Rural Engagement and Action Leadership Project
Project of the
Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development
with support from the
Center for Engagement and Community Development
Kansas State University
The REAL Project was an innovative approach linking university expertise and outreach, leadership development, and action implementation on vital issues identified by participants. The goals of the project were as follows:
1. Involve rural citizens in a leadership capacity-building process,
2. Engage university expertise in solving rural problems and addressing rural issues, and
3. Implement specific action on a key local issue or topic.
Rural citizens across Kansas were invited to participate in the REAL Project, which included 9 citizens. There were three stages to the project:
1. All participants attended an overview session at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene. The Kansas State faculty team facilitated a process of leadership development and issue identification. Participants took part in an immersion leadership experience put on by the Eisenhower Museum. Following the leadership education process, participants would be asked to identify a local/Kansas issue on which they seek to focus.
2. each participant engaged in a research, goal setting, and action planning process relating to the issue of their choice. The Kansas State faculty team would be responsible for identifying university faculty/research/specialist expertise which can help with each individual project. With assistance from the university resources, participants identified action items and proceeded with an implementation plan. Minigrants of $500 were made available by the project to participants for seed money to assist in implementation.
3. One and a half years from the original meeting, the participants re-convened on the K-State campus to provide an update on their individual projects, identify what further resources are needed, and evaluate the process.
This process builds on the classic land-grant university concept of taking the university to the people, and also invokes newer theoretical frameworks such as the community capitals model. This framework identifies the assets in each capital, the types of capital invested, the interaction among the capitals, and the resulting impacts across capitals. It recognizes the multidimensionality of community interactions, which affect natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial, and built elements. Thus, a holistic approach to community development is needed as well as the importance of open public involvement, and these will be emphasized throughout the training and implementation process.
Collaborative Partners/Interdisciplinary Team:
Jack Lindquist, Kansas Ag and Rural Leadership Program
Dr. Tom Roberts, Assistant Dean, Recruitment and Leadership Development, College of Engineering
Dr. Donita Whitney-Bammerlin, College of Business
David Coltrain, K-State Research and Extension, Walnut Creek District
Racquel Thiesen, Kansas Leadership Forum
PI - Ron Wilson, Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development
"Discover Phillips County-A New Community Development Model"
with support from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation
Ron Wilson, Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development (responsible for overall
administration of this project)
Ron Alexander, R.E. Alexander and Associates
Dr. Vincent Amanor-Boadu, K-State Agricultural Economics
Dan Kahl, Kansas PRIDE Program, K-State Research and Extension
Phillips County Partners:
Hansen Foundation, Phillips County Community and Development Foundation, Phillips County
Economic Development, Entrepreneurial Center, Huck Boyd Foundation, and a host of related
organizations and people.
Our plan is based on these guiding principles:
A. Build on existing strengths. There are numerous developments in Phillips County which
give us encouragement and hope. These activities demonstrate that Phillips County is not a
place which is going to give in to the doomsayers about rural Kansas. For these reasons, Phillips
County has demonstrated that it is a fertile field in which to nurture and grow this innovative
model of community development.
B. Use an Appreciative Inquiry-based, asset-mapping approach. Asset-mapping is a positive way of helping community transform itself for the future. Rather than dwelling on needs and deficits of a given
community, these techniques take a positive approach and build on strengths rather than focusing
C. Involve youth. Given the brain drain and outmigration of youth which is a key factor in
rural demographics, we want to hear from our young people in shaping our community plans for
D. Target entrepreneurs. Expansion of existing homegrown businesses and nurturing of nascent
entrepreneurs can, in the long run, provide an economic engine of wealth generation to benefit
the county. Assistance should be targeted, just as our previous work on the High Plains Trade
Corridor showed that the most successful outreach to help rural entrepreneurs to export is found
in direct, one-on-one technical assistance.
E. Engage people county-wide. These plans need to cover all the county and be inclusive,
reaching out to more than the county seat or the towns on a major highway. All Phillips
Countians should have an opportunity to participate.
F. Think strategically. The county's direction should be strategic, helping the county position
itself to achieve its shared goals for its future. We choose the year 2030 as a 25 year planning
horizon with interim benchmarks to encourage the citizens to think about long-term needs and
G. Take Action and follow-up. It is not intended that this would be one-shot meeting or a
document that sits on a shelf. We propose the development of a community-based plan which
would include action steps, responsibility, and accountability, and an ongoing process of
With support from the Hansen Foundation, the facilitation team implemented a process to
engage Phillips County and Kansas State University in the development of an innovative
community development model. The team will pursued a two-track process: (1) Community
Engagement, with an ongoing, inclusive process which lead to a community-based plan for
the future; and (2) Outreach to Entrepreneurs, beginning with a workshop on business
opportunity scoping, formatting case studies about entrepreneurs for their use, and leading to
one-on-one technical assistance for existing and prospective businesses.
This approach was county-wide. It built on the county's many strengths, utilize the
comprehensive community capitals model to cover all dimensions of the community, and used an
Appreciative Inquiry/asset-mapping process to deal with issues constructively. The result should
be more engaged and empowered citizens, a unified county-wide community, a stronger
economy, and a community-based plan for successful and sustainable development with action steps for the future.
Community Leadership -- The Institute has set a goal of 500 in 5, meaning that we intend for 500 Kansans to experience new leadership development opportunities within 5 years, due to our work. The Huck Boyd Foundation provides mini-grants to counties for the development and implementation of new educational, adult leadership programs. The Institute is partnering with K-State Research and Extension in the development of a new leadership curriculum called LEADS - Leadership Excellence And Dynamic Solutions. The Institute also helps support the Kansas Leadership Forum, which is a state-wide association of leadership development professionals and volunteers.
International trade -- The Institute's work on north-south trade corridors has stimulated multi-state efforts to encourage international educational partnerships and exports of high plains products. The Institute:
achieved support for the concept from state councils in each of the High Plains states
conducted the national satellite teleconference from Dole Hall on "The High Plains Region in a Global Economy"
supported the creation of the North American Agribusiness Consortium, a joint venture of six universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with Kansas in the lead
joined in a partnership with the Rural Development Institute of Brandon University in Manitoba
produced the High Plains Region International Trade Inventory
Rural cooperation -- The Institute's report "County Cooperation" described voluntary, multi-community cooperative efforts in 16 rural Kansas locations, which participants estimated saved nearly $5 million. The Institute's work led to creation of:
- the 46-county Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance, and
- the six-county North East Kansas Coalition for Regional Economic Development
Innovation -- The Institute initiated and sponsored the first-ever Kansas Rural Issues Poll. The Institute recommended creation of the Kansas Rural Development Council, which has saved Kansas taxpayers almost half a million dollars through its coordination of activities. The Institute was a leading force in Kansas being one of eight pilot states selected under President Bush's national rural development initiative.
National recognition to Kansas -- The Institute's work has been written about by national organizations such as the National Association of Towns and Townships and American Farm Bureau Federation, and articles by the Institute have appeared in national publications with circulation in all 50 states.
How is this possible? The Institute is a unique public-private partnership, led by a Board of Directors which brings together knowledge and expertise of leaders of the state, higher education, and the private sector.