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Building the Future Starts With a Plan

How do you get hundreds of people across many communities to establish a shared vision for the future?

When people think of Pomegranate Center’s work, they often envision art making, construction, and placemaking–all the physical labor that comes with strengthening communities. What some might not know is that our work often extends into the realm of large scale and long-term visioning. In the Walla Walla Valley in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, we applied our model to a multi-community regional planning process, convening many communities around one cooperative vision of the future and training leaders within the community to turn these priorities into action. This project was a collaboration between Pomegranate Center, Community Council, United Way of Walla Walla County, Sherwood Trust, and  Blue Mountain Community Foundation.

Between May and August of 2016, hundreds of participants shared their ideas for the future of the Blue Mountain Region, including Columbia and Walla Walla counties and northeastern Umatilla County, in a series of workshops and roundtable discussions. In an effort to include as many participants as possible, the workshops were held in different locations and times across the region, childcare was provided at all workshops, and simultaneous Spanish interpretation was provided as needed. In addition to the large workshops, United Way of Walla Walla County conducted a number of smaller roundtable discussions at business offices, service club meetings, and youth centers.

Five meetings in the summer of 2016 centered on the question, “What ideas do you have for this region’s future?” Following the Pomegranate Method for facilitating meetings, all meeting participants contributed answers. Ideas from all of the workshops and roundtable discussions were grouped by Pomegranate Center into thirteen goals. In a round of follow-up prioritization meetings in September, five goals emerged as top priorities for the communities:

  1. Access to education
  2. Strong and diverse economy
  3. Health
  4. Care for nature
  5. Safety

The project took a celebratory turn in December of 2016 with a community party that saw some 250 residents come together for dinner and group work establishing action plans for each priority.

Since the last meeting in December 2016, the following has happened as a result of these community envisioning meetings:

  • Inclusion of community ideas in city and county comprehensive planning documents
  • Identification of new community leaders
  • Alignment of funding priorities among local funders
  • New standard of inclusion for community meetings that entails providing food, live, professional Spanish interpretation, and childcare

Our work has continued well into 2017, with Milenko Matanovic traveling to the region multiple times to offer facilitation training to individuals who indicated an interest in taking a leadership role in moving idea into action. Milenko will give his last training at the end of September.

Danielle Garbe, Executive Director of the Sherwood Trust, notes that this project has set the stage for long-lasting community involvement: “Pomegranate helped our region gather and prioritize ideas for the future of the Walla Walla Valley. Our counties and cities are now using that information to shape their Comprehensive Plans, and community volunteers are mobilizing to put those ideas into action. As a funder, Sherwood Trust appreciated the great collaboration that went into the project and that we’re seeing now as a result, and we look forward to investing in proposals that come out of this engaging and inclusive process.”

Yes, Pomegranate Center helps people build physical spaces, but more than that we empower communities to come together to take collaborative action on a shared vision for the future.

 

All photos in post courtesy: Walla Walla Union-Bulletin by Alfred Diaz.