Presentation to:
Main Street Tri-State Exchange
Dubuque, Iowa
March 14, 1997

Julie Fesenmaier

The Main Street Managers Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain

Climbing Our Mountains: Lessons for Community Development

The film, the Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain is about community development. It shows that community development is never simple. It highlights the importance of a shared vision of the community. It shows how leadership is necessary at every level of planning an activity. And finally, it illustrates how important it is for the community to be engaged as a whole.

In the film, it was a crisis that inspired the community into action? This mountain was very important to them. The citizens should have know the height of their mountain. They should have surveyed that mountain long before the English would had arrived.

In the Laboratory for Community and Economic Development we help rural communities design and implement community surveys. It is our way of measuring the mountain.

Typically, most rural communities find that residents want to pursue the following three community development objectives.

  1. Attracting business and industry, creating more jobs,
  2. Developing retail trade, and
  3. Tourism development.

Furthermore the majority of rural residents believe their community is a good place to live. Overwhelmingly, about 95% agree with the statement "my community is a good place to live". What does this mean to community development. It means that we must strive to make our communities competitive in the economic sense.

To help us pursue economic development initiatives, it is important that we follow sound principles of community development. I have identified 5 principles of community development, that I believe you would find useful in your work in the Main Street program. To help us remember them, we can return to our mountain metaphor as we C L I M B the mountain.

C is for creating capital without  
which communities cannot compete.

L is for creating a learning community
which is flexible and adaptive
to change in today's global marketplace.

I is for Involving community groups and
following the principles of Inclusiveness.

M is for the Mission of our communitiy
development strategies.

B is for Building Broad based support
for our mission.

C Is For Creating Capital
Capital refers to many different aspects of community development. Often, we think of financial capital, but we cannot ignore the organizational capital and more importantly the human capital that exists in all of our communities.

What do rural communities and inner cities have in common? They are both geographic places that are often denied effective access to capital for economic development. If this was not a problem in our community, we would not be struggling in maintaining a main street program. It is the lack of institutional lenders that puts a premium on investment dollars in rural communities. If we had access to money, our businesses would not be postponing expansion plans, we would have a greater level of entrepreneurial activity, our infrastructure would support the change coming from the telecommunications industry. The shortage of financial capital is one of the many constraints with which we must operate. To alleviate the pressure from not having sufficient funds, we must invest in our other two capitals.

Organizational capital is best represented in the wealth of our community structure. How well can we organize for development? What is our institutional capacity to confront problems? Can our local government adequately face the challenges of a declining economic base? The communities organized to confront community development objectives, will be those that can achieve an organized response to local problems. Your community has a abundance organizational capital, if you have(1):

  1. Leaders with technical knowledge and skills to promote and manage community development;
  2. A local government with efficient administrative and fiscal procedures;
  3. Access to reliable information with which to make decisions; and
  4. an effective framework for involving citizens in important decisions.

Perhaps the most important of the capitals is human capital. We must invest in our most valuable resource -- the human resource. This investment needs to be made not only in our labor force, but also in our community leadership.

When we pursue economic development goals, we must make a choice. We must make a choice between developing growth based on either high skills or low wages. One will lead us to a more profitable future, the other choice leads us to maintaining a more comfortable level at our status quo.

Our education infrastructure must teach skills that our employees value. Often educators believe that they teach the necessary skills required by local employers. However, local employers do not always agree. It is important that the school board design a skill building curricula that matches the needs of local employers. Local employers must be involved in developing these types of educational programs. In rural communities, the service sector is a significant employer. It is the fastest growing employment category. Yet, only in America are service sector jobs low paying. Asia and European countries make service sector jobs more professional. They provide "professionalized" education to non-college bound students who will have jobs in the service sector. By making traditionally low-skill service sector jobs more professional, we are improving the vertical job mobility of employees entering the service sector.

Investing in our leadership is what we are doing here this week. We must actively work to increase local leadership capacity, by improving skills, confidence and aspirations of our local leaders to meet the challenges of community development. By preparing ourselves to respond to new challenges we not only add value to our human capital but also our organizational capital.

We must invest in and become "knowledge workers". Peter Drucker put things in perspective for me when he added knowledge to the three basic economic principles of land, labor and capital. If we are to accept his assertion that we are entering the "post-capitalist society" where communities no longer compete along the traditional lines of labor, land and capital, we must rethink the community development paradigm. Investing in physical infrastructure is no longer sufficient. Communities will be competitive only if they are able to create and use knowledge productively. We must be smarter in our community development initiatives. Community development programs must invest in building local community leadership capacity and collaboration.

