Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Rural Futures Conference (RFC) in Lincoln. This was an excellent conference with cutting edge and interactive presenters and panelists. This conference was the beginning of the creation of a Rural Futures Institute (RFI). IANR Vice Chancellor, Ronnie Green pointed out that the University of Nebraska is committed to creating a transformative institution focused on rural Nebraska, the Great Plains and beyond.
This RFC allowed nearly 500 individuals from 10 different land grant institutions, community economic development professionals, stakeholders and anyone with a passion on rural communities to brainstorm fundamentals of what the RFI will look like. It also helped participants gain an understanding of four core values the RFI should address.
- Transdisciplinary work is essential. UNL Extension has already recognized this, but it is important we all practice this more. In other words, it is essential for University professionals to network and brainstorm with others outside of their areas of specialty or department. Speaker, Frans Johansson provided excellent examples of how “diversity drives innovation”. “Intersections” are the best way to create new ideas by linking multidisciplinary ideas together to create an innovative approach to solving a problem.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial. In order for rural communities to remain viable, they must think outside of the box and develop an entrepreneurial and innovative culture.
- It is more than economics. In order for rural communities to survive or thrive, basic human services such as health care and education should be present in communities. The RFC fore ward also stated that “an important level of consideration is the civic, cultural, design and artistic elements that attend to aspects of human and community development that can’t be counted and measured, and can’t be justified only with economic returns.” The RFI must build on the legacy and richness of communities.
- Deep collaborations are a foundational element. The creation of the Rural Futures Institute must create deep and meaningful partnerships which allows for adequate collaboration.
The thought of forming a Rural Futures Institute and providing resources towards improving rural communities seems daunting, but as one speaker best put it, “small bests can equal big wins”, meaning to start small and build upon those small (often times more manageable) tasks. We also need to improve the messages we convey to others about our communities. Too often, we depreciate our communities’ assets by assuming there is nothing special/unusual about our communities; instead we should be bragging about all the things we appreciate about our communities or rural way of life.
In summary, UNL will be celebrating the 150th year of the Morrill Act (which created land grant universities among others) in September. Stay tuned for more about the Rural Futures Institute as more develops.