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Communities Overview

Community is a key part of the human experience. Most of us live in places where we are affected by our neighbors, governments, local agencies and businesses on a daily basis. Yet our life experience has not given us great models for how to build or participate effectively in community. As a result, our attempts to create community often leave us feeling frustrated or even cynical.

Community is also critical to our personal and social well-being, yet community efforts get very little attention or funding. For example, after school activities, youth and family centers, clubs and other youth activities, which in earlier decades were a part of life for the average citizen, are often available only to the wealthiest communities.

In short, it's a critical time to find ways to work together to create the kinds of communities we want for ourselves and our children. Here a story about such an experience in Talkeetna, Alaska.

Future Search in the Upper Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, November, 1999

Talkeetna is a small town in the Upper Mat-Su Valley of Alaska, whose main street looks up at the slopes of Mount McKinley. In 1999 residents of four neighboring communities gathered there for three days to discover how to work collaboratively.

Background: The towns in this part of Alaska are rugged, frontier towns that have grown slowly, with no official powers enforcing zoning regulations or building permits. But, as you can imagine, things have changed and over the past decade big hotels have been built, tourism has surged and during tourist season there are as many tourists in the towns as local residents. In 1998, a number of residents of the four towns decided they were going to have to work together to maintain their way of life in this special region. This was a big step because previous efforts at joint planning were rocky at best. As one local resident said, "Our meetings would always end up with people standing on tables and screaming at each other."

Six months prior to the future search, a small group, made up of residents from each town, met to plan a future search. Their task was to identify all of the voices they felt needed to be involved. The planning was a struggle. One person believed that this was a liberal conspiracy and had joined the group to sabotage the process. They did a lot of work to stay engaged, build collaboration and be inclusive of all points of view. They were able to get 80 people into the room, an impressive next step. These people were: advocates, businesspeople, citizens, community groups, community resources, government representatives, resource users and students.

The Meeting: Some folks came with tremendous wariness and skepticism. They wanted to make sure no tricks were played. By the end of the second day, there were voluntary outbursts with people saying, "We had no idea how much we had in common." By the third day, as environmentalist and business groups had explored their mutual distrust, they discovered that the one thing they did share was support for re-cycling. Action teams were formed on the following issues: 1) Improve communication between chambers of commerce and the borough, 2) Create a federation of Upper Su chambers of commerce, 3) Explore incorporation of towns in the region and elect new people to the borough assembly, 4) Implement the Talkeetna Comprehensive Plan to look into forming a new borough for the region and 5) Establish a re-cycling program for the region.

Outcomes: Within a few weeks, the re-cycling project was organized as a monthly gathering where people brought re-cyclables to one location. Six months later, the group held a follow-up meeting and decided to expand the re-cycle day into a community potlatch. This event came to be a day that included lively discussions between people who now knew how to talk with each other and a place where people sold and traded local products. Collaboration became a term that was understood in the community and applied in many settings where people came together.

Future Search and Community

Future Search is a community building process that brings people together to share histories, understand present realities, build a vision for a common future and commit to work together to realize shared goals and values. Future search has helped many communities take control of their futures, overcome conflicts and cynicism and pull together to realize common dreams and build a meaningful and lasting life for themselves.

Some ways that Future Search can help build Community:

  • Planning for and meeting housing needs.

  • Building a shared vision for a neighborhood or community.

  • Collaboratively addressing issues such as the needs of children and adults, public safety, community or economic development, homelessness, environment or development, neighborhood planning, others.

  • "For me, did the future search work? No question about it. It provided a living model of democracy."

    - Tony Hill,
    Community resident,
    Santa Cruz

    Building or re-vitalizing a neighborhood organization.

  • Emergency planning and preparation.

  • Dealing with issues related to education.

  • Community wide planning and public participation.

  • Building community capacity.

  • Meeting Human Service needs.

Communities all around the world are discovering that future search is accessible, inexpensive, and effective. Inuit in the arctic, native Hawaiians, Alaskan outbackers, communities in Africa, South America, Asia - on every continent - are discovering the value of future search in building meaningful community.







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