Institute For Rural Affairs
The Institute for Rural Affairs is the outgrowth of a need for an agency to monitor conditions in rural Illinois and to develop programming to assist community leaders and organizations find solutions to local problems. In 1986, a Task Force on the Future of Rural Illinois conducted a set of 25 public hearings and one of the outcomes was a need for a permanent agency to study rural issues and to identify potential remedies.
In 1989, IIRA was created as a companion agency to the Governors Rural Affairs Council and works with the Council on research projects to find innovative solutions to rural issues that can be implemented in Illinois and to provide technical assistance to policy makers. Recognizing that solutions to rural problems required a comprehensive and organized approach and that the only effective solutions will come from local leaders and policy makers, the Institute works on eight main issues:
- Economic Development
Economic Development efforts include a visioning program (Pinel the Future of Your Investment in Real Estate) that has been conducted with local leaders in more than 60 communities. The Rural Economic Technical Assistance Center (RETAC) works with leaders and economic development agencies on projects to identify community needs and assess the assets on which a community can build programs to improve local conditions. Thus, after a community has completed the MAPPING program, local leaders access RETAC services.
- Value-Added Rural Development
The recent low prices of agricultural commodities and livestock have increased the importance of finding ways to add value to farm products. IIRA has worked with groups of farm producers interested in investing in value-added enterprises that not only increase farm incomes but also create high quality jobs locally. In a collaborative effort with the University of Illinois (Champaign) and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale through a program financed by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR), IIRA has created an Agricultural Community Action Process (ACAP) to assist farm producers and local community economic development leaders in creating a brighter future for their region. This program works in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Public education is an issue of growing importance to rural communities, especially in an increasing technological based economy where the work force must be prepared to work in high tech companies as well as more traditional businesses. At the same time, rural areas with shrinking populations are experiencing more difficulty raising the revenues necessary to provide high quality educational opportunities for students. The Illinois Center for Research and Evaluation Services (ICRES) conducts a school MAPPING program to help school administrators identify community issues in which the school can play a major role and identify programmatic solutions.
- Health Care
Health care access is especially important in rural communities with a high proportion of elderly residents and is becoming of increasing concern as the number of hospitals and medical services have declined in some areas. Working with the Illinois Department of Public Health, Center for Rural Health, IIRA staff provide a Community Health MAPPING program and a variety of applied research-technical assistance to community health agencies throughout rural Illinois.
- Transportation & Infrastructure
Public transportation is of special concern in communities with a significant number of residents without sufficient funds to afford reliable transportation and/or access to essential services. In some instances, businesses are unable to find enough employees with the necessary skills and public transportation can enable these residents to reach gainful employment. The Rural Transit Assistance Center (RTAC) in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Public Transportation, provides training and technical assistance programs for public transportation managers.
- Public Management including data to support effective planning practices
Effective public management of local resources is crucial in today's environment. Rural community leaders often are part-time with limited formal backgrounds on public management practices. IIRA has had a cooperative arrangement with several state agencies in which their staff worked closely with IIRA faculty and staff to identify innovative management practices, conduct case studies, and present these materials a conferences and seminars attended by local public officials and community leaders.
- Innovative Housing Strategies
- Information Technology
Many rural communities fall behind metro areas in local economic development efforts—especially those that involve the use and implementation of information technology. Unfortunately, many local officials and economic development practitioners are unaware of the benefits that appropriate information technology could bring to their communities and do not know where to begin to access relevant information. The Rural Information Technology Planning Project (RITPP) was designed to educate rural residents and policymakers about Information Technology (IT) and empower them to make informed IT decisions to enhance the development of their community.
...To improve the quality of life for rural residents by partnering with public and private agencies on local development and enhancement efforts.
Our vision is:
...To be nationally recognized for an integrated delivery system that provides knowledge, information, and innovative strategies to help rural residents improve policy decisions, overcome rural disparities, and achieve a high quality of life with strong rural communities.
