ISU Research team Measures the ‘Ripple Effects’ of Community Visioning

Volunteers planting a bioswale along a roadside in MapletonSince its inception in 1996, the Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning program has made visible impacts in small Iowa communities, ranging from entrance signage and corridor enhancements to recreation trails and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. 

Program staff have documented these impacts over the years through site visits, surveys, and one-on-one interviews. However, little has been done to understand the impacts of the program beyond physical changes to the landscape.

To identify the learning outcomes of participation in Community Visioning, program director and Iowa State University professor of landscape architecture Julia Badenhope decided to employ a relatively new research technique called “ripple effects mapping” in past visioning communities. 

Ripple Effects Mapping (REM) is defined as “a group participatory evaluation method that engages program and community stakeholders to retrospectively and visually map the chain of effects resulting from a program or complex collaboration” (A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping, p. xi).

Play equipment in Two Good Park in PrestonIn July 2018, a research team of two staff people and two students conducted a pilot study in which they facilitated REM workshops in four target communities: Tripoli (program year 2012), Mapleton (program year 2013), Preston (program year 2014), and Manning (program years 2012 and 2016). These communities were selected because they represent different program years, they represent different parts of the state, and all have either completed projects or are in the process of completing projects. 

Visioning committee members, stakeholders, and residents from each community participated in the two-hour REM workshops. The Trees Forever field coordinators who worked with each of the communities were also invited to attend. 

Each workshop started with participants pairing up and interviewing each other about their experiences during and after the Community Visioning process and then sharing their experiences with the larger group. 

As each story was presented, the larger group discussed and added to the story. The facilitators took notes and created a diagram called a “mind map” that represented linkages between ideas, actions, and participants. 

Three of the study communities—Manning, Mapleton, and Tripoli—have completed all the projects proposed through the visioning program, while Preston is still in the project implementation phase. 

The following summarizes the accomplishments discussed at the workshops in each community.

Manning

  • Downtown improvements
  • Creation of a green space at the entrance to Main Street
  • Signage and monuments along Highway 141
  • Great Western Park improvements
  • Creation of Trestle Park

Mapleton

  • Complete streets
  • Pedestrian crossing nodes
  • Integrated green infrastructure
  • Street tree restoration

Preston

  • Basketball court
  • Two Good Park play equipment
  • Community grocery store
  • Accessible sidewalks

Tripoli

  • Sweet Water Trail
  • Welcome center and trailhead
  • Sidewalk extension along Highway 93
  • New park space along Sweet Water Creek
  • Sweet Water Creek bank restoration

Tripoli residents do landscaping at the welcome center.After sharing their stories, participants reflected on them and considered the activities that they should keep doing, those they should stop doing, and some new ideas that could be beneficial to their community.

Although the projects completed or in process in each study community are unique to that community, the learning outcomes across the four communities are similar. Examples of what residents in all four communities discovered through the visioning process include:

  • The need for expanding the volunteer base, whether that mean more youth, families, or simply more residents.
  • The need to have patience when working on projects. Things may not happen as fast as anticipated.
  • The importance of understanding the perspectives of different age groups and user types.
  • The ability to raise funds through writing grants, soliciting donations, and increasing local buy in through communication.
  • The importance of partnerships with local organizations, such as businesses, schools, and clubs.

Through shared experiences and stories of residents, the REM workshops illustrated the “ripple effects” of the Community Visioning process on participating communities. Specifically, the workshops were designed to reveal new ways of thinking and new habits among residents, as well as new community practices that emerged through the planning and project implementation processes. In addition, the workshops explored lessons learned and addressed future goals and plans for action.

One of the “ripple effects” of Community Visioning on all four study communities is increased volunteerism, as demonstrated by residents’ willingness to help with planting in Mapleton and Manning, to build the playground equipment in Preston, and to build and landscape the welcome center in Tripoli.

Another outcome of the visioning process is that the communities learned to do strategic planning before undertaking projects. As a result, workshop participants said they feel “more organized.” Other impacts include more environmental stewardship and increased buy in among local businesses.

In terms of future goals for the four communities, themes that emerged from the REM workshops include improving communication, revitalizing downtown, improving connectivity and accessibility in the community, engaging with local businesses, and engaging younger residents and youth.

More information about the Community Visioning Program is available from Sandra Oberbroeckling at 515-294-3721 or soberbr@iastate.edu.

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