Find the right tool for the job

HALIFAX — Rural regions looking to preserve a grain elevator as a tourist attraction or refurbish a lakefront have a new tool to help them kick start their projects.

The Rural Development Institute at Brandon University has launched the Choice Matrix website to provide access to computer applications, checkboxes and guides that will aid a community’s development goals.

RDI researcher Wayne Kelly, who introduced during the Community Futures Network of Canada conference in Halifax in June, said the goal was to find the right tool for the right project.

“There are 69 million (Google) hits for community economic development. How do you know which tools are right for your community?” he said.

Kelly found communities were struggling to find what they needed and often returned to the same approach year after year, regardless of whether they were building an arena or beautifying Main Street.

“Often the scale and the focus can be quite different, but the same tool is used,” Kelly said.

He compared it to a carpenters’ toolbox, where there is a plethora of hammers and screwdrivers needed for different tasks.

“Different jobs require different tools,” said Kelly.

“The problem is if you always use the same planning process, no matter what the scale or focus of the project, it’s going to work really well for some and really poorly for others because the nature of the project is really different.”

The goal is to help people navigate through a jungle of information.

“You have to have a really good understanding of the community and a lot of time to read them all to make assessments,” said Kelly.

Ed Plumb, a member of the South Central Saskatchewan CF board, called the website accessible and user friendly.

“A lot of small towns run on a volunteer basis and a lot of them don’t have the knowledge or know how to make the connections to get access to the information,” said Plumb.

For him, it means being able to refer people to the site to explore best practices, attracting and retaining newcomers, brainstorming, communication strategies and conducting surveys.

“That’s the way of the future of finding information,” he said. “If you want access, you Google it and you got it. That’s the way the younger generation is going to find things.”

His community is seeking a community development officer to look for grants, help young entrepreneurs and assist the community look beyond merely attracting one big business.

“We’re not looking for that smokestack, we want to enhance existing development in the community,” said Plumb.

RDI spent the last two years organizing data into online choices: people, green, grow, balanced, phases and a search key. The website contains 214 tools, with another 3,000 yet to be categorized, said Kelly.

He said the site is funded for the next five years and is a “living, user driven website” that will evolve and change over time.

RDI eventually hopes to create complementary products, including tools to help communities work with immigration.

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