FOLLOW TINA AND HER TEAM AS THEY work to CRAFT THE FRAMEWORK FOR A SUSTAINABLE POPULATION GROWTH STRATEGY IN LUNENBURG COUNTY
Lynn Hennigar shares NOW LUnenburg Country's story at Manitoba conference
Good morning, I am pleased to be here to share Now Lunenburg County’s story.
My goal today is to give you an overview of NOW Lunenburg County and since I always listen to presentations such as this one, with an ear to what I can either directly replicate or tweak to use in my own work or community, I hope by the end you will have found a takeaway that speaks to you and your community.
So – my tale begins in rural Nova Scotia, Lunenburg County specifically, population 45,000 and dropping. In 2014, the Nova Scotia Commission on building a new economy, led by Ray Ivany of Acadia University released “Now or Never an urgent call to action for Nova Scotians”.
This report provided an overview of where our province was, the trajectory of our current path and presented a series of stretch goals we would need to meet in order to reverse our inevitable decline.
Sadly, it contained very little that we didn’t already know but had chosen to collectively ignore. Nova Scotia and indeed Lunenburg County has a plethora of reports on our aging population, need for innovation, our apathy, our poor health, literacy rates, and the list goes on.
Now Lunenburg County was born of one woman’s visceral response to this latest report. That woman was Elspeth Maclean Wile who owns a farm and operates Wiles Lake Farm Market just outside Bridgewater with her husband Peter.
Elspeth had simply had enough. She was tired of report after report defining our problems but resulting in no action.
She and Wayne Fulcher, a highly successful business owner, now retired, running a foundation in his name, had just spent 4 years working to get the Lunenburg County Community Fund off the ground and that experience fueled her fire.
The Lunenburg County Community Fund had commissioned two Vital Signs reports – which clearly highlighted the many issues facing Lunenburg County, everything from population decline, poverty, to lack of transportation.
The Community Fund board believed that simply identifying the issues would create widespread community change. It did not.
As anyone working in mental health or addictions will tell you this lack of response to compelling data is not unusual. If all it took was for someone to show us that smoking is bad for us or that we’d live longer if we lost weight, we’d all be in great shape. Understanding that research alone isn’t enough to create change is at the heart of what compelled Elspeth to act as a champion and bring our team together!
Desperate to do something Elspeth began by gathering like minded business people to help her work toward a tangible response to the Now or Never document.
She recruited Wayne Fulcher as well as Paul and Michael Belliveau, Paul is the senior Belliveau in the AC Belliveau accounting firm in Bridgewater and his son Michael, also an accountant, brought a younger perspective to the group. My background is in the community newspaper industry. My family owned and I was the publisher of our local paper and in October 2013 our industry hosted the Georgetown Conference, a grass roots, Atlantic region wide, privately funded conference on rural economic development. So, based on my work on this conference, and maybe because I was also a councillor for the Town of Mahone Bay at the time, Elspeth reached out and invited me to join. I knew Elspeth by reputation, I didn’t know Wayne and I knew Paul and Michael as my accountants.
I was invited into the group a few meetings in - it was clear that our group had the passion and the will to do something, but frankly we really were not sure what that was or how to do it. I believed we needed some expert advice and I had just met Tim Merry, a relatively new to the area, world class, change leader who I was working with through my own business.
Tim was helping me, and my team create a more participatory culture in order to tackle the issues facing all media today.
From our work together I just knew he would be able to help. We engaged Tim and his team to help us figure out how we would work together, what we could and would do and to ultimately facilitate the events that became our first steps. Tim later became a team member. Tim introduced us to the concept of a paid centre – Karen Densmore was the glue that kept us together and moving forward over our now three years of work.
So now that you know the players – it’s time to tell you about our path and what we’ve learned along the way. It’s been a long and winding journey.
The NOW Lunenburg County team started meeting for two hours every week. We began by figuring out what we believed in collectively that would guide our work.
This is a critical and important piece in keeping a diverse group of people together over time. You need a sort of set of ground rules or values you all agree on in-order-to stick with each other.
