2012 Rural Futures Conference Proceedings

In the mail this week, I received my issue of the Proceedings of the 2012 Rural Futures Conference.

The vision of a Rural Futures Institute (RFI)developed long before the May 2012 gathering of the Rural Futures Conference to “be an internationally recognized leader for increasing community capacity as well as the confidence of rural people to address their challenges and opportunities, resulting in resilient and sustainable rural futures.”  Their mission is “Building upon the strengths and assets in rural Nebraska, the Great Plains, and globally, the Rural Futures Institute, through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, will mobilize the resources and talents of the University of Nebraska and its partners, including community partners, to create knowledge and action that supports rural people and places to achieve unique paths to their desired futures.”

The background of the creation of an institute that can accomplish this vision and mission goes back 150 years to “three seminal pieces of legislation that shaped Nebraska and the Great Plains: The Homestead Act, which created a land rush for settlers; The Morrill Act, which created the land-grant university system; and The Pacific Railway Act, which provided federal support for construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Their impact changed the face of the nation, bringing newcomers by the tens of thousands to establish homes and livelihoods in a region once dismissed as the Great American Desert. But much has changed in the past century and a half, with shifts in population, economic conditions, and technology prompting reconsideration of urgent challenges facing not only the Great Plains, but rural places in general.”

“… The rapid increase in world demand for food and energy provides growth opportunities for rural communities in Nebraska and the Great Plains. To succeed, the people — rural and urban, alike — must anticipate and take advantage of constantly changing environments. Change is inevitable; progress is optional.

“Led by University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken and Vice President Ronnie Green, Institute planners emphasized four key considerations in shaping the framework of the Rural Futures Institute:

  1. Transdisciplinary work is essential. To be successful, the Institute will have to transcend traditional boundaries of academic disciplines while respecting the expertise specific disciplines contribute.
  2. Innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial. This goes beyond private sector business considerations. The Institute should attempt to draw from the region’s long history of innovative thinking to leverage further creativity and entrepreneurial activity throughout the region, as well as within the University itself.
  3. It is more than economics. Health care, education, civic culture, and the arts are critical elements of community life and must be part of the fabric of the Institute, even though they often cannot be measured or justified in a strictly economic context.
  4. Deep collaborations are a foundational element. Despite challenges associated with institutional collaborations, the Rural Futures Institute will succeed only if it can foster and engage in meaningful partnerships within the University and with the many non-academic stakeholders in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors that have resources and expertise to contribute to the issues at hand.”

The interactive Proceedings report offers the opportunity to view videos of speakers, connect to backgrounder links, visit the lives of young residents that have a stake in the future of their rural communities, read about the discussions that took place and see who the 465 people are who participated in the formation of the Rural Futures Institute. You can read the full summary that expands on the lessons learned: “Dynamic keynote speakers, thought-provoking panels, and discussions among attendees themselves challenged Institute planners to consider three overarching requirements that will be critical to the success of the Rural Futures Institute:

  •             Recognize that tremendous assets already are in place.
  •             Adopt an expansive mindset that embraces diversity in all of its forms.
  •             Collaborate, cooperate, and engage at all levels and with all stakeholders.”

Please!  Join the conversation at TalkRuralFutures.org

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