by Andru McCracken, Editor

Could it be that identifying and fixing problems is not the way to move our communities forward? Our communities are complex places with thousands of egos, individual lives, and relationships, but it’s not hard to find people who are preoccupied with the potential decline of our communities. Our communities have been working hard to solve the problem of economic development.

We put much of our focus into staunching the profuse economic bleeding after the mills closed. Solving the economic problem may get some people too busy to cause trouble, but does problem solving help us get our desired goal?

According to Peter Block, the author of the quirky, wordy field guide: ‘Community: the Structure of Belonging,’ problem solving is the wrong approach.

Here’s what problem solving looks like: Identify a need, study and analyze it,  search for solutions, establish goals, bring others on board, implement, and then loop back when the process inevitably fails.

For Block, having a vision that is shared widely throughout the community does more to effect change than all the strategic meetings in the world. Having healthy respectful relationships is key. Communicating what you hope to contribute is key.

But in classic problem solving scenario getting the community involved in a potential solution is the second last step, you know, just before the failed enterprise begins another iteration.

A far more powerful approach contends Block, is looking for the power and possibilities that lie in the community and working from there.

“Community Transformation calls for citizenship that shifts the context from a place of fear and fault, law and oversight, corporation and “systems,” and preoccupation with the leadership to one of gifts, generosity, and abundance; social fabric and accountability; and associational life and the engagement of citizens.”

(Block may be a great community organizer, but he isn’t easy to understand.)

My sense of what Block is saying is profound and simple:

We can do great things if we focus on who’s here, what’s available and what we’d like to build together.

Maybe we don’t have to give up problem solving completely, but at least some of the time, let’s take stock of all these things we are grateful for and the people who are here beside us.

I’ll give you an example. Valemount has undergone a shocking transformation from a dying mill town to a hip place for families… and it’s full of potential. We didn’t get here by trying to solve the problem of what to do about a closed mill. People took a look at what we had, found others who knew it too and worked together to build something completely new and beautiful.

Great things are happening in McBride that have nothing to do with the mill closure and mill fire. I think a community revitalization is imminent. If I had advice for the people participating in developing the economic development action plan, take a step away from problems and problem solving and look at the power and possibilities that lie in your community.