Rural Support Partners, mission-driven management consultants with a participatory approach to create lasting, equitable change in rural areas. Rural community and economic development.

Our Approach

Our approach is participatory and steeped in the daily realities of rural people while being ground-truthed in experience and informed by the latest research. RSP shows up as an experienced and trusted partner to organizations, networks, and changemakers to navigate these complexities. RSP creates the right conditions and facilitates the processes that draw out collective wisdom and creates the visions, plans, and structures needed for organizations to maintain focus and nurture a culture that promotes equity, flexibility, and staff well-being.

Our Values

Our mission-driven management consulting firm is founded on a commitment to inclusive participation and aims to have the plans, actions, and results emerge from the vision and goals of the people with whom we work. The following values are at the core of everything we do:

We Believe in People

Our work is founded on the rock-solid belief that the people we work with have the skills, wisdom, vision, and capacity to solve complex problems, create effective solutions, and create transformative change. Our job is to pull out that wisdom, bring about collective analysis, help create action plans, and reflective practices. The consistent use of the Popular Education Spiral keeps us grounded in this value.

Equity & Justice
Drive Our Vision

We strive to uncover, speak-to, and address the multiple oppressions that undermine the beauty, health, and well-being of all people and communities.

Partnerships Strengthen
Our Work

We work to build long-standing and equal-power partnerships with our clients—creating the trust and mutually supportive relationship needed to do difficult and messy work together.

Results Speak Volumes

Our results-based approach means that we start with the end in mind to ensure our work and the work of our clients are focused on clear outcomes. This approach leads to a more efficient use of resources, and ultimately a greater return on everyone’s investment of time, energy, and money.

Long-Term Efforts Lead to Long-Term Successes

We honor and learn from the work before us while working to strengthen and sustain the change infrastructure that will continue the work over long after us. We believe in opening doors and supporting young leaders to ensure that the work of creating more just and equitable rural communities endures over the long haul.

Our practices

Popular education—the mindset and underlying way of working—is a participatory approach to adult education that is based on helping groups of people learn from their experiences. Sometimes when outside consultants come into a community, they come in as experts, as the people who have the answers. This is the opposite of popular education, and the opposite of how we work. We always begin our work with the assumption that the people living in local communities know best what their community needs and how to provide it.

As facilitators or network coordinators, we are not passive or empty. We have knowledge, expertise, experiences, and concrete ideas to offer. But we always start with the people we are working with. We always assume that the folks sitting in the room with us know more about how to make their communities livable than we do. Collectively, they have the wisdom to bring about significant change. They might not have tapped into that wisdom yet, but it’s there. It is our job to help them surface their collective wisdom and build concrete plans for taking their work to the next level.

In our daily work, we use an approach called the spiral model for popular education, detailed in a post, here. We have adapted the spiral model from a book called Educating for a Change (by Rick Arnold and colleagues, 1999).

Key Works and Influences:
Pedagogy of the Opressed, Pedagogy of Hope, Pedagogy of Indignation, and other works by Paulo Freire
We Make the Road by Walking by Paulo Freire and Myles Horton
The lifework of Myles Horton
Various work and writings of The Highlander Research and Education Center founded by Myles Horton and Don West

Participatory practice is an approach we use, along with the spiral model for popular education, when we are facilitating a meeting with a group of people.
Participatory practice centers upon the planning and implementation of discrete projects that improve a community’s well-being. Unlike some US approaches to community development, however, participatory practice starts from the basic belief that everyday people in low-wealth communities are not the target for community development projects; rather, they are the people who determine, drive, and control the entire development process. Participatory development starts from the assumption that marginalized and low-income people best understand the problems they face and how to fix them. Participatory pracice is notable for three innovations:
1. Its emphasis on participatory group methods, especially Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methods such as community mapping, wealth and well-being ranking, and preference ranking;
2. Its equal emphasis on the attitudes and behaviors necessary for implementing these methods in a way that is fundamentally participatory; and
3. Its emphasis on building the capacity of groups and organizations to thrive on their own over the long haul.

