President's Update - Getting a Pulse on Our Profession

By Dave Lamie
 
Over the past several months I have been formulating a set of questions, or perhaps hypotheses, that I do not think can be answered fully without some serious effort to collect and evaluate data and synthesize the results. You see, as President of CDS, I can say something about the "State of the Society". I can say something about the organizations's fiscal health, our membership, and our ability to produce measurable outcomes like the Vanguard, the Journal, CD Practice, and our annual conference. I can read committee reports to learn about the depth and breadth of involvement of the membership in the life of the organization. I can observe who is willing to serve in leadership roles through the slate of officers we put forward.  And, I can even see how many of you actually vote!
However, when I step back from the organization and begin to contemplate the well-being of the overall field of community development, I am not sure I can even fully visualize what should be measured, let alone have any confidence that I can easily lay my hands on appropriate data that will provide conclusive answers, or even good insights. In an age where I can strap a device on my wrist that will tell me fairly objectively how my body is performing, I find this troubling. You see, no single organization that I know of has taken it upon themselves to provide a "State of the Profession" report.  
I can imagine having a community development "dash board" where the key indicators of well-being of the profession could be displayed both instantaneously and historically. If well-conceived and appropriately executed, such information could find a multitude of uses. Organizations like CDS could use it to make strategic decisions about how to best serve the profession.  Students and student mentors could use it to help guide professional development activities.  Service providers could use it to better design interventions or to target new audiences.  Thought leaders and academics could use it to help re-direct the profession if they thought it important to do so. I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg, but already I think many will agree with me that having such information would be quite helpful.
Some of these thoughts are coming to me because I've heard some from within my own professional setting as a Land Grant University Professor and Extension Specialist that CD Extension programs are growing in many regions of the country, but shrinking in other regions. In many states in the Southeast (mine included),  CD Extension programs are finding success in areas like local food system development where there are pretty strong ties to agricultural community and to the agriculture lobby --- within our administrators comfort zone. This is occurring while CD programs in other subject matter areas are seeing a diminishing role. The key thing is that we are bringing our knowledge and skills in community development into this domain. I am confident that many of you working in other professional settings are carrying on similar conversations about the future of the profession. 
Over the course of the next few years, CDS will be likely be collaborating with other organizations in new ways, especially with the conference. This should present opportunities for us to learn more about what the future of the profession holds in store for all of us. Perhaps we ought to even consider encouraging some of our CD thought leaders and academics --- both young and less young --- to take on the task of reflecting on the question of "community development as a profession?" and sharing the results of their thinking with all of us at a conference or through journal articles. In the meantime, I encourage all to plan to register for the conference this year in Lexington, Kentucky where we can gather and at least informally begin to assess the state of our profession.  By doing so, you will be contributing to the vitality of CDS as well as influencing, at least in some small way, the vitality of the larger profession.
Oh, Happy Spring!

President's Update - Plow through for community development

By Dave Lamie

It's hard to believe that the middle of February has already passed us by. A recent notice of a dear friend learning that she has cancer and a colleague who suddenly lost her mother gives me pause. Many of you have experienced similar events either directly yourselves or in relation to family, friends, or colleagues. The more mature we come, the more often these reminders of life's fleetingness and human frailty occur. It as at these times that we may also encounter the power of community to help buoy us up to face the adversities of life.

One of my most memorable college teachers used to deliver a lecture entitled "the plow" to help us reflect on how we would respond to life's challenges. As the mule pulls the plow, it slices through the soil with forward momentum, leaving a clean, weed-free furrow behind. This represents our life when we feel we are making progress and all is going well. But, fields often have rocks laying hidden beneath the surface, and sometimes they are big and firmly planted. Some plows are built on a rigid frame, and when they hit such a rock, they often break, requiring substantial repair. Sometimes they are so broken they simply must be returned to the smelter. Technological advances produced a plow that would spring backward when it encountered the rock. The plow operator would need to stop and reset the heavy spring-loaded mechanism before proceeding. Some later tractor-driven models were similar, but they only needed the operator to stop and reverse the tractor in order to reset the blade. Later versions included an auto-reset feature that would trip the blade back when it hit the rock, but it would automatically reset; no stopping or reversing required.

The question left with us at the end of this talk was "what kind of plow are you"?  How will you respond to the challenges that life brings you. We know that it is part of the human condition that we will face many challenges in our lives. We surely have some choice over how we will respond to these challenges and that we can likely build resiliency and capacity as individuals to help. But, what roles can the community play to help strengthen and build the networks of support necessary for individuals to be more resilient? What can we do collectively that individuals cannot do for themselves? Who are those in our communities that are not benefitting from what the community can provide them? Can a robust community that truly cares for and provides for all individuals expect reciprocity from those individuals who benefit? Can we, as community developers, truly help to create these kinds of communities or is this just too daunting a task?

As we all make preparations to gather at our annual conference in July in Lexington, Kentucky, I challenge you to consider how important it is that we, as community development practitioners, find our own community of interest to help support us in the daunting challenge of, each in our own way, helping to create communities that make a strong and lasting impact on the lives of individuals. Never has it been more important for all of us to have a strong network of friends and colleagues who are bound by a common interest in making this world a better place through making stronger, more resilient communities. We hope to see you there!

New president humbled, asks for your involvement

Dear CDS Community,
 
It was great to see so many of you in Dubuque where our local hosts did a superb job of demonstrating the value of collaboration and working across numerous boundaries to help us put on a great conference!  If you were not able to make this year's conference, then definitely make your plans now to attend next year's event in Lexington, Kentucky!  
 
Community Development Society conferences are nearly always a humbling experience for me.  Not because I am particularly shy, but because I often feel that my CD work is so inadequate when compared to all of the great things the CDS membership is doing and how clearly they demonstrate the CDS Principles of Good Practice.   It was right at 25 years ago that I participated in my first CDS conference.  Prior to that time, I knew nothing of the organization, but as a newly-hired Rural Development Extension Specialist, my mentors at Purdue thought it a good idea for me to go along with them to this meeting.  I will always owe them a debt of gratitude for helping me to find this organization and for encouraging me to get involved.
 
Over the past 25 years I have been able to contribute my small part to the body of CD work, and I now realize that for most, if not all, of us, that is sufficient.  In fact, the beauty of CDS is that it is an organization dedicated to acknowledging, celebrating, and nurturing each of our seemingly  insignificant efforts, allowing us to only really sense the significance of our work when we come together, as a community.  For many, this occurs at our annual conference.  For others, it happens when we collaborate on an article for our journal or participate together in committee work.  CDS is an organization for people who appreciate, dare I say "who are at least slightly addicted to", the idea of community.   
 
As we continue to move the organization forward I hope that you will consider ways that you might want to be involved.   There are numerous committees  that would really appreciate your sharing of time and talents.  You will definitely get more out of the experience than you invest.  
 
Gratefully,
 
 
Dave Lamie