Our first and most important decision was to do things differently, to mirror the change we want to create, and to hold ourselves accountable. So, we challenged ourselves to look at things differently and to move forward by consensus.
Sounds simple eh! The funny thing is that even three years later our team meetings are a highlight for each of us – we never leave without having learned something.
Constant evaluation was key – how are we thinking, what are we doing – evaluation was crucial to understanding what was going on – was anything changing, were we doing anything. Every decision was reviewed and evaluated to make sure we weren’t doing the same things in the same old way. We spent many hours strategically thinking about who to engage with, where to hold our engagements, how to make sure everything we did was demonstrably different – government funding for example would hurt our credibility – it’s habitually where folks go for funding in Nova Scotia.
So where could we go for funds that wasn’t the same old place – we found support and received initial funding from the Lunenburg County Community Fund as well as from each of our own businesses.
The Lunenburg County Community fund has turned into a long-term partner in our work. Our group pushed the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia which oversees the Lunenburg County Community fund to also think differently and find ways in which they can support our work and meet their regulatory obligations. This hasn’t been easy our relationship has had its challenges but we thank them for sticking with us and working to find ways to say yes rather than to say no.
NOW Lunenburg County 1.0 our first event was by invitation held in May 2014, at the Blockhouse Fire Hall.
This was a big step for us – we had no idea if anyone would show up and we leaned heavily (entirely) on Tim to teach us how to engage well.
We had many conversations over who to invite, who are the traditional leaders and who are the real leaders? It’s a small community can you invite one council or councillor and not them all? What about mayors? How do we make sure the room is as diverse as possible in a highly-homogenized area?
Each of us worked our private networks to fill the room. Ultimately, we had over 100 people the majority of whom spent the day with us. We knew this was a risk, and some folks have not forgiven us for excluding them – so you need to be deliberate and discerning about your choices.
This event would set the stage for all of our work to follow – so it had to be different right out of the gate. It was a daytime meeting – started with a breakfast offering and finished after lunch around 2:30 in the afternoon.
There was music, small tables that allowed for good conversations, a provocative guest speaker, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, who shared her story of successful citizen led change around homelessness in Columbus Ohio, a graphic recorder, a professional facilitator, and a video team so coverage would be available online after the event. All of this contributed to our creating a different kind of community engagement for our area. Perhaps most importantly in our invitation we challenged our participants to be part of this event to bring the problems, issues, concerns, projects or opportunities they could see and were interested in working on. By the end of the day we had identified 16 projects that people were leading in our area.
For some this initial meeting connected like-minded people working on projects intended to improve our community. Others brought ideas, got feedback and found people willing to work with them on new initiatives. Most would tell you the conversations were rich and the experience positive. m/95887951
After our launch the NOW Lunenburg County team believed our role was to work to keep the leaders of these projects connected, hosting events over the summer and bringing everyone back together in the fall for an update. These summer events and attempts at connection weren’t as successful as our team had hoped – it’s also important to understand that in this kind of work success is incredibly subjective. Sometimes we only had one or two project leads show up for one of our meetings, while that was disappointing to us, it was often still rewarding and helpful for the project leads.
After the launch and over the summer we engaged Gabrielle Donelly to do a developmental evaluation of our work. Essentially a developmental evaluation captures important and emergent patterns of change that emerge from rapid real time interactions that generate learning, evolution and development. In English we wanted to know what was working and what wasn’t to inform what we did next.
What we learned from the developmental evaluation and our own work shaped our next steps. We sought out more youth to participate in our October event and we used this event to present what we learned from the evaluation.
During this NOW 2.0 in October 2014 we presented our findings:
The need for change in our County exists on a wide continuum from those not believing change is necessary, “life is good as it is”; to those believing we face a series of crises in the years ahead with the burden of municipal government, labour force challenges, growing senior population and a crumbling local economy.
There is an appetite for leadership that galvanizes people around creating a better future; that leadership must be trusted and come with no agenda other than improving life in our county.
The work is complex, frustrating and exhilarating.
