Palo Alto County Successfully Completes Virtual Goal Setting

August 18, 2020

By Julie Aberg Robison, Program Manager, Institute for Design Research and Outreach

Goal setting is an activity that is hard to imagine doing virtually, yet community members in Palo Alto County met up recently for a Virtual Goal Workshop, facilitated by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development (CED), to focus on Local Economic Development and COVID-19 Transition and Recovery.Screenshot of Action Plan for Palo Alto County How has our community's economy changed since the COVID-19 shutdown?

Two sessions - scheduled one week apart - brought together local and county government leaders, economic development organizations, and business and nonprofit partners. The goal of the workshop was to consider current impacts of the pandemic and immediate response, ongoing commitments, and emerging priorities while keeping in mind long-term strategic goals.

Workshop attendees discussed how the closures associated with the pandemic impacted local businesses and families. The overall effect on the local economy was clear to all. Discussion focused on immediate actions to strengthen downtown businesses and the retail and restaurant environment. Specific actions identified focused on downtown beautification and ongoing goals such as installing planters, increasing outdoor eating and seating options to bring more people back downtown, and improving networking and cross-promotion of local businesses. Longer-term goals included development of a long-term downtown strategic plan with short-term implementation phases to keep everyone engaged.

Engaging the community through partnerships was an important topic throughout the workshop. An effort to help nonprofits and service organizations with response efforts during the pandemic was a top priority, including finding more activities for children and virtual programming for individuals shuttered in assisted living and group homes. Numerous actions were identified to engage volunteers to meet more community needs.  

To participate, attendees needed to have a computer with stable internet connection and devote a total of four hours to the process. The facilitation team used a combination of Zoom, Google Docs, and Miro (a collaboration tool) to engage attendees in an interactive manner. Facilitators helped the groups focus on developing specific action plans using the Issues to Action and Action Plan planning templates, tools based on ToP (Technology of Participation) facilitation methods.

The closing activity asked the question, “What will people (in our community) experience as a result of our actions?” The images below were layered over a downtown streetscape and selected by participants at end of workshop, after having completed the Issues to Action and Action Plan frameworks. Attendees were encouraged by their collective commitment to engage everyone in the community in the path forward.

Images below were layered over a downtown streetscape.The workshop was sponsored by the Palo Alto County Extension Office and is the first of three virtual goal-setting workshops that will be offered to local government, economic development partners, and nonprofit organizations over the coming months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The facilitation team included CED specialists Lisa Bates, Eric Christianson, Jane Nolan Goeken, Julie Aberg Robison, Scott Timm, and Aimee Viniard-Weideman.

For more information, please contact Julie Robison at