Information, Inspiration, and Ideas for a Sustainable Rural Future

Promoting the Entrepreneurial Community Spirit

About the North American Rural Futures Institute

A Global Rural Network Project at the University of Montana - Northern

The Rural Futures Context

The North Amercian Rural Futures Institute - NARFI - is an applied futures institute designed to connect rural citizens, community leaders, researchers and futurists throughout Montana, North America and around the world who are working on innovative visions to enhance the sustainability of rural regions.

To truly have an impact on rural futures in North America, NARFI must follow a clear path - determining where rural citizens are currently focused, helping them to widen their view of the issues and problems they will need to face over the next 10 - 50 years, and providing opportunities for them to gain the skills they will need to make wise choices and sustainable plans for themselves, their families, and their communities as they strive to preserve and improve rural life in the 21st century.

The NARFI Program Update for 2003-2005 (in PDF format) starts at the beginning of this path and lays solid groundwork for rural Montana to become a leader in rural futures planning. There are eight NARFI-led projects and five collaboration agendas underway for 2003-2005. You will find links to these projects and collaborations in the section, Our Current Program Concentrations, below.

The NARFI Program Update for 2003-2005 has purposely been designed to use the Congressional Award to seed various projects and to support start-up only activities. All of the NARFI projects and the continuance of NARFI itself will depend on developing networks of collaboration, and partners for grant supported funding.

Understanding the importance of "ties" – the Network Society and the Network Economy as the framework for sustainable 21st century rural life – is the cornerstone of NARFI's rural futures mission.

NARFI Mission

The North American Rural Futures Institute (NARFI) mission is to provide the most important information relevant to decisions that must be made over the next five decades by rural citizens across North America; and to provide opportunities for those citizens to acquire the skills necessary to evoke and evaluate change and innovation for rural sustainability.

NARFI has four key roles to its overall mission:

  • LENS - to be the eyes and ears for rural sustainability in North America.
  • CATALYST - to evoke change and innovation among rural leaders and to develop a rich network of collaborators to engage in rural futures research, experimentation and thinking.
  • EDUCATOR - to assist educators to develop a rural futures focus within their existing programs and to help students plan for a sustainable rural way of life.
  • REPOSITORY - to become an information and education resource for all of Montana, North America and interested others across the globe.

NARFI Strategies and Tactics

New concepts are needed in order to survive and thrive in this new era of interconnectedness and instability. Rural places and rural people can either sit by and be overwhelmed by changes as they land in their backyards, or they can create 21st century learning communities which do not depend on outmoded ways of thinking and acting.

The thrust of activities in the NARFI program for 2003-2005 is on the step-wise progression to move MSU-Northern and rural Montana, from where they are now to where potential lies for Montana as a leader in rural futures innovation and education.

The NARFI program includes the following overall strategies and tactics:

  • Assist MSU-N faculty with professional development specific to emerging trends in their respective fields.
  • Help Northern faculty gain skills in the methodologies of futures planning, (e.g., environmental scanning, scenario building and assessment, and forecasting).
  • Develop interest among local and regional community citizens to explore current issues, emerging trends, and innovations related to all aspects of rural sustainability.
  • Develop grass-roots interest among local and regional community leaders to consider innovative alternatives in their planning for the future.
  • Help local and regional decision makers to develop basic skills in the methodologies of futures planning.
  • Develop in the next generation of rural citizens interest in, and awareness of, the need to become skilled in the methodologies for futures planning.
  • Help rural educators to develop a rural futures focus in their middle and high school curricula.
  • Develop networks of local, regional, and national futures thinkers focused on rural futures issues.
  • Seek collaborations on state, national and global projects to develop and test new models and innovations for rural economic sustainability.

NARFI's overall objective is to connect educators, rural citizens, community leaders, researchers and futurists throughout Montana, North America and around the world who are working on innovative visions to enhance the sustainability of rural regions.

NARFI and Sohodojo

Visit Sohodojo and the Center for Open Source Collaboration TechnologiesSohodojo is a 501(C)(3) non-profit applied R&D lab with an education and research agenda dedicated to the exploration and development of innovative "Small Is Good" business models and their associated software technologies supporting solo and family-based entrepreneurs in rural and distressed urban communities seeking sustainable futures.

Sohodojo enjoys a unique partnership in Havre, Montana, working with the North American Rural Futures Institute at Montana State University Northern. Together, Sohodojo and NARFI are developing education programs to support rural entrepreneurism and community development with a futures-oriented perspective.

For example, NARFI and Sohodojo are collaborating on the launch and development of Big Sky Chandlers, a microenterprise network project of NARFI's newly-formed Rural Entrepreneurism Community of Practice.

NARFI and Communities of the Future

Visit the Communities of the Future web site...Communities of the Future has performed extensive work with local communities over the last decade that documents the need to work with existing issues and problems at the same time that new capacities for transformation are seeded and nurtured. These newly-developed transformation capacities lead to innovative thinking and creative activities of local citizens.

NARFI will actively collaborate with Communities of the Future to become a 'node' of the COTF Network as well as a core participant in COTF's Global Rural Network Project.

Our Current Program Concentrations

To create an example of what may be done in rural areas and to create an action research laboratory for what possibilities may lie ahead for rural people and communities, NARFI proposes a number of activities specifically designed for rural transformation. Please visit the following links to learn more about the focus of our initial programs:


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