C is for creating new capital. Not just investing in financial capital, but in our organizational and human capital to compensate for a lack of the former.

L is for building a Learning Community
Peter Senge(2) popularized the concept of the learning organization. Similar to the competitive organization, our communities must rethink their community development paradigm and begin to adopt the principles of a learning community. The learning community is one that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future. It is not enough simply accept the status quo. We must be able reflect on past experience, learn from mistakes, and make changes as we respond to new challenges. This requires investment in our organization and leadership. By participating in a program like Main Street helps bring your community closer to becoming a learning community.

For example, if you won the lottery, a lot of your problems would be solved, temporarily. Yet you have not expanded your capability of winning future lotteries. When you depend on outside experts for community development assistance, you do not enhance your ability to pursue community development. If you want to be a learning community, you must continuously reflect on your past experience and make new decisions based on the knowledge gained from the past. This does not always happen. For example:

  1. Do you do things in your community because that is how they have always been done?
  2. Is it always the same people involved in community and economic development in your community?
  3. Do you share information and knowledge among all of the community development players?

I is for Involving Community groups and being Inclusive.
To build a learning community, different constituencies must begin to collaborate. This is difficult for many of our long sustaining organization. We are not always pro-active in engaging different groups with which to work. Main Street cannot be your only undertaking. You must be involved in other community development organizations in your community and other development organizations must be involved in your program. To be successful, it is important to work with the economic development group, the tourism group, health care providers, the environmental stewardship group, and any other groups who share your vision of making your community "a good place to live". Only when you partner with other community development groups will you be able to reach the critical mass we need to move forward.

M is for Mission
Perhaps more than striving for a common mission, our program should have a shared vision with the other community development organizations. A shared vision is the first step in allowing people who don't usually work together begin to collaborate. It creates a common identity. Increasingly, community leaders are realizing that their communities need to build a shared vision. Citizens are recognizing that if they do not participate in defining the future character of their community, it may slip to the lowest common denominator. The process of building community vision often starts with the political, business or public education leadership, but it picks up steam when people from all sectors begin to ask together, "what does a community need to do to thrive in the future? How will we be able to flourish, not just survive? How do we get every member excited and learning about our collective future?"

B Is for Building Broad Based Networks
B is for building broad based networks to further your community goals. Your new networks can reach beyond the geographic boundaries of your community. But don't exclude your local organizations. Build working relationships like the one you have with State Main Street, the Tri State Main Street and Main Street at the national level with other institutions and organizations in your state. I know in Illinois, the Cooperative Extension Service is one agency that can provide technical support at very little cost, if any. Apply the systems approach that engineers use to build your networks. Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than independent activities. You are a piece of a large puzzle in community development. Your activity alone will not find solutions to the challenges that face your community. It is when the pieces come together that the puzzle is solved.

Like the mountain in the film, don't let Main Street be an inactive symbol of your community.

Facilitators Worksheet
Community Development Activity

A. Remember when Anson and Garrad first arrive in Ffynnon Garrw. What were their impressions of the community. Now fast forward to the future. Close your eyes and imagine you are driving down a highway in the year 2007, only 10 years from now. You see a sign indicating the exit for your town. You take it. What do you see as you drive down Main Street.

  1. What does your main street look like?
  2. How much traffic is on the street?
  3. Who are the tenants in the store fronts?
  4. In which direction are the cars parked?
  5. Is there evidence of new technology in the community?

B. Now you see the store front of your office. You enter, how does it look?

  1. How many people work there?
  2. Who is in the office?
  3. What services does the organization provide?
  4. What reputation does it have?
  5. What contribution to the community has it made?

Has the technology changed?

Values are deeply held views of what we find worthwhile. Many are developed in our early childhood. Others when we are adults. The organization cannot let its values slip when times are tough. If your organization values honesty, then you must be up-front about your plans with community stakeholders. What values are embodied by your organization?

