Build Momentum

Communities and regions, no matter their starting points, produce and celebrate the small wins and steady progress that fuel hope and persistence.

Every rural community is different, with different mixes of assets – and different starting points. Some rural places have experienced recent significant growth; some have increasing economic, health, and social disparities; some are stagnating or in decline – and any and every combination of those. Especially in rural communities that have been struggling, it is tactically important to select issues and action that can produce visible wins, even if small, that can inspire new energy, ideas, capacity-building, and participation that builds into steady progress. 

This is also true in rural places that appear to be succeeding but where the poor and ignored are doing no better – finding and acting to turn that tide in recognized ways is critical. Celebrating such momentum is critical to continued visioning, engagement, and action to achieve both greater prosperity and equity in the region.

Building Block Evidence

Research suggests that large-scale social issues can be reframed into smaller wins – described as concrete, achievable outcomes – for more effective action.1-3 Evidence suggests this building block is important because both individuals4 and groups5 are motivated by small wins, which can drive future action. Small wins also have the potential to accumulate into more significant change over time.6,7

Celebrating small wins is also a form of community engagement. Examples of celebrating small wins include community events like dinners, parades, or fairs; physical community spaces like murals or community archives. Community engagement has been linked to positive health impacts and stronger self- and collective efficacy.8,9 Community engagement can, in turn, build social capital, which is broadly understood as the resource(s) available through social ties. Social capital has been found to be a predictor of better health outcomes10 and civic participation.11 (Please also see Building Block A: Welcome to the Community and G: Prepare Action-Able Leadership.)

  1. Weick 1984
  2. Termeer and Dewulf 2019
  3. Salo 2022
  4. Amabile and Kramer
  5. Ansell and Gash 2007
  6. Quarshie 2019 
  7. Termeer and Metze 2019
  8. O’Mara-Eves 2013
  9. Butel 2019
  10. Ehsan 2019
  11. Voorberg 2015

Curated ReSources

collaborating partners
How To Organize a Rural Action Infrastructure

Discussion with rural leaders about working together across interests and regions to take advantage of opportunities.

Case Study
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Communicating for Connection: West Virginia Community Development Hub

This short case study has insights and tips on how rural development practitioners can move beyond neutrality and still communicate effectively with community members from across the political spectrum.

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Measure Up: A Call to Action

Today, we have a generational opportunity to strengthen prosperity and equity in communities and Native nations across the rural United…

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Better Results: What does it take to build capacity in rural and Native nations communities?

Insights and learnings from rural practitioners on how organizational capacity and technical assistance can be carefully and intentionally strengthened to grow economies, health, and livelihoods for each and every person in their regions.

rural road through mountains by lake
Environmental Justice Practices & Resources for Rural Communities

New efforts focused on environmental justice, just transitions, corporate stakeholder engagement, scientific conservation efforts, and Indigenous wisdom are helping balance natural ecosystems and strengthen local communities.

Research Brief
Defining Rural Success Report Cover
What (and Who) Counts? Defining Rural Development Success

There are no easy solutions for the many challenges that rural Americans face, but it’s clear that rural communities themselves…

Field Items

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Sustaining Momentum in Rural Development

Podcast: Anita Brown-Graham describes the key components of lasting development in rural communities.

Five takeaways from the 2022 Rural Innovation Network Summit

Reflections from local leaders from around the country who gathered in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for CORI’s 2022 Rural Innovation Network Summit.

Building Momentum for Your Long-Term Vision

Webinar recording from Citizens Institute on Rural Design. Lessons help your team build momentum for your long-term vision.

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Rural Community College Excellence

A new report by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program identifies four pathways that the best rural and Tribal community colleges use to capitalize on strengths and overcome challenges to achieve student success.

Large metal wooden horse public art in front of brick building around a parking lot in an urban area
The “Ripple Effect” of Investing in Rural America

Projects may not touch the numbers of people or generate the returns of urban investments, but their effects are every bit as important, and ripple far and wide through the small, intricately connected networks of rural life.

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Moving Mindsets: How to Shape a Strategy

Want to change hearts and minds? Shift policy? Bring about structural change? It starts with knowing what mindsets are—and aren’t—and what it takes to shift them.

Small town vendors and crowd

Rural Revival shares list of six things that will help you build momentum, cast vision, and get people excited.

We see the framework as a living document, which necessarily must evolve over time, and we seek to expand the collective ownership of the Thrive Rural Framework among rural equity, opportunity, health, and prosperity ecosystem actors. Please share your insights with us about things the framework is missing or ways it should change.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group