In 2019, The Hub held focus groups in five communities and surveyed over 150 community leaders and community development practitioners across 17 additional communities. Responses from participating West Virginians were evaluated by our team (with the support of an independent research firm) to better understand community progress over the prior decade of community development work in West Virginia.
Through this research, The Hub identified six best practices that drive successful community building efforts in rural cities and towns across the state.
The Hub is part of a network of West Virginians that are vibrant, engaged, and committed to bringing about innovative approaches to rural community development rarely seen anywhere else.
Our research identified a sense of optimism, hope, and positive momentum across the volunteers and practitioners working in West Virginia’s community development field that is a unique and under-explored aspect of this work not captured by available quantitative data.
Despite the lack of quantitative data tracking the collective impact of the community development field in our state, success stories of innovative, strategic approaches to rural community building in West Virginia have been documented. Rural communities have powerful lessons to share about strategies for low-resourced, locally-driven community development that can be implemented in cities and towns throughout West Virginia and across the nation.
A broad base of volunteers and individuals committed to making positive local change stands behind every successful community. Positive momentum in communities tracks with overall volunteerism and engagement. Conversely, as volunteer engagement declines, overall community progress slows as well. Achieving long-term success hinges on a community’s ability to keep volunteers engaged over the long haul.
Successful work requires a mix of committed local leaders, including: 1) individual leaders who inspire others to get involved and take action in their community; 2) organizational leaders at local businesses and nonprofits who lend capacity; and 3) civic leaders who are committed to driving positive change through policy and governance.
The practice of uniting people behind a common vision is a critical element of achieving and maintaining progress. Not every project or undertaking in a community will succeed, but the communities that stay positive and solution-oriented, commit to sustained progress toward the goals laid out in their plan, and celebrate the small victories along the way are the ones poised for long-term success.
Turning points happen when local leaders intentionally decide to work together and try something new. Having regular – and consistent – community meetings and conversation, being welcoming and transparent, talking across traditional community silos, and intentionally reaching everyone in the community are key strategies to build momentum, promote collective ownership (of both successes and challenges) and foster buy-in for community efforts.
Communities making progress take advantage of and benefit from a wide range of educational opportunities, training programs, and additional resources from providers to build local capacity.
Strategically leveraging available funding sources to support work is a key component of success in under-resourced communities. This includes identifying large and small-scale public and private investment opportunities as well as funding partners to drive projects forward.