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Community Futures: One Community at a Time
by Katie Donnelly, MA, 07.19.03

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Donnelly addresses World Future Society, July 2003

Hi, I’m Katie Donnelly. I am both a Sociologists and a practicing Futurist and I am pleased to be at this years' 2003 World Future Society annual conference to share in the discussion, “Our American Future: Declining or Pioneering?”

Today we have identified and discussed areas where we as a nation are facing decline and the challenges associated with America moving towards the desired future we expect. I am here to encourage all futurists to participate in ways that will promote social cultural and transformational change before these declines can manifest themselves permanently. One of the ways we as futurists are doing this is through the pioneering field of Community Futures.

I am not negating the seriousness regarding the identified declines but I am here to help balance our discussion’s perspective by sharing with you some news about an area where futurists are pioneering and making remarkable strides. The exciting news concerns the field of Future Studies where we are seeing a strong emerging trend- a trend that has a focus on our Communities Future. Community Futurists are pioneering and opening up new areas of research and development in this applied field of future studies.

During the last two years I have been involved in the creation of a Community Futures practice in Colorado Springs. I am here today to share with you that I believe “Communities are the “soul of our society.”  And it is within our local communities that we are seeing the birthplace of the Community Futures movement. As noted author Farred Zakaria shares in his book on the Future of Freedom, “we live in a democratic age and everywhere we are witnessing the shift of power downward- hierarchies are breaking down, closed systems are opening up and pressures from the masses are now the primary engines of social change.” I believe that we can see this best at the community level. Throughout communities in the US, citizens are becoming more civically engaged, taking back their communities and shaping their future.

Community Futures

Community Futures practitioners assist communities, large and small, throughout the nation in the planning of our individual community futures. For it is in our communities where you can leverage human evolution and it is at the community level where “real change” is large enough to influence the world but small enough to be easily influenced by the individual. This field's focus is on the future of communities and community based issues where futurists apply all their expertise and knowledge. Enthusiastically meeting our citizen's needs, and helping our communities better understand the concept of how they can plan for their collective future as well as helping our communities grow in positive ways through their work.

  • Community futures, as a field, is all about learning what our communities of the future will need, and how our citizens wish to see their community evolve now and in the future.
  • It’s about creating an environment that facilitates positive social and cultural transformation through symbolic dialogue and conversations on a community-wide level.

As community futurists we offer our citizentary the opportunity and the tools to participate and become more civically engaged. Community Future’s as a field is all about empowering individuals and our communities to achieve their preferred or ideal future!

It is my sense, that the field of Community Futures is the needed bridge to help build knowledge, trust and understanding between citizens and their elected officials. It is a bridge, which nurtures our citizen’s civic voice, and one that creates an avenue for citizen civic engagement providing our citizens a greater sense of community belonging. 

As I have mentioned Community Futures as a field is designed to assist communities throughout the nation in the planning of our individual community futures. We assist government departments and social advocacy groups by acquiring information on a wide variety of social issues, and concerns.

Community Advantages

There are many advantages to working in the community futures field, such as:

  • Citizens care more about where they live and understand what their needs are.
  • Citizens are more inclined to become civically engaged on a community level due to the fact that they are sharing discussion about something near and dear to their heart,
  • Social change at the community level is faster to implement than change on a state or national level,  
  • Community futures research leads towards insight and understanding of where a community has been, where a community is currently and where they want to go.

A practicing Community Futurist can help a community to identify how they wish to see their ideal or preferred future in addition to being able to uncover a community’s current story.  This can help a community understand where we have come from, who we are and what we mean to one another.

Some of the delightful results of our Community Futures research work is that our citizens see that their civic voice does matter. City governments and policy maker’s gain a deeper understanding of what the community needs. This type of outcome encourages our citizens because they see their elected officials being responsive to their needs. Lastly, our skills as Community Futurists provide us the opportunity to assist in the implementation of programs and policies requested by citizens, businesses and local government agencies that are benefitual to our communities future.

Community Futures Research Methods

Within our communities, Community Futurists are using a wide variety of processes and methodologies to our community’s benefit. These include being able to set up Citizen councilors networks to encourage and provide an avenue for citizen engagement that nurtures our civic voice and allows for a symbolic dialogue to be carried on in literally hundreds of small conversation groups throughout the community - simultaneously!  Last year, I helped to create "Colorado Springs 2020: Our Town Our Future" - a forum on the future as an experimental exercise in citizen empowerment, indeed this civic program was an inspiration to all who attended yielding rich data concerning how our citizens wish to see Colorado Springs evolve in our future.

