Rural Roots, Rural Futures

Submitted by Liz Weaver on July 15, 2016 - 2:12am

Recently Tamarack and Vibrant Communities Canada were invited to facilitate two-day Poverty to Possibilities Forum in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, a region known for its rural beauty and home to many cottagers escaping the city.  More than 80 community leaders from across the region joined together to discuss the impact of poverty and a path forward.  They join a movement of rural communities across Canada developing multi-sector roundtables to address poverty in a comprehensive way.

At the same time as the session, Stewarding the Future of Our Communities was released by the Orton Family Foundation in the US profiling  citizen engagement experiences of five rural communities across five States.   

The overarching theme that arises from this study and its culling of stewardship approaches is collaboration: Successful stewardship ultimately depends on the cultivation and promotion of communitywide, cross-sector collaboration to achieve its goals.

In an era of major economic restructuring, reduced local budgets, increasing challenges to the integrity and viability of small towns everywhere, and the ascendancy of flexible new tools for sharing information and ideas, it is community collaboration—residents working together to articulate and achieve their community’s core values and long-range visions—that offers the greatest hope for stewarding community engagement and planning over time.


Stewarding the Future of Our Communities identifies five approaches that rural communities and small cities (in fact cities of all sizes) must employ to shape successful futures. 

·         Honoring local values:  uncovering and weaving into strategies the locally held values that connect communities and regions

·         Sustaining citizen engagement:  bringing citizens to the table early in the planning stages and developing strategies to maintain their involvement are essential

·         Achieving visions and plans: continually communicating with citizens about progress toward goals is vital for current and future endeavours in communities

·         Holding leaders accountable:  building community stewarding strategies into government, business and community priorities will ensure movement forward and success

·         Responding to a changing world:  being aware of the strategic and emergent shifts that are occurring across the community, state or country


In reflecting on the Poverty to Possibilities Forum in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes, the advice in the Orton Family Foundation report was intuitively being followed.  However, Stewarding the Future of Our Communities is essential reading for the planning team in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes and indeed for anyone interested in transforming rural communities or cities of any size.  Citizen engagement is an important lever for community change efforts. 


Interesting and relevant resources:   

·         Stewarding the Future of Our Communities.  Case Studies in Sustaining Community Engagement and Planning in America’s Small Cities and Towns.  Steven C. Ames.  Orton Family Foundation.  2012.

·         Heartland Centre for Leadership Development.

·         Community Development Society.  

·         Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation.