Community is a key part of the human experience.
Most of us live in places where we are affected by our neighbors,
governments, local agencies and businesses on a daily basis. Yet our
life experience has not given us great models for how to build or
participate effectively in community. As a result, our attempts to
create community often leave us feeling frustrated or even cynical.
Community is also critical to our personal and social well-being,
yet community efforts get very little attention or funding. For
example, after school activities, youth and family centers, clubs and
other youth activities, which in earlier decades were a part of life
for the average citizen, are often available only to the wealthiest
In short, it's a critical time to find ways to work together to
create the kinds of communities we want for ourselves and our children.
Here a story about such an experience in Talkeetna, Alaska.
|Future Search in the Upper Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, November, 1999
Talkeetna is a small town in the Upper Mat-Su Valley
of Alaska, whose main street looks up at the slopes of Mount McKinley.
In 1999 residents of four neighboring communities gathered there for
three days to discover how to work collaboratively.
Background: The towns in this part
of Alaska are rugged, frontier towns that have grown slowly, with no
official powers enforcing zoning regulations or building permits. But,
as you can imagine, things have changed and over the past decade big
hotels have been built, tourism has surged and during tourist season
there are as many tourists in the towns as local residents. In 1998, a
number of residents of the four towns decided they were going to have
to work together to maintain their way of life in this special region.
This was a big step because previous efforts at joint planning were
rocky at best. As one local resident said, "Our meetings would always
end up with people standing on tables and screaming at each other."
Six months prior to the future search, a small
group, made up of residents from each town, met to plan a future
search. Their task was to identify all of the voices they felt needed
to be involved. The planning was a struggle. One person believed that
this was a liberal conspiracy and had joined the group to sabotage the
process. They did a lot of work to stay engaged, build collaboration
and be inclusive of all points of view. They were able to get 80 people
into the room, an impressive next step. These people were: advocates,
businesspeople, citizens, community groups, community resources,
government representatives, resource users and students.
The Meeting: Some folks came with
tremendous wariness and skepticism. They wanted to make sure no tricks
were played. By the end of the second day, there were voluntary
outbursts with people saying, "We had no idea how much we had in
common." By the third day, as environmentalist and business groups had
explored their mutual distrust, they discovered that the one thing they
did share was support for re-cycling. Action teams were formed on the
following issues: 1) Improve communication between chambers of commerce
and the borough, 2) Create a federation of Upper Su chambers of
commerce, 3) Explore incorporation of towns in the region and elect new
people to the borough assembly, 4) Implement the Talkeetna
Comprehensive Plan to look into forming a new borough for the region
and 5) Establish a re-cycling program for the region.
Outcomes: Within a few weeks, the
re-cycling project was organized as a monthly gathering where people
brought re-cyclables to one location. Six months later, the group held
a follow-up meeting and decided to expand the re-cycle day into a
community potlatch. This event came to be a day that included lively
discussions between people who now knew how to talk with each other and
a place where people sold and traded local products. Collaboration
became a term that was understood in the community and applied in many
settings where people came together.
Future Search is a community building process that brings people
together to share histories, understand present realities, build a
vision for a common future and commit to work together to realize
shared goals and values. Future search has helped many communities take
control of their futures, overcome conflicts and cynicism and pull
together to realize common dreams and build a meaningful and lasting
life for themselves.
Some ways that Future Search can help build Community:
- Planning for and meeting housing needs.
- Building a shared vision for a neighborhood or community.
- Collaboratively addressing issues such as the needs of children and
adults, public safety, community or economic development, homelessness,
environment or development, neighborhood planning, others.
Building or re-vitalizing a neighborhood organization.
"For me, did the future search work? No question about it. It provided a living model of democracy."
- Tony Hill,
- Emergency planning and preparation.
- Dealing with issues related to education.
- Community wide planning and public participation.
- Building community capacity.
- Meeting Human Service needs.
Communities all around the world
are discovering that future search is accessible, inexpensive, and
effective. Inuit in the arctic, native Hawaiians, Alaskan outbackers,
communities in Africa, South America, Asia - on every continent - are
discovering the value of future search in building meaningful community.