Dakota Dreams used Appreciative Inquiry to identify opportunities and address the serious poverty and economic depression in northwestern North Dakota and create a comprehensive plan for change.
Recognizing that poverty had turned northwestern North Dakota into a “Landscape of Loss,” project organizers sought to plan for change and create a “Landscape of Opportunity.” The region faced many typically rural problems—lack of jobs, education and skills; youth flight and outmigration; and lack of infrastructure—as well as racial issues between Native American reservations and white communities.
Dakota Dreams started with a visioning process based on Appreciative Inquiry. Organizers held community meetings, storytelling sessions, sent out surveys, and created focus groups as a way to identify and truly understand the local poverty.
Organizers made special attempts to reach out to the most poverty-stricken individuals and make participation easy: they visited people in their homes or communities, used communication methods (like word of mouth and newspaper notices) that were accessible to uneducated and low income people, and they incorporated participation into existing poverty-relief programs and job services so that it would not require extra time and effort. Organizers also made strong attempts to involve youth, since youth flight is one of the primary issues facing the region; 20% of the group reviewing the final plan was comprised of youth under the age of 18.
The Appreciative Inquiry approach called for questions and interviews based upon positive aspects of the community, which were rare in this region. One Native respondent commented that nobody had ever asked him before what was good about his community.
After collecting information from more than 650 participants and 1250 survey respondents, Northwest Venture Communities Inc. (NCVI) crafted a vision statement and a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty over 10 years. The vision statement included the most important comments from interviews and stories, which were centered on community character. The plan, while not explicitly addressing community character, calls for a number of steps that maintain or improve the positive aspects of their communities that people mentioned. More importantly, the plan specifies that poverty relief should not come at the expense of the character or well-being of any communities or individuals. The plan recognizes the existence of poverty on multiple levels of organization—from individual to family to community to region—and contains strategies for addressing issues on each level.