Key Works:
The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (2nd ed.) by Sam Kaner, Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk, and Duane Berger
Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation by adrienne maree brown
“The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal” by Robert Chambers
Participatory Rural Appraisal” by Ganesh Chandra

In our daily work with groups and networks, we have adapted many methods and approaches from the practice of community organizing. Community organizing refers to the process of bringing people together for two main purposes: (1) to get work done that makes communities more livable, and (2) to develop the knowledge, skills, and collective power needed for improving communities.
Some community organizing approaches focus on organizing individuals. Others focus on organizing through institutions such as churches, school parent-teacher associations, or grassroots groups. We organize through anchor organizations and collective impact networks. As mentioned above, anchor organizations are high-capacity organizations that are working on a sustainable economic development strategy across a multi-county region. Collective impact networks are webs of organizations and individuals that are collaborating strategically to move forward a coordinated body of work.
We call our work systems based organizing, which we describe here. Our vision is to build an infrastructure of leaders, anchor organizations and collective impact networks that work in a coordinated, strategic way across a geographic region (e.g., Central Appalachia). We bring together organizations and networks that have a high potential for broad and deep impacts. We bring together organizations and networks that have the potential to expand the reach of their work by collaborating with others. We bring together organizations and networks that aim to influence systems and policies and shape broader fields of work.

Key Works and Influences:
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky
The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
The lifework and writings of: Helen Lewis, Mother Jones, and other Appalachian organizers. 
The lifework of abolitionists and civil rights organizers including Fannie Lou Hamer, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and Bayard Rustin.

The idea behind wealth creation as a framework is that the resources and assets of rural communities – their natural resources, agricultural produce, labor force, and young people – have for too long flowed out of rural areas, along with income and wealth. In practice, networks and organizations that work from a wealth creation framework use a place-based systems approach to rural development that can restore, create, and maintain wealth that stays in low-wealth areas by simultaneously improving economies, the environment, and social conditions.
Wealth creation is more than a conceptual framework, more than a way of thinking about or understanding rural development efforts. Based on the wealth creation framework, we have developed a set of tools, measures, and systems that anchor organizations and collective impact networks use to develop a shared analysis of the challenges they face in their work; collectively plan and carry out a coordinated, aligned, and strategic body of work; and track, measure, and report their outcomes across a broad geographic region (e.g., Central Appalachia, the Deep South). In addition to providing a useful conceptual framework, wealth creation also provides a set of practical tools that help groups of organizations or networks develop shared analyses, shared plans for action, coordinated and strategic bodies of work, and shared systems for measuring the outcomes resulting from that work.

Further reading:
Community Wealth Creation
Rural Networks for Wealth Creation

Regenerative Systems Leadership is a transformative approach to leadership that draws upon deep awareness and understanding of the wider living systems we operate in, aiming to foster collective leadership to tackle systemic challenges such as climate change and social inequality. This approach draws on key universal patterns and principles in living systems design such as interdependence, decentralization, adaptation, and collective leadership. This approach involves key capabilities such as seeing the larger system, fostering reflection and generative conversations, and shifting focus from reactive problem-solving to co-creating the future. Regenerative Systems Leadership emphasizes the need for leaders to connect with themselves and others deeply; develop purpose-led cultures; and build agile, self-managing organizations while demonstrating an acute awareness of both their personal behaviors and the broader impact of their organizations. This approach is applied to building regenerative economies and cultures, as well.

Key Works:
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown
The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living by Fritjof Capra
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjok Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
Regenerative Design Principles” by Tre’ Cates and Jeff Su
The Dawn of Systems Leadership” by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania
Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy” by John Fullerton, Capital Institute

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Rural Support Partners equips changemakers, organizations, and networks to cultivate lasting, equitable, participatory change in rural areas.

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