Three Paths to an Active, Creative, Engaged Community

I’m not sure exactly who, but one of our staff posted a quote in our board room that captures the nature of the challenge faced by our ACE Communities initiative - ACE being an acronym for active, creative and engaged. The quote? “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

It is one heck of a challenge. Not only are we charged with the task of attempting to enhance the quality of life across an entire province, we are responsible for being able to explain how we did it when we’re finished. 

Being blessed with previous learnings and some not so insignificant funding from the Rural Alberta Development Fund, we knew going in that we needed to focus on identifying and supporting local community leaders. We also knew that we’d be stressing collaboration and innovation by using recreation, parks, arts, culture and heritage as a catalyst. It is only now, after over a year of working with a stellar team, that we think we’ve finally landed on a way to describe a formula that seems to be working.

We know if a community - any community – wants to be stronger, healthier and more vibrant, it must have citizens who are active, creative, and engaged. To make that a reality, three paths or journeys within the community need to take place.

The first journey is one that focuses on supporting the learning and growth of a local corps of community leaders. Change and success simply doesn’t happen without community leaders who can act as agents of change, ensure continuous improvement, provide big picture/system thinking, be catalysts for citizen responsibility, advocate for quality of life, and plan using a community development approach.

The second journey, driven by local community leaders, needs to focus on a short term, cross-sectoral, grassroots initiative or project(s). It needs to be something that everyone in town agrees is important as well as be one that requires collaboration across sectors and silos. This contributes to the spirit and potential impetus within a community by illustrating what can happen when everyone works together. Think of it as a quick success or as low-hanging fruit. Projects related to recreation, parks, arts, culture and heritage fit here very well. Examples could include building or renovating a playground, park, skateboarding facility, or trail. It could also be something a little less tangible such as a training event for volunteers, a conference for youth, or a festival. We’ve also worked with communities who have focused on putting a temporary floor in a curling rink so it can be used year round. Another built a nature park that had teens laying sod, and seniors and kids joining efforts to build birdhouses. Yet another town initiated a calendar that chose from hundreds of photographs submitted by residents to illustrate what they were most proud of in their community.  The 12 photographs selected were unveiled at a spirited, well-attended launch. 

The third journey involves the implementation of a longer term, community-driven plan that addresses the quality of life in the community from a big picture or systems perspective. This collective, community-owned plan and its vision, values, and principles are essential for inspiring and engaging citizens in the ongoing growth and development of their community.

Sounds simple now doesn’t it? Three journeys….the development of local community leaders, a short term project or initiative, and a longer term plan for quality of life. Local leaders, low hanging fruit, and long term planning. Who knew the complexity of change could ultimately be so simple to describe.


Posted on 08-13-09


Hey Brenda Thought provoking, clear and concise. I love it.  Sharon

•Posted by Sharon McFall  on  08/18/09  at  08:45 AM

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