By Tim Leeds
The Board of Regents approved moving the creation of a rural futures institute at Montana State University-Northern to the action agenda during its meeting in Great Falls last week.
Jonathon Richter, who is working to create the institute, said they are now trying to collect people to go to the regents' meeting at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo July 12-13 where the institute will be discussed and voted on. He said the institute would have a positive impact in this area, for the rest of the university system and eventually for all rural areas.
"Basically, we're trying to drum up key leaders in the community to commute on a bus or car caravan to show support for this," Richter said.
Richter said having the institute on the campus would provide many advantages, such as the ability to directly incorporate the findings of the institute into the curriculum of programs at Northern, and having the resources of the institution to work with.
"If we get this approved, the faculty and programs here can begin to reflect trends and events, get futures oriented," Richter said. "Kind of enmesh it with what we already have."
He said even if the regents don't approve it, it could still move forward. It would just be based off of the campus. Richter said the concept is to provide something that is actively integrated into the community anyway, even if it is an official Northern institute.
"It's literally an economic development organization," he said. "It will not just be on the hill."
Richter said the best description he has heard of futures institutes came from Professor Wendel Bell of Yale University. He said Bell describes futures studies as trying to find the best possible future for an area, not about guessing what the future will be.
"Futurists are not about crystal balls," Richter said.
He said the goal is to look at what is probably going to happen in the future, what a community thinks is going to happen, and what is possible and realistic probably, preferable and possible.
"That way when the future happens we're not surprised," Richter said. "It's setting us to pro-actively react to change; there is something we can do, and let's work together."
Richter said the institute would not only study the current and probable future trends, but would also work to implement the trends it finds in the community. The technologies and practices found could positively impact businesses, schools, government, service organizations, private people and more.
The institute would also attempt to spread its findings throughout the area. Richter said it would start with Havre, implementing its findings to create a positive, viable future for the area, but would proceed to spread out in a spiderweb spiral, moving to other communities in the area, into Canada, farther south, eventually into Mexico and other rural areas of the world.
Richter said it will also be spread to other parts of the university system.
"We will partner with all programs and university systems in the state," he said. "We're not competing in any way with what they're doing. We really support and enhance all activities by establishing a pair of eyes on the external world, keeping an eye on trends and events."
The idea for the institute grew out of Havre's North American Rural Futures Institute web site and its association with The Communities of the Future (COTF)and its Global 21st Century Rural Network.
COTF is a network of community centers and futures institutes working together to find solutions and the most sustainable future in the modern world and economy.
On the Net: North American Rurals Future Institute: http://www.narfi.org/
Communities of the Future: http://www.communitiesofthefuture.org