‘More action; less talk’ – GrowSmart Maine is Listening

“I don’t ask you your age, don’t ask mine.”

Earlier this year GrowSmart Maine asked members, colleagues and total strangers to take a survey. We wanted to know which issues matter to them, how they thought we should address them and, oh yeah, how they thought we were doing. As our staff and board members poured over the responses, we had occasion to smile, shake our heads and, most of all, ponder.

The quote above came in response to some demographic information we sought trying to see if opinions changed based on age group. That answer brought smiles. Another answer was “old and been around the block.” A few of us nodded in fellow feeling.

I want to share some of the survey results with you and particularly with those who took the time to provide this important feedback – often guidance. Actually feedback, getting back to people, has become a priority for our organization. When we hold workshops, we want to report back to participants and tell them what we gleaned from the presenters and from the breakout sessions. It’s what people who participate deserve.

In retrospect, the survey asked the toughest question first: Choose the most important issues we need to address. One comment captured the dilemma: “All are important and hard to tease apart.” Nevertheless, Climate Change, or “climate instability” as one person put it, was at the top of the list. Economic Health, Conservation, Smart Growth, and Community Planning were bunched up in a second tier. Meanwhile Downtown Revitalization, Healthy Communities and Affordable Housing had strong advocates.

Why climate change? One person added this note: “Climate will actually affect work in all areas.” They even added to the list – alternative energy, public transportation and resilient local food systems. And what do we make of all this? The fact is one is only fooling oneself by thinking any of these challenges does not impinge on some or all of the others.

We work across the spectrum of every issue listed in these paragraphs. Too much? Some days it feels like that, but GrowSmart Maine is filling a void; we know of no other organization that attempts to bring all these inextricably related issues to the table. We aren’t always the subject expert, but we always try to bring in and connect to the expertise.

Then we asked where – given this list of pressing issues – we should ramp up our efforts. While there was strong support for our forums, workshops and annual summit, responders clearly said the most important approach was, thankfully, in one of our key strength areas: Working Collaboratively. That sentiment is reflected in the theme of our 2017 Summit: First, Build a Bridge on October 18 in Westbrook. Good relationships, we believe, are the precursor to good outcomes.

Once again there was a jam at the top. Legislative and Advocacy work and on the ground Community Engagement came in next, with a healthy vote for Providing Tools citizens, communities and partner organizations can employ. As a result of these responses, we’ve rebalanced our work plans, for example putting significantly more weight on advocacy.

One person had more succinct advice: “More action; less talk.”

That attitude was reflected when we asked which of GrowSmart’s varied roles people saw as most effective. We believe all roles we listed are necessary, but this question produced an outcome that, once pondered, provided an overarching lesson. What topped the roles of Advocate, Facilitator, Convener, Educator and Innovator?

It was Change Agent. And that rang a bell. We took it as meaning that testifying, facilitating, convening and innovating are all good roles, but the ultimate goal is to get results, to truly be the agent of change. That’s really more than a role isn’t it? It’s an identity for which we strive, and an attitude that can inspire others to be change agents as well.

Given all that is on our plate, and on our state’s plate, we still mustered the courage to ask what we should be doing that we are not. We got some flattering reposes (“You are doing what you should;” “You do a lot – hard to imagine broadening your scope”). One respondent pointed to our efforts to have communities share strategies and successes and the occasional war story. They said “we are not learning enough from each other.” Their advice – do more.

At least one person suggested we take on Maine’s long-standing urban/rural divide. At first blush that seemed like an insurmountable goal. Yet, as we thought about it, we realized that is inherent in our belief that every Maine community – big or small, east, west, north or south – needs to prosper, reach its potential, build on its unique assets whether built, natural, agricultural, historic or cultural – and no one should kick that ball down the road.

This, it seems, is what one person meant when they suggested that we need to work for “authentic communities for real people including a full range of working folks and new Americans.”

Oh, by the way, back when we asked about events, we were surprised that fewer than six percent were interested in member-only opportunities. On the other hand the preferences between large gatherings or more intimate programs were about equally split. However the big winner was – wait for it – less expensive events. Who would have guessed?

We were delighted and honored that many of those who responded also considered getting more involved in the work of GrowSmart Maine. To all of you – thank you – we will be in touch soon if we haven’t been already. We want to be thoughtful and strategic about your engagement and put your time to good use so we are putting together a plan to ensure that happens.

Thanks to all who participated in the survey – and to all who join us at our events or in communities throughout the state or stand with GrowSmart Maine before legislative committees. We value your commitment to Maine and your neighbors.

by Bruce Kidman, Board Member & Communications Committee Chair for GrowSmart Maine

Joel Greenwood, Community Planner at KVCOG, was chosen as the lucky winner of a GrowSmart Maine Fleece in the drawing of survey participants.