Action Center 4) RRES – Toolbox
If the reader has not already gathered, we believe that metaphors or analogies are very powerful for helping people to grasp a new concept. One of Solomon Source’s oldest analogies that we have been using has been that of a “toolbox”.
Originally conceived in 1998 as the Community Tourism Development Toolbox, we continue to evolve this idea. For the purposes of the RRES we have adapted many of the original concepts Community Tourism Development Toolbox. We would highlight here, although it is addressed in other parts of this document, that here we emphasize the necessity for evaluation.
To boil down all of the previous materials, the bottom line of our approach would be like a mechanic going to a town that needed to have their cars fixed. The RRES in very simple terms is our team going out to communities with a toolbox and a head full of know-how to help them in the area traditionally called community development, but we are calling it empowerment, in order to establish a new paradigm of understanding and thinking. And, if we don’t have the tool or the knowledge we will know where and how to get it.
Diagram 16: The RRES Toolbox
Purpose and Scope of the Rural Community Empowerment Strategies (RRES) Toolbox
There are essentially two purposes of the RRES Toolbox. The first is to create a conceptual analogy in order for effective understanding of how the RRES components are applied as practical solutions. Practically everyone understands the idea of a toolbox, and this process of simplifying a seemly complex endeavor helps individuals in understanding. The second is to use this same analogy to provide access to information and resources that are fundamental to community development, and to establish effective strategies for evaluation and monitoring for the continued evolution of services. (This concept will likely be developed in some fashion as an online resource, but at this time it does not exist).
Diagram 16 illustrates a “tentative” overall organization of the Empowerment Toolbox. There are two major components: 1) resource linkages, and 2) resource and program evaluations. The resource linkages will create a functional organization of empowerment resources.
The RRES Toolbox will consist of a set of “functional drawers.” Each drawer will provide information and resource linkages about a particular topic/issue associated with tourism development. See Figure 1 for a set of preliminary topics. More functional topics may evolve from the tourism resources evaluation phase of the project.
In each drawer are “tools” which will be resources or programs that are available from the various agencies or institutions, or those developed by the RRES. The second feature of the Empowerment Toolbox is an evaluation of the resources that are provided. In other words a concise “owner’s manual” will be provided that overviews important information and an objective evaluation of the tools’ (programs and resources) strengths and weaknesses.
Preliminarily, evaluation criteria for the “tools” include time required, cost (if there are any costs associated with the process), other inputs, expertise necessary (are there any special skills needed), and what audiences would this tool be effective for (regions, communities, individuals/families, businesses). Additional criteria will emerge from the review process. Some of the programs lead the user through an entire planning process. However, the toolbox will allow users to mix and match resources from various programs.
The RRES Toolbox will promote both methods. Examples of the types of programs we will review and include in the toolbox are from various institutions in our network and especially extension programs in the U.S. and other places.
Methods focus on I) program development, and II) program evaluations.
I. Program Development
To develop the program we will identify, consolidate, organize, and present appropriate materials in a way that assists users to find and use the right tools for their needs. The tasks required to develop the program are as follows:
Task 1) Review and evaluate all technical assistance.
a) Determine the functional links between the “Drawers” of the toolbox and the appropriate sections of the various technical assistance programs to identify the various tools to be included.
b) Organize and consolidate information for “ease of use” and, where necessary, make arrangements for cooperative agreements with other agencies and institutions.
Task 2) Design formats for review of tools (tourism resources and information).
Task 3) Write tool reviews.
Task 4) Identify examples and links to identified web sites. We will identify Internet sites that serve as good examples of rural tourism development. We will summarize these sites and provide linkages to them.
Task 5) Set up the Internet mechanism for on-line discussions and information exchange. We will provide and manage on-line discussion groups that will facilitate interactions among people interested in rural tourism development.
Task 6) Develop the “Toolbox”
a) Determine appropriate web site and graphic design for disseminating information
b) Design the web site and test functionality
c) Design hard copy version
Task 7) Promote use of the Toolbox
a) Collect mailing and e-mail lists of “target audiences”. This project will be promoted nationally. In order to leverage our efforts and resources we will target Chambers of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureaus, and regional and other rural tourism development organizations that can disseminate information about the Tourism Toolbox to their constituents. In addition, we will identify state and federal agencies that are involved in tourism development.
b) Develop promotional plan—post cards, e-mail, Internet search engines
Task 8) Pilot-test the web-based Tourism Toolbox on a sub-set of identified audiences
a) Evaluate pilot-test
b) Re-design web site and toolbox organization as necessary
Task 9) Fully implement Web site toolbox and promote.
II. Program evaluation
Methods to evaluate the web site will include time on site, depth into site, an on-line user questionnaire, and response cards from users of the hardcopy version. Tasks to evaluate the program are as follows:
Task 1) Design evaluation instruments
a) survey (web and hardcopy)
b) time on site (web)
c) depth in-site (web)
d) on-the-ground evaluations (web and hardcopy)
Task 2) Formal evaluation of Rural Tourism Development Toolbox
a) Collect and analyze survey data
b) Conduct on-the-ground evaluation of users of the toolbox
Task 3) Maintain e-mail and telephone contact with users of the Tourism Toolbox for an ongoing evaluation of the Tourism Toolbox.
Task 4) Evaluate descriptions of tourism activities actually developed as a result of the Tourism Toolbox.
The RRES Toolbox will help rural citizens to gain access to more information about community and business development. It will inform residents about the variety of tools they can use for income diversification. The Internet provides one of the most effective ways to find information.
However, available search engines do not necessarily locate the “best” information and the quantity of web sites returned from a “search” can be overwhelming, especially for people who do not use the Internet extensively. In addition, it is difficult to assess these resources (web sites) regarding costs and benefits, or their effectiveness for a particular application or user.
The RRES Toolbox will address these issues by locating the most pertinent resources, then making them available from a single web site, and providing evaluation reviews (quality assurance). Based on current knowledge of communities and business owners that need assistance, we expect considerable response to the RRES Toolbox.
This concept has developed from our experience and interaction with rural people as they consider creating new businesses, and or products. Most people who live in rural areas are there because they feel a special connection with the land, and would like to stay there. However, economic pressures are forcing people to abandon or subdivide farms and ranches. Increasingly rural people are recognizing the need to diversify their economies. Another unique strategy of this program is to identify our target audiences and “market” the RRES Toolbox. Over time, as we correspond with its users, we will further refine the program to meet the needs of larger audiences.