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Administrative Associate, Urban Region
University of Missouri Extension
Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Georgia Stuart-Simmons, 660-747-3193
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–A common challenge for community groups is turning ideas into action.
“I recently met with a group in a small town that had a lot of good ideas about ways to improve their community,” said Georgia Stuart-Simmons, a University of Missouri Extension community development specialist. “One of the questions I received from them was, ‘How do we make these ideas really happen?’
“People will discuss good ideas around the coffee table or in committee meetings, but they never implement those ideas because after all the talk there’s no action,” she said.
Stuart-Simmons offers some steps that have helped many groups move from idea to action:
“Before developing your ideas too far, talk to people both within and outside of your community,” Stuart-Simmons said. Find out if there are other groups already working on or interested in your idea. If so, could you join forces? If you move ahead without them, will they block your efforts?
“Also ask if a similar project has been attempted before,” she said. “Find out who was involved in that effort and ask them why their efforts succeeded or failed. Perhaps they would be interested in working with you.”
Take time to find out if other communities have conducted similar projects and learn what you can about their efforts, including the lessons of their success or failure.
“Be sure you know how important decisions that affect your project will be made,” she said. “Will decisions pertaining to your project be made by some unit of government, at civic club meetings or in the coffee shop? Perhaps all three will be true.” Find out the timeline and process for making these decisions.
“People are more likely to support a project that they have had a part in developing,” Stuart-Simmons said. “Don’t complete a plan and then ask for public approval.”
Look for opportunities to seek input early in the process, and make sure you have the right people involved. “Don’t just contact the people you know or have worked with before,” she said.
Try to include any segment of the community that might have an interest. That includes those who might oppose your project. “Talk to them about your idea and find out why they oppose the plan. They may have legitimate concerns. This gives you the opportunity to adapt your idea to alleviate those concerns.”
It takes effective, committed leaders to maintain the effort. Making sure all the players know what is going on is an important part of maintaining a project’s momentum.
“When someone misses a planning meeting it’s so easy for them to fall out of the loop and eventually quit the project,” Stuart-Simmons said. “Be sure you have a plan to communicate with your volunteers and the rest of the community.”
Set specific goals and action items, then make note of who is going to do what and when.
“I don’t know how many times I have been in meetings where we generated a lengthy ‘to do’ list, only to come back to the next meeting and find that nothing had been done,” she said. “It usually comes down to comments such as, ‘Was I supposed to take care of that?’ With a written plan, it is clear who is responsible for what. This will make a huge impact on your chances of seeing your idea become a reality.”
For community and leadership resources from MU Extension, including publications, website links and learning opportunities, go to http://extension.missouri.edu/main/DisplayCategory.aspx?C=8.
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