There’s a lot of discussion about the need for regional cooperation or even collaboration. What’s interesting is that people already live, learn, work, and play regionally. It’s really the institutional systems that are struggling to catch up to human behavior. This article is the second of two-parts encouraging us to rethink our approach to regional development. (The first article, The Curse of the Center, can be found below)
There are typically four different players in regional arrangements – Center Pointers, Fringers, Threaders, and Outsiders – and their interaction will create opportunity or obstacle.
Center Pointers - These people see the value of regional arrangements driven primarily by those at the center. And, they are most often in the center. They may become blinded by their “center” status and miss the opportunities for broader connections. They mistakenly assume that they are the hub of all the leadership and resources. And, in doing so, they overlook the assets that surround them. They also believe that others in their region should listen to them and follow their lead. They will usually define the optimum region as that which places them at the center. They are not quite as engaged when they’re on the fringe.
Fringers - Existing a step or two away from the centers, Fringers are typically people in smaller communities that don’t possess the governmental infrastructure or critical mass of the centers. They still have views, values, and resources that can contribute to the greater good for all. They often are closest to agricultural production areas, natural lands and recreation areas, and are home to employees and customers. Many residents have lineage in these places over many decades, thus they are keepers of the community’s spirit and history. They feel undervalued or minimized by the Center Pointers. They cooperate because their community “should” connect to a regional framework and they choose a bordering county or traditional linkages by default.
Threaders - They see communities and regions as collections of nodes waiting to be threaded together. Not constrained by geo-political boundaries, they use the issues to guide who is included. If the issue is education, the region may be oblong. If it’s tourism it may a thread of connections along a highway route or driving loop with a very different set of players. Threaders invite potential parties from throughout the region to join the conversation and focus on why we are convening before deciding who is in charge, where the money comes from, and the pre-determined outcomes. They are builders and connectors and collaborations can’t exist without them.
Outsiders - They can be invaluable to local leaders as long as they understand their limitations. These folks mean well and yet view themselves as people with “the answers.” They have very little, if any, skin in the game. They don’t have the daily investment or commitment required to be part of the community or region. In addition, the locals know that at the end of the day, an Outsider is going home somewhere else. Some Outsiders offer re$ource$ with many strings attached. They’re quick to share best practices from other places without listening first. It’s more than adopting strategies, but adapting them to what local residents want. Outsiders can provide counsel, but must resist the temptation to be in charge.
Each player has an important role to play and nothing starts until we get involved. The key is being inclusive of and serving others. A regional initiative is a collaborative opportunity. It’s a relationship between leaders and followers. Those that are trustworthy, stay keenly aware, share responsibility, communicate well, and express empathy will earn leadership stripes and assume followership roles that cannot be appointed or anointed. Which kind of player are you?