Workshop #15
July 16-17, 2009

Each of the past fourteen Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshops has offered a slice of issues communities in this state face. While issues as diverse as the Nebraskan landscape have been express by community leaders, the repeated theme remains collaboration, decision-making, and citizen commitment towards more sustainable communities.

Echoing these topics, working together on both new and existing projects and programs is a reason why people came to the NSLW’s Alliance workshop on July 16 and 17. Participants asked how they could sustain their communities and region by considering both the assets and obstacles they faced, reiterating the most important asset of the region being the values and quality life of its people they wished to maintain for residents. Specifically, leaders in the Nebraska panhandle expressed a desire for visioning and to better communicate, collaborate, and raise commitment on sustainability issues.

Communication was found to be a regional barrier to sustainability in multiple ways. First, infrastructure and access needs to be strengthened in the area in order to draw business and young people into the area communities need to be able to offer up to date internet and wireless technologies.

Second, the Panhandle region seems to experience a disconnection to state media outlets with much of their newspaper and television service coming from neighboring states. Although the region is in closer proximity to, has similar landscapes, and share many sustainability issues with their Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming neighbors, citizens continue to need to be informed about Nebraska programs and legislation. Participants expressed a desire to and explored how to be more united to the Unicameral and the other parts of the state and yet maintain unique identities. The Panhandle region named food, energy, land and water as contributions they make that cut across the inner-state boundaries.

Third, the need for more collaboration among regional organization, city, county, and state agencies, and local civic groups in order to solve problems and achieve common goal was shared by participants. In rural America, the decision-making process often takes places outside formal boardrooms. Participants grappled with how to get commitment from local leaders and citizens in order to facilitating change. Ideas of starting at the grassroots level of participation in community discussion included making visits to local “gathering places for coffee” and to holding community forum meetings to talk about sustainability concerns and promote a united and broader community visioning process resulted from discussion. These are just some of the ideas that hoped to raise citizen commitment and participation. Ultimately, it becomes a question of changing attitudes and bringing people together for change.

Participants worked with the question: "How do does this community/region establish and maintain a sustainable vision?"

Working with the EcoSTEP™ Tool devised by W. Cecil Steward, President and CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, one of the principle sponsors of the NSLW workshops, participants learned how the Five Domains of Sustainability—Environment, Socio-Cultural, Technology, Public Policy, and Economic—can be used in planning projects and measuring the sustainability of those projects.

The Socio-cultural Domain was the feature area in plotting indicators for participants in the Alliance workshop. It included stressing the collective vision, citizen participation, leadership, forming a coalition to support the vision. From here participants looked at how to implement the vision with augmenting public policy. They hoped to facilitate meetings with citizens to get their input on public policy change.

They decided they wished to form educational coalitions with schools and stress service learning in the community. More specifically, participants saw community forums sponsored by city governments as one way to influence policy. Policy changes, they determined, would be implemented to encourage green business. Environmentally, designating a sustainability coordinator for cities or the entire region could help move the area towards its goal. Participants also expressed a concern for sustaining and elevating water quality and quantity. Thoughts came full circle to technology and building infrastructure which support new and existing businesses.

Steve Walker from NPPD spoke to the group on energy efficiency and alternative energy, highlighting the wind power generation practices taking place near Ainsworth. Participants also heard from Jim Crandall of UNL Extension’s Cooperative Development Center on the possibilities for local business ownership and the development of local food systems throughout the state. Sandy Scofield, executive director of the UNL Rural Initiative, joined the group on Friday to speak on possibilities and resources available for rural development. Participant Marla Marx of USDA Rural Development also offered a short presentation of funding and programming available through that organization.

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Resources from the
Alliance Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Alliance workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Read UNL Rural Initiative Director Sandy Scofield's important paper, A Crash Course in Infrastructure: Expensive but Essential Components for Rural (and Urban) Nebraska’s Future, for important ideas on how infrastructure contributes to growth and development in Nebraska's towns and cities. Download the PDF here >

The 2009 Profile of Nebraska Demographics, Economics and Housing from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) is chock-full of germane information. Download the entire 108-page report in PDF form >, or download the 4-page executive summary PDF >.

For information on weatherization services in Nebraska communities, visit the state's website by clicking here >.