Can a standard, customizable process be used to help diverse communities achieve the same goal?
A partnership between Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and a local health department, Public Health Solutions, set out to do what it could to improve walking and biking in three communities with different needs and different concerns. Facilitated by S&G Endeavors, as a part of the Nebraska Walkable Communities Initiative (WalkNE), the results in Hebron, Fairbury and Beatrice have been surprising, and successful; and, each community used the standard, customizable process.
A Coalition For Every Community
Each community established a walk/bike coalition using a similar methodology, but the outcomes and the relationships between the coalition and the community have varied. “The point of a coalition is to be adaptable to the needs of its community. We intentionally didn’t come in with preconceived notions about what those needs were or how we could help meet the needs,” says Jeremy Grandstaff of S&G Endeavors. Instead, by engaging key stakeholders, each coalition has developed unique goals and taken steps towards achieving the outcomes that best suit the needs of the community.
How did the coalition come into being? By using a deliberate process. First, Grandstaff, Brian Coyle of DHHS and Jennifer Hansen of Public Health Solutions identified a champion for walking/biking in the community and engaged that person to help identify and form a core group of 4 or 5 individuals who would be committed to seeing the project through. The Core Group then formed a design team to design a summit for the community. The summit then drew on the entire community to identify challenges, establish goals, and ultimately form the walk/bike “coalition” for the community.
“Each of the steps towards building the coalition was essential to its success,” says Jennifer Hansen. “We needed to deliberately grow and build with key stakeholders getting identified and invited to participate in every step of the process.” With these building blocks, the coalition in each community has a very different look and role, but each is succeeding in its own right.
In this small town of 2,500, WalkNE went right to the source, with two town council members serving on the coalition. “With our plan to improve health and wellness, we were able to apply for grant funds to build paths that make strategic points in the city walkable,” said Hansen. As a result, the coalition has taken a leadership role, and it has implemented the goal to connect key locations in the community via pathways. In the past two years, the coalition has been able to install bike/walk paths that connect downtown, the city park, the public pool, the community wellness center, the assisted living facility and an RV park serving visitors to the community.
Serving a larger community, the WalkNE coalition in Fairbury has taken on a partnership role with the city. A city planner attends the coalition meetings and advises the coalition on the feasibility of the projects. In the past year and half, the Fairbury coalition has helped pass a city resolution for biking and walking and worked with other stakeholders in the community like the Jefferson Community Health and Life hospital and local homeowners to build sidewalks to create a more walkable community. The partnership model has allowed the city, the hospital and the coalition to work together to take significant steps to improve walkability in Fairbury.
The WalkNE coalition in Beatrice is only recently formed, but already it has taken on an important advisory role with the city. The coalition is giving input into naming trails, conducting trailhead accessibility assessments and suggesting the best way to spend available funds to connect existing trails to increase walkability and usage. “It has been really exciting to see the city take advantage of the passion and knowledge that the Beatrice Walking coalition brings to the table,” says Hansen.
From leadership, to partnership to advisory roles, the WalkNE coalitions formed in each of these communities has been instrumental in increasing walking/biking. With deliberate and strategic building, each community wound up with a coalition that meets the specific needs of the community. “We have been pleased to see how the deliberate coalition-building process has led to different, successful outcomes in each community,” says Brian Coyle. “And, now we’re excited to watch each community as it builds on its own success and thinks about how to meet its own unique needs in a sustainable fashion.
Stay tuned to our next Nebraska installment, where we will explore how the S&G customizable process has been used to meet the needs of various sized communities