Promote a Sound Statewide Rural Policy.
To provide continued awareness and to help formulate state and national policies and strategies to address rural issues.
Advance the State of Knowledge about Rural Issues.
To advance the state of knowledge regarding rural issues by participation in scholarly and professional activities and dissemination of research through a broad range of outlets.
Provide High-Quality Training and Technical Assistance to Rural Leaders.
To help community decision-makers, volunteers, and students acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities to find effective and efficient solutions to local development and revitalization issues.
Use Continuous Improvement Practices to Maintain an Efficient Operation.
To adopt highly effective management practices that provide high-quality services at the lowest possible cost and to make sure that the overall quality of services continues to improve.
The Institute is based on six core values:
- Community economic development encompasses more than job creation; it also includes health, education, public transportation, public management, housing, and telecommunications. IIRA addresses these issues in a holistic approach.
- The most successful solutions to local problems come from local initiatives. IIRA strives to empower residents and community leaders to make informed decisions rather than just recommending specific alternatives.
- Rural issues are broader than agriculture even though agriculture is important and must be included in efforts to strengthen the local economic base. IIRA programs address a multitude of community concerns to enhance the quality and ensure the vitality of community life.
- Long-term solutions to rural issues must recognize the sustainability of the region and not deplete existing resources. IIRA explicitly recognizes environmental issues in helping community leaders find solutions for local concerns.
- Communities in rural areas do not exist in isolation; they depend on economic prosperity at the metro, state, and national levels. IIRA understands these interrelationships and encourages partnerships among groups within and between communities.
- Successful community development enriches the lives of all residents regardless of race, creed, sex, age, or economic status, including disadvantaged regions and underserved population segments. IIRA believes that broad-based participation in local decisions ultimately leads to a higher quality of life for all residents.
IIRA has responsibility for programming in the 74 non-MSA counties as determined by the Office of Management and Budget and cities with populations smaller than 25,000 especially in sparsely populated areas.
In 1997, Illinois had 1,288 municipal governments, 1,433 townships, and 102 counties. Of the cities, 622 had a population smaller than 1,000 and virtually all of these communities are governed by part-time elected officials with limited formal training in public management and economic development techniques. Cities larger than 25,000, and those with a successful referendum, have Home Rule authority and therefore have expanded authority for making local decisions. For this reason, IIRA focuses its programming mainly on cities smaller than 25,000.
Award: Lincoln Award for Commitment to Excellence
Year Received: 1999
In 1995, the Lincoln Foundation for Business Excellence was created in Illinois to promote excellence in business practices. The Foundation was started by 14 major corporations including Caterpillar Inc, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Citibank, Deere and Co., Price Waterhouse Inc. and others. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award for application in Illinois, the Lincoln Foundation promotes excellence in business practices. The mission of the Foundation is to "be the key catalyst to help Illinois' organizations achieve excellence."
Organizations in Illinois interested in improving their management practices and operations can undertake a self-motivated strategic management process through the Foundation. Three levels of recognition are available:
- Lincoln Commitment to Excellence
- Lincoln Progress toward Excellence
- Lincoln Award for Excellence
Applicants undertake a self-study and apply to the Foundation. A board of examiners reviews the materials and makes a site visit to help applicants improve their operations. The application and review cover the following seven categories:
- Strategic Planning
- Customer and Market Focus
- Information and Analysis
- Human Resource Focus
- Process Management
- Business Results
Applications are judged on a scale of 1,000 points, a majority of which are in the business results category.
IIRA undertook a year long effort to improve its strategic planning and visioning process, review its operations, and assessed the markets served. An outcome of these activities was an application for a Level I. Commitment to Excellence award and IIRA received notice in fall 1999 that it received this award. The process of upgrading management practices, operations, and other procedures is underway as IIRA continues to seek excellence in serving constituents in rural Illinois.