We have seen a-number-of interesting ideas floated at NOW Lunenburg County events. Individual leaders have taken them on, inspired by the feedback, enthusiasm, and support of others. This is exactly what we hoped. We want Lunenburg County to be recognized for innovative ideas and creative approaches. We want to support individuals who are willing to step up and step out.
The reality was that at this stage we had reached less than 1% of our population through our meetings and special events. Our evaluation process told us we had not engaged the broader business community in addressing a need for change. We had scarcely nibbled at the underlying challenges that will continue to plague our economy.
It was clear that we hadn’t found a direction that would compel our community to action. We needed to create an activity that would bring a clear, well defined focus to the work of change in our local economy.
Our team continued meeting, looking for that focus and during one of our core team’s discussions Tim introduced us to transformational scenario planning.
Perhaps it was my newspaper background, but this concept made my heart sing. The idea of putting a team of people together who would work to create at least three future scenarios for Lunenburg County’s and then presenting these alternatives to the broad community seemed perfect to me.
Storytelling is a powerful way to help people visualize what our county might look like if nothing changes, and how awesome we could be if we worked together. This wasn’t a small idea, it came with a big budget, huge time commitment and lots of challenges to find the right people to help us understand what the future could look like and then communicate it to our communities in an engaging and inspiring way.
Our team spent many hours over the winter of 2015 learning about transformational scenario planning and it’s results in places such as South Africa. Our team was excited and inspired by our Possible Futures Project. We worked with someone who could help us find money and in the spring of 2015, we pitched the idea to a couple of well-known Nova Scotia entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, our pitches for funding were unsuccessful. Mostly undaunted, we turned to our local community and brought together a group of Lunenburg County business people, we created a thoughtful event, with music, locally sourced food and what we believed was a compelling pitch – again it didn’t resonate.
We, especially me, reluctantly let go of the scenario planning idea and decided to make a concerted effort with the business community to figure out where we could make a difference.
In the fall of 2015, we invited 25-30 leaders who represented a cross section of our community to meet with us. We met in September, and November. Our meetings were successful, but attendance was not as high as we hoped. We used these two events to test our new desire to find a single area of focus for our work – one that was broad enough to have a community wide impact and narrow enough to tackle. From these meetings we started thinking labour force might be the key.
Early in 2016 we held another public meeting,
NOW Lunenburg County 3.0 – During this event we tested our ideas and allowed us to hone-in-on population growth as the strategy we wanted to move forward with.
After more than two years and finally with a single, yet broad and complex goal, the core team was ready to hire someone to work on a strategy with us.
We secured funding from the private sector together with generous support from a local foundation. We had hoped to start with enough funding for a 3-year term – but we were unable to raise the money – so we settled for one year with lots of hope and commitment to get to three years.
Growing our population is not a simple task nor is working with a diverse core team. It took many meetings for us to be sure we were on the same page for what we wanted out of this position and in this person. We used Thomas International to help us build a personality profile for the position and measured our candidates against this profile.
We chose to do this because the candidates were all known to one or more of us and we needed an independent way to evaluate them. We also needed the profile to be sure we all were in agreement on the type of person we wanted for this job.
We had three excellent matches and after many interviews and lots of debate around the table we ultimately hired the one perfect match for the role. Tina Hennigar, yes, we’re related, Tina’s my sister-in-law, started in September and has managed to stick with us. We are a challenging group, we all bring different views and experiences to the table. Together we are finally getting used to changing direction regularly, sometimes we change direction multiple times in the same meeting. Tina quickly learned not to put too much time into presenting to us – especially after her first presentation when we changed our minds and rendered her report useless before she had barely finished her first sentence.
NOW Lunenburg County still only exists through our work, we have no official organization and no bank account. Fortunately, the Lunenburg County Community Fund and in turn the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia have been behind us all along. Together we’re all learning how they can support this type of evolving initiative. It’s hard for institutions to grasp the need to carry on without all the I’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working in this unstructured way is uncomfortable for many and it takes practice and faith in each other to learn to be okay swimming in uncertainty. If we hadn’t just decided to start we never would have.