Checklist of Organizational Values(3)

_____ Achievement _____ Friendship _____ Privacy
_____ Adventure _____ Growth _____ Promoting Personal Development
_____ Arts _____ Helping Other People _____ Public Service
_____ Challenging
_____ Helping Society _____ Quality of Relationship
_____ Change and Variety _____ Honesty _____ Quality of Work
_____ Close Relationships _____ Independence _____ Recognition
_____ Community _____ Influencing Others _____ Religion
_____ Competence _____ Inner Harmony _____ Reputation
_____ Competition _____ Integrity _____ Responsibility and Accountability
_____ Cooperation

_____ Intellectual Status

_____ Security
_____ Creativity _____ Involvement _____ Serenity
_____ Decisiveness _____ Job Tranquility _____ Sophistication
_____ Democracy _____ Knowledge _____ Stability
_____ Ecological Awareness _____ Leadership _____ Status
_____ Economic Security _____ Loyalty _____ Time Freedom
_____ Effectiveness _____ Market Position _____ Truth
_____ Efficiency _____ Meaningful Work _____ Wealth
_____ Ethical Practice _____ Merit _____ Wisdom
_____ Excellence _____ Money _____ Work Under Pressure
_____ Excitement _____ Nature _____ Work With Others
_____ Expertise _____ Open and Honest _____ Working Alone
_____ Fame _____ Order (tranquility, stability, conformity)
_____ Fast Paced Work _____ Power and Authority
_____ Financial Gain  
_____ Freedom

  1. From this list of values, select the 10 that are most important to you, as guides for how your organization operates. If there are values that are not listed, but you feel are appropriate, add them to the list.
  2. Now imagine you can have only four. Cross off another.
  3. Now cross off another, to bring your list to three. Which three values are most important to your organization?
  4. Take a look at the top three values on your list. Do they correspond to the vision you have identified earlier. Are you willing to change the way the organization operates so that these values are incorporated into your vision.

How is our working environment structured? What are some of the barriers that deter us from our vision and values? In the movie The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain, there were many elements in the community environment that impaired community development.

  • The rain
  • The local government official was not interested in their issue.
  • Many men were away at war, they didn't have the "manpower" to move the dirt.
  • The gossip about Morgan the Goat.
  • Their leader, Reverend Jones was not used to working with others.

What hindrances exist in your environment to Main Street? List them.

How can we design our working environment to fit our vision and our values? How can a good manager create a work atmosphere in which goals are more readily accomplished? What can we do to make our climate compatible with our vision and values? How can we create a climate with the structure to phase-out the negative aspects of the environment? In the movie, they did not institutionalize changes that would help them overcome their working environment. What can you do?

Lets design a structure:

  1. Define the norms of your organization.
  2. Define structure of your organization and roles of key players.
  3. Define communication channels.
  4. Define structure for making decisions.
  5. Assign accountability.
  6. Identify rewards.

Norms are the cultural beliefs and conventions originating in the environment. In many ways the values you have identified earlier are the norms that should guide your organization. For example, if competence is not a valued norm, then why would we be upset if deadlines are not met, or products are not of superior quality. Let's revisit the list and build on the three values we have picked earlier.

Define how communication can be changed or made better to meet your vision. Identify the communication arrangements. How do you communicate with State level Main Street? With others in the community? With volunteers? Are meetings regularly scheduled or are they on a as needed basis? How is decision making done? By consensus, by leadership? Outline? Accountability: Who is responsible for delivering products, for staying on budget, for quality? Can you change how accountability is measured? What do you believe are the rewards of realizing this vision?

Supplies: Flip charts, markers and masking tape.
Handouts: Value checklist, organizational climate wheel

A. We can get in groups beginning this exercise or after exercise C. If we get in groups now, then we can create groups of 4 or 5and ask them to describe their vision. Report on Flip chart to the rest of the group.

B. Groups describe their vision. Report on a flip chart.

C. Groups each come to a consensus of the three most important values. Everyone will get a hand-out the value sheet. Report on Flip chart.

D. Should be done with a smaller group. Groups of 4 or 5 will define hindrances in their working environment. Suggestions conflicting meetings, conferences not enough resources. No access to technology. Demands from other projects. Family.

E. Going through all the elements in the circle, how can we restructure our climate to achieve our goals.

1. Brown, David L. and Nina L. Glasgow. (1991). "Capacity Building and Rural Government Adaptation to Population Change." in Cornelia B. Flora and James A. Christenson, eds. Rural Policies for the 1990s. Boulder Colorado: Westview Press.

2. Senge, Peter M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

3. Adapted from Senge, Peter et. al. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. New York: Courency Book, Doubleday.

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