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FutureWalk collecting stories from locals

FutureWalk organizers Bill Buell and Jody Thone lead a listening session last Tuesday at the high school in New Richmond. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

FutureWalk, the strategic initiative developed by the New Richmond Area Community Foundation in 2011 to craft a community vision, continues to collect stories from a wide range of community residents as part of its effort to gain a broad perspective.

In Phase 1, scouts traveled to eight cities chosen for their diverse experiences creating a future vision and then developing an action plan to accomplish their goals. Those experiences were studied and the best practices were adopted by the FutureWalk initiative.

FutureWalk organizers learned the government should listen, not talk and tell. Patience is required because community development takes a long time. You must value people. You must value education. You need to be self-directed. You must take responsibility to do it yourself.

This past spring, volunteers trained in different listening methodologies began working with initiative organizers, Bill Buell and Jody Thone, on Phase 2 of the initiative by conducting a series of listening sessions throughout New Richmond. The sessions are designed to collect stories from people from all walks of life to incorporate the broadest range of voices in constructing a future vision for New Richmond.

“We’re a little over 5 percent of the way there,” Buell said, “The reality is, we want to listen to hundreds of voices.”

The initial plan called for the story gathering portion of the initiative to be completed by the end of this year.

“We have learned that it will take patience, but we want to be sure we gather as many diverse voices as we possibly can. The information gathered from the stories is being processed and will lead to action,” Buell said.

“The goal is to figure out how to perpetuate the greatest things that exist today in our community so that they will be here in 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Buell said.

Participants’ stories are used to identify “the best we’ve been to create the best we can be,” Thone said.

The collection of those stories is facilitated by asking two questions: “What are we great at?” and “What do we care about?”

The listening session began with a brainstorming period in which participants were asked to spontaneously identify what makes New Richmond unique. Thone then invited participants to tell their own stories and pick a particular moment that epitomized what New Richmond is all about. Participants wrote down their stories and took turns sharing them aloud. Stories ranged from a wedding at the Heritage Center, to the special celebration of a parent’s 100th birthday, to the mentoring, education, and inclusion available to youth through community sports programs.

Based on their story, participants were asked to select several words from an existing list that illustrated what they felt the community (New Richmond) is great at and several more words that illustrated what the community cares about.

The session ended with participants taking a meditative, virtual walk through the future landscape of New Richmond guided by Thone.

Phase 2 will continue with volunteers conducting listening sessions until they reach their goal of hundreds of stories.

Listening sessions are being arranged through various community groups and organizations.

“We have run a number at The Centre for their members. As an example, all of the storytellers who gave us their contact info and listed potential storytellers last Tuesday at the high school will receive an email today about contacting the potential storytellers. We will set up the next listening session from that information. We’ll be running one or two sessions per month through various organizations where they can help us get storytellers to attend,” Buell said.

“We will summarize the data once we reach 100 stories and again at 200 stories, etc.,” Buell said. “Each of these levels will tell us things.”

Next up, volunteers from the Communications and Public Relations tent will begin communicating what has been learned from the first hundred stories and then continue with each successive group of stories.