance of user participation in community decision-making and economic development strategies through the Tribune process. We’ve also learned about and experienced the challenge of changing old practices. 

Putting people at the center and building trust is not easy, a quick fix or short-term work. It requires intentionality and long-term commitment. We believe, however, it is “the work” that must be done if we are to realize a sense of unity and shared purpose in our neighborhoods, institutions, communities and nation.  


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mission Possible: How Foundations Are Shaping the Future Of Impact Investing

I’m pleased to share with you that, together with other foundation leaders from across the nation, I was invited to author a piece as part of a Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) 11-week series, produced in partnership with Mission Investors Exchange. SSIR describes this series as one that is exploring what’s next in impact investing and what we can learn from some of the most innovative foundations. It is a privilege to be published as part of this group and to present a rural, place-based perspective from “Middle America.”  

Read the full post here.  

See the full 11-week series here.

Thanks for reading.