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Community assessment programs help small towns identify their strengths, challenges, desired changes, and the local and non-local resources needed to meet community goals across a wide variety of focus areas, from business development, to civic engagement and land use planning. Currently we know of six such programs in the U.S., and they are in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin and Vermont. There are many other assessment programs that are targeted more narrowly at main street revitalization, health services, food systems and tourism, to name just a few. Sharing state borders and rural communities with common issues led to a tri-state, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming partnership for this project. In 2017 - 2020, our primary focus was learning about, evaluating and redesigning our community assessment programs, now called "Community Reviews" in all three states. Since 2020, when we received a second grant from USDA, we have also focused on 1) developing a virtual community review process, 2) facilitating a Peer Learning Network that brings together leaders from across the three states to share the ways they are addressing common challenges, 3) planning and hosting virtual Solutions Roundtables on wicked community problems, 4) developing a Community Bootcamp to provide groups of community leaders with skills to develop and implement community improvement projects, and 5) developing on line, on demand professional development for western rural community leaders.  

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Project Partners and Duration

Delivery organizations, Extension faculty and communities in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are participating in this research and extension project, which is funded by USDA’s Agriculture, Food and Research Initiative. Launched in August, 2017, the project is scheduled to conclude in April, 2025. In Idaho, the partners include Idaho Rural Partnership (IRP), University of Idaho Extension faculty, and Idaho Housing & Finance. Montana partners include Montana Economic Developers Association (MEDA), Montana State University Extension and Montana Department of Commerce. Wyoming’s organizations are the Wyoming Business Council and University of Wyoming. 

Questions this project will answer

What value do community assessment programs (i.e., Community Reviews) provide to communities?

We are interested in the ways these broad-based assessment programs support rural communities. By conducting evaluations across the three states we will identify common benefits and challenges in assessment delivery and translation to action steps. Through the use of Ripple Effects Mapping and before and after satisfaction surveys, we are discovering the impacts experienced in communities that have had assessments.

Are there patterns of community strengths and vulnerabilities across assessed communities in the three states?

An overarching framework for this project is the Community Capitals Framework (Flora & Flora, 2013), which thinks of communities as made up of seven different kinds of capital that, when in adequate supply, all work together to create strong and vibrant communities.  These capitals are natural, social, cultural, human, political, built and financial capital. Through analysis of satisfaction surveys conducted in communities in the three states, we are identifying patterns in how communities perceive themselves to have abundant capital and where they believe they are limited. This knowledge has informed the applied activities of the project described above, including modifying the assessment programs to better focus on community vulnerabilities. In so doing, we expect communities to achieve more success as a result of their Community Review. .


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Design Team Members

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