We do environmental scanning, indicator studies or quality of life studies; - these studies share a common focus on sustainable communities. Like a pulse rate, these community studies focus on investigations within many domains such as: Community, Economics, Education, Environment, Health, Housing, Public Safety, and Transportation. Etc.

Both Professor Dr. Daphne Greenwood of UCCS and I conducted a quality of life study in Colorado Springs, which yielded rich results and benefits to our community. There are many aspects to collecting local indicator data that helps us uncover a better future for our cities.  For instance, these studies can help identify how a community currently stands in each category explored and help assess our community's strengths and weaknesses. When compared with the community vision our citizens have identified, one can measure if the community is going in the direction of their desired vision for the future.

We also assist in the creation of Opinionnaires on the future and provide the results in a Viewspaper® format that is written for both citizens and elected officials. We use assessment and evaluation tools, and we do scenario and strategic planning. We assist communities by helping them produce a community vision and then help them to implement it.

Community Futurists act as community ambassadors to local government and elected officials. Through our work in communities, we uncover the desires of citizens regarding how they wish to see their community evolve into the future. Community Futurists also help our Faith Communities, as Building the Good City can be part of any congregation’s efforts in seeking the City the God. This aspect of Community Futures helps faith cultivate foresight about our community's spiritual and societal health needs.

On a special note, in my work and growth as a Community Futurist, I am continuing to keep abreast of the latest cutting-edge practices that the futures community is creating.  Beyond Richard Spady's pioneering Social Quantum Mechanics, this year I am immersing myself in the works of Dr. Sohail Inayatullah's "Causal Layer Analysis" and Dr. Richard Slaughter's  Transformation Cycle or "T-Cycle” futures methods. These are both interior, in-depth, or critical futures methods, which help us, understand the underpinnings of social problems and our response through social innovations.

It is the desire of all Community Futurists to embrace our families, neighborhoods, congregations and communities by providing an avenue for citizens to help identify how they desire their community to evolve in the future.  We see a future that nurtures their sense of belonging, and offers hope and encouragement. And it is with this focus on community foresight that we together - "one community at a time" are contributing as modern-day futurists to a better understanding of what communities are, how they work and how our citizens wish to see their ideal or preferred future. In the process, we as futurists can help to spread an encouraging message of individual and community empowerment- and a message of promise and hope about our collective future.

Community Futures Pioneers

In conclusion, I’d like to especially thank and acknowledge those pioneering corporations, foundations and individuals who are contributing to and conducting Community Futures research, which is helping to build tomorrow's communities today. Pioneering companies such as the Forum Foundation whose President, Richard Spady is a dedicated social scientist whose life's work has enhanced communication in organizations and society, by providing Symbolic dialogue, Opinionnaire and fast forum services over the last three decades. 

People like Gus Jaccaci, President of Unity Scholars for his civic work representing Mr. Thomas Jefferson in 2030 at Town hall meetings on the future throughout the United States. His Metamatrix® and theories of community transformation are inspirational reminders of what true democracy is about and how citizens can take their community's future to higher levels of living through social architecture.

People like Dr. Richard Kirby with the Stuart C. Dodd Institute in Seattle and Futurist Jay Gary with PeakFutures for his dedication and impressive Community Futures work in Colorado Springs, Colo.

There is also The Waitt Family Foundation, specifically Christian Crews who has done pioneering civic work helping marginalized communities and of course Adam Kahane’s Gendron Consulting in Boston for conducting civic scenario’s. 

Community Futures on a Global Level

Katie Donnelly, Community Futurist
Community Futurists are not just practicing in America - we are practicing in communities throughout the globe. For instance, Paul Wildman and Helen Schwencke with the CEAD in Australia also conduct civic research for the benefit of their communities. I also want to let individual futurist who are practicing in this pioneering field know that they are not alone and that we are doing important work, which helps to shape and positively affect peoples lives- and the futures of our communities.

Community Futurists are pioneering today to help create a better society tomorrow: one community at a time. 

Katie Donnelly, sociologist, trainer and consultant is a Community Futurist in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

URL: http://www.childrencomefirst.com/springsfutures/DonnellyWFS2003.shtml

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