August 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT2

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A Tool for Towns in Transition

Local, national, and global forces have unleashed a "torrent" of economic and social change in rural America. An educational package titled "Towns in Transition: Managing Change in Natural Resource-dependent Communities" provides tools that residents and leaders of those communities, including Extension agents, can use to cope. An award-winning video and companion study guide pinpoint transitional stages communities go through adapting to change. They offer strategies residents can employ during those stages. The video and study guide look at the real-life experiences of residents of three towns.

Flaxen D.L. Conway
Extension Specialist, Community Outreach
Internet address:

Pat Corcoran
Extension Specialist, Community Development

Andy Duncan
Coordinator, News & Periodicals
Extension & Experiment Station Communications

Lynn Ketchum
Coordinator, Electronic Media
Extension & Experiment Station Communications

Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon

Extension professionals who lead, live, work, or support growing up in natural resource-based communities are keenly aware of the global, national, and local forces causing dramatic economic and social changes in many rural communities. Technological change, international competition, public policy decisions, endangered species, and other environmental concerns have all brought changes. When we look around, we see friends, families, countries, states, and other communities flowing in the "torrent of change" everyday (Theobald, 1987).

What is often needed are tools that neighbors and local leaders can use to learn together about how to "go with the flow," deal effectively with change at a personal and community level. Here's a tool that you'll want to add to your "educational tool box" - one that will help residents learn from one another and from the residents of three kindred communities. Although videotaped in the West, it is appropriate and valuable for any natural resource-dependent community in any part of the country.

The educational package, "Towns in Transition: Managing Change in Natural Resource-Dependent Communities," was created by an Oregon State University Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station team. The package consists of an award-winning 30-minute video and a companion study guide. The package shows how individuals, families, and communities all go through similar stages of the transition process when confronted with major change.

The model, based on work by Bridges (1980), frames the way people manage transitions in terms of "Endings," "Neutral Zone," and "New Beginnings." The transition process is viewed as a cycle of overlapping stages. The purpose of the video and study guide is to help people recognize in themselves and their neighbors where they are in the spectrum of managing change and how to move through the process in a healthy manner.

Fine production values (and narration by the bartender from the TV program "Northern Exposure") make the video watchable by a wide audience. It has been aired on PBS stations across the country and uplinked by A*DEC to Extension offices nationwide. It features interviews with residents and leaders of three communities captured in different stages of responding to significant changes. These communities generally reflect the stages of transition that all communities tend, and need, to go through when adapting to change.

In the early 1990s, the agricultural community of Tulelake, California is shown facing unprecedented restrictions on their use of irrigation water and pesticides, which threw residents into the "Endings" stage of transition. Forks, Washington is a timber town that experienced the worst of its reduction in timber jobs during the late 1980s. At the time of the video (1993) Forks was making its way through the "Neutral Zone" stage of transition. The residents of Forks had worked past feelings of denial and anger and were beginning to think about and create different ways to diversify their community's economy.

Astoria, Oregon is shown in the "New Beginnings" stage of transition. After a major fish processing plant closed in 1979, resulting in a loss of hundreds of jobs, the community worked its way through the early stages and now boasts an economy that has diversified over the years to include seafood marketing, tourism, film making, among other things. In short, this community learned ways to harness its creativity, beliefs, and ability to reshape their community in the face of change (Hakim, 1994)).

The companion study guide allows a viewer to move from an awareness of other people's circumstances to an understanding of how the transition model relates to their own lives and communities. Following the introduction and a synopsis of the video, Part 3 of the guide describes the model and how individuals and communities cope with transitions. Part 4 offers suggestions of ways community leaders and residents can help their communities effectively manage transitions.

The study guide outlines roles that Extension agents and other leaders can play and provides practical tools such as a list of resources/annotated bibliography, a community assessment tool, and a facilitator's checklist for running and evaluating a workshop(s) related to this topic.

The VHS video tape and study guide are available as a package for $30, including shipping and handling (VTP 025). Additional study guide copies are $2.50 each. To order, write: Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, Oregon State University, 422 Kerr Admin., Corvallis, OR 97331-2119. Make check or money order payable to OSU Extension Service, or call 541-737-3311 for additional information.


Bridges, W. (1980). Transitions: Making sense of life's changes. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hakim, C. (1994). We are all self-employed: The new social contract for working in a changed world. (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler).

Theobald, R. (1987). The rapids of change: Social entrepreneurship in turbulent times. Indianapolis, IN: Knowledge Systems.