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This article was originally published in the Tribune-Star on June 2, 2018.

How do communities change? The answer is quite easy. Change is implemented through attitude. Although the answer is easy, getting to that answer is much more complicated. Behavior and influencing behavior is much more tedious than we realize. How is behavior influenced? Behavior is influenced by environmental factors and through social factors.

Environmental factors include characteristics such as health issues, political issues, issues that impact or may have an outcome on person or place of life. Social factors include individuals, teams, conversations, and groups that may sway or touch your perception towards an object or individual in the community. Many communities historically have social norms, rules and expectations about how members should act and behave. These are often unwritten norms passed down through generations.

As you launch into an effective strategy, consider these ideas:

  • Understand the local context and history.
  • What social norms exist, what behaviors are in place, and networks influence those norms?
  • How do you want to measure new impact?
  • Change comes from within. Rely on local leadership and solutions to help. Who are the local and respected stakeholders? They may not necessarily be elected officials.
  • Identify early adopters of change and also find who holds power, invite them to take part of the change equation.

Don’t forget to avoid these little tidbits:

  • Negativity
  • Quick fixes within a short timeframe
  • Unidimensional programs focusing on a target group or one component
  • Using very little data or no data to make a decision

What does all this mean for making a community grow, change, and adjust to growing and emerging economies, leadership styles and placemaking initiatives? As a nation that is known for embracing new ideas, unique individuals from various backgrounds, and creativity we must continue to also be ready to change. Our behavior should not become complacent, and what was effective three decades ago or 20 years ago is not working any longer. We must connect the dots with all generations, change, gain knowledge, adjust our attitude, and work on our behavior to embrace new ideas and then and only then will we grow and change.

Heather Strohm is a community development regional educator for the Southwest Region of Purdue University Extension who regularly contributes a Business Cents column for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at strohmh@purdue.edu.