CED Specialists Bring Place-based Leadership Training to Communities

Leading Communities sessionResearch has shown that “[i]f our communities are to adapt, prosper, and retain decision-making capabilities, it is essential that local leadership capacity be developed (Brennan, 2013).”

“Community leadership is a specific form of the general concept of leadership. It is frequently based in place and so is local, although it can also represent a community of common interest, purpose or practice....In many localities, it is provided by a combination of local volunteers, business, and government and is best served by what is called ‘place management,’ i.e., a combination within a region of government resources, professional and business skills and the energies of the local community. (Sorenson and Epps, 1996:115–117; Osborne and Gaebler, 1993).”

In response to such findings, Leading Communities: A Place-Based Leadership Program is being rolled out across Iowa to revive community engagement and participation.

Based on cutting-edge community leadership research, the program was developed by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. This interactive program simultaneously provides participants with community-based skills and meets the specific needs of the places in which they live and work.

Field specialists and program specialists in the ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development program are using Leading Communities to teach community members to develop, increase, and sustain the local leadership efforts that are necessary to address community issues. The instructional materials are organized so that participants will learn core competencies and skills associated with community leadership. The program also can be tailored to meet the particular needs of the community. 

The objectives of Leading Communities are to help community members:

  • Understand the importance of community leadership.
  • Learn the core competencies or skill sets associated with community leadership.
  • Learn how to use tools relating to those core competencies to address community issues and opportunities.

The program is premised on two basic beliefs about teaching place-based community leadership:

  • That there are core competencies and skills associated with community or place-based leadership, and
  • That all communities are different and have different needs.

The four core competencies taught in Leading Communities are based on social science research and include:

  • Understanding Community Leadership and Your Community
  • Identifying Issues and Framing Ideas
  • Building Social Capital
  • Mobilizing Resources for Community Action

Organizing a class will take at least six months. We provide tools for:

  • Roles and responsibilities.
  • Community assessments.
  • Guidelines for organizing committees.
  • Checklists.
  • Marketing materials.

The program is taught in six sessions, each lasting 2.5–3 hours. Additional sessions are also available on request, on topics such as “Bonding Social Capital in Immigrant and Receiving Community Networks” or “Conflict Management.” Educational materials are learner-centered and structured to create a more collaborative learning environment that actively involves participants in the learning process. 

Some communities opt to include a community project in the process. This “hybrid” approach utilizes an approved ISU educator delivering the program in combination with some form of local networking programming.

To date, Leading Communities has been taught in Buena Vista, Henry, Kossuth, and Lee Counties, and has been well received by attendees, some of whom are quoted here:

“[The most significant takeaway from this session was] the quantitative data portion because many, including myself, didn’t know it was readily available from ISU.”

“I liked the more in-depth task of asking ‘why’ and seeing where the root cause of an issue was.”

“It gives you a chance to actually make a change instead of dismissing problems as too big.”

“This will help you grow as an individual, and as an employee, and as a community member.”

“The discussion of social capital was great because of the pros, cons, and differences between bonding and bridging social capital. The social network exercise was eye opening.”

Below is an example from the first session of Leading Communities, “What are the Seven Types of Community Capitals?”

Natural: The environment and outdoor space.

Cultural: Stories and traditions.

Human: Leadership and access to resources.

Social: Networks in the community and the sense of belonging among community members.

Political: Connections to people in power and influence.

Financial: Money, charitable giving, access to funding.

Built: Buildings and infrastructure within the community. (Flora and Flora, 2008)

For further information on Leading Communities please contact Brian Perry at bmperry@iastate.edu or at 501-772-8988.