Tina’s first task was to confirm that our population growth strategy was the right path, she did this by interviewing more than 40 business people and newcomers.
Once we had confirmation on our goal, the work could begin. Our team couldn’t decide whether we should have a storefront – an office that firmly planted us in the community or not – after lots of debate Tina suggested a mobile office.
How about a 1976 Boler trailer, a Canadian success story and really cute to boot – she could take her office to the people she was meeting, and we wouldn’t need to worry about which town we chose to make our home. So that’s what we did –
As we talked about growing our population, our new mobile office and Canada’s 150th birthday a new and exciting path emerged. Our mobile office has transitioned into a Cross Canada Tour. Our first NOW Lunenburg County, highly tangible, engaging goal, is to go out and find 150 families – to move to Lunenburg County.
Our trailer is decked out and we have what we know will be a well reported on initiative, but this isn’t a gimmick. Now we’re working to add the substance to our initiative.
We publicly launched our “create a life you love in Lunenburg County” Cross Canada Tour on Valentine’s Day in the Bridgewater Mall.
Our launch was open to the public, was well attended People had a chance to see and interact with the trailer and our local Junior Achievement youth participated as well.
The broadcast media even showed up as well.
Most everything we do is well thought out and has a high level of discernment, even our “Create a Life you love in Lunenburg County” was deliberate – there’s effort required to make a life here, you can’t just walk into one, but if you’re willing to participate you can create something special.
We have a growing group of over 42 illuminators or inside sales people. These folks have agreed to be the first point of contact for anyone interested in moving here – to give them the straight goods, answer questions and welcome them and help them become part of the community when they arrive. We’ve recruited volunteers across the spectrum of our community so newcomers can see themselves in who they connect with. It’s become clear already that the key to bringing folks here will be in this work – this one on one connection to our fabulous corner of the world where connection still matters. Our illuminators have told us that an unexpected consequence of their volunteering to help has been the reminder of why they moved here – to look at what they love through the eyes of someone seeing for the first time, it’s helped our community reinforce our message and our sense of pride of place.
We are out looking for sponsors, businesses who can see our vision and want to help make it a reality. We have BMO onboard, Advocate Printing and Ford. We’ve even launched a go fund me campaign.
We’re working with our local Regional Enterprise Network to try and put some intelligent research behind our work. We want to carefully plan our route – we want to visit locations that make sense. Places where people have similar values, places where homes are expensive and there’s an advantage to moving here.
Places maybe where a factory or plant closure means there are people looking to change and for whom there may be jobs here. We want our employers, economic development folks and municipalities to participate directly in the tour by sending someone on part of the tour with us. We want to know what’s available here and what we truly offer.
We believe this tour broadly epitomizes a new way of doing things for our region. We’re not sitting back and waiting to see what happens, we’re going out and making things happen – and right now we’re doing it without a clear plan. We’re building momentum as we create our plan. It’s a huge leap of faith on all our parts.
I’d love to be able to say everyone’s on board but they’re not. Some people don’t believe our story, they don’t believe there are jobs and opportunities here; they can’t see beyond themselves to allow others to decide for themselves what opportunity looks like, people who were born here don’t see why others would move here, we’re often blind to what makes where we live so special; NOW Lunenburg County’s new challenge is to find a way to host these important conversations and maintain our enthusiasm for the one way we’ve identified to begin to have an impact here. I was working on another project recently when Toke Moeller a social innovation leader from Denmark said this to me:
“Humans are waking up to becoming citizens, looking to live decent and fair lives together.”
Those are the people who will see opportunity here.
Now Lunenburg County is a giant experiment; an experiment in community development and community engagement leading to a better future for Lunenburg County.
I’d like to wrap up with what we’ve learned about leading change from the NOW Lunenburg County change lab.
We know that leading change is lonely work and that the depth and breadth of relationships is what will sustain such work.
On behalf of Now Lunenburg County I look forward to participating today and learning more about what you’re doing. I will happily answer any questions you may have.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.