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Ep. 89 - Resourcefulness + Ingenuity in Small Towns with Dr. Kendra Rosencrans

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Resourcefulness and ingenuity are often found in rural America, and the foundation of both of those things are connection and community, and this week’s episode is all about how to go about fostering connection, how we invite people in, and what happens when people feel invested in their small towns. As someone who grew up in a small town (in our very own North Dakota!) but who has lived and traveled in communities of many sizes and is now a consultant and researcher, our guest for episode 89, Dr. Kendra Rosencrans, understands the power of community. Her current work with the Red River Regional Council here in North Dakota dives into rural resiliency. In this episode, she shares her wisdom plus some amazing actionable tips and tricks for building community and inviting connection into our own lives to foster resourcefulness and ingenuity to help our small towns grow and thrive.

About Kendra:

Dr. Kendra Rosencrans is a consultant and researcher focusing on ways to encourage creative, inventive change through shifting organizational or community imaginations about what's do-able, what's possible, and what's good for a healthy, vibrant future. She is also a postdoctoral fellow with Cynefin Centre Australia, studying how groups that change their stories can change their futures. Rosencrans earned a PhD in complex organizational systems from Saybrook University in 2019. As a doctoral student, she received the Margaret Mead Memorial Student Award from the International Society for the Systems Sciences. The award, named for the anthropologist Margaret Mead who was a co-founder and the first woman president of the ISSS academic society, recognizes doctoral research that addresses contemporary challenges within communities in ways that empower agency with integrity, imagination, and well-being. Rosencrans is also the co-founder of a new digital academic publication, the Systemic Change Journal.

Prior to her doctoral work, Rosencrans earned a master's of divinity degree in 2004 from Luther Seminary in St. Paul. She also holds a master's of journalism degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Rosencrans started her newspaper reporting career at the Jamestown (ND) Sun in 1990. In 1997, she was part of the Grand Forks Herald-Knight Ridder reporting team that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of the Red River flood.

Kendra grew up in Hettinger, ND, where her dad was the county extension agent and her mom was a reporter, social worker, and teacher. Being a county agent's kid, Kendra was deeply involved in 4-H, and will always view being named North Dakota's 1983 Swine Project Champion as one of her biggest accomplishments.

Kendra lives in Kirkland, WA, with her husband, their 3 teenagers, a cat, and a dog, but no pigs.

Some thoughts from Kendra:

I grew up in an extraordinary small town in southwestern North Dakota that never acted like it was too small to accomplish big things. While Hettinger has been impacted by the shifts in agricultural markets and other forces that continue to challenge rural areas across the country, the community and people I know there continue to impress and stand as one of many examples of what can happen when people in small towns choose to work together to invest in themselves and love where they live. Hettinger, now with a population edging 1,110, has a nationally recognized rural medical center, a newly restored bowling alley, a coworking/rural incubator space, plans to upgrade its indoor swimming pool -- and-- continues to demonstrate that small towns succeed in the face of their challenges with big hearts and big imaginations.

I've lived in the nation's biggest city -- New York City -- and in one of the fastest-growing cities -- Austin, TX. I currently live with my family in Kirkland, Washington, which is considered one of the nation's top 25 "best" small cities and sits on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, across from Seattle.

Each of these places are really a series of small towns, knit together within a larger governing fabric called "Manhattan" or "Kirkland." To thrive, everyone needs a small town -- and but some small towns are more spread out than others. Within the relationships and imagination that drive what a small town is and can be -- come the strengths and vulnerabilities that make a neighborhood or community what it is. We all have our small towns -- no matter where we live geographically. However, I do believe there is something incredibly special and important about rural small towns -- and that for health, success, and future of our nation -- we need to invest in, restore, and nurture small towns.

As a journalist, I dedicated my career to telling the living stories of incredible small towns in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. I saw what kinds of transformation can happen when small towns and small cities in these rural states shift their imaginations about their future -- and work together to create a new story about who they are and will be in the 21st century. This happened when I was a reporter for the Aberdeen American News in South Dakota -- and it was the experience that drove me to get my doctoral degree in complexity, stories, and organizational systems.

I want to work with organizations and communities that are interested in doing more with their imaginations and their superpowers for making do. The ingenuity that propelled the founders of these communities to lay the groundwork for the future is needed today -- and the key to unleashing this inventive energy can be found in the stories that people tell about what's happening, what's possible, and what they are willing to do -- or not -- to make things better today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Ingenuity is a creative solution-crafting skill and an inventive, adventurous spirit that finds a way around obstacles and moves into the unknown one step at a time, trusting that each move opens the way to resources, ideas, and solutions that are more resourceful, more effective, and a much better fit, for what's needed to create a vibrant small town with a higher quality of life for all residents -- present and future.

It all starts with curiosity, and a willingness to look at what's happening, and what's possible, differently.

At the moment, I'm doing some of this work in my role as a resiliency specialist with the Red River Regional Council in Grafton, working with the amazing Dawn Mandt and her team there, and I'm doing some of this work in the course I teach on organizational theory for the University of Jamestown's Master's of Arts in Leadership program. I'd like to do more, and that's why I'm excited to connect with Rebecca and Growing Small Towns.

In this episode, we cover:

  • The role of connection in small town development

  • How to be resourceful in a small town

  • The value of practicing being invitational

  • What belief and creativity have to do with building the future

  • The power of asking “What if we…?” to get your idea going

Kendra's Published Works:

Rosencrans, K., (2020). Tohu va-Facebook and Dave Snowden. In (D. Snowden, S. Blignaut, Eds), Cynefin -- Weaving sense-making into the fabric of our world. Singapore: Cognitive Edge.

Rosencrans, K. (2019). Narratives of Ingenuity: Using Coworking Space Stories to See Systems Change. (Doctoral dissertation). Saybrook University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 13898081.

Rosencrans, K. (2017). Pilot case study: How two nonprofit education foundations use social media to support systemic engagement. Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2017 Vienna, Austria, 2017(1). Retrieved from

Rosencrans, K. (2016). Proposing values and practices for a culture of organizational ingenuity: Hacking systems thinking to pursue the preposterous and produce the impossible. Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2016 Boulder, CO, 2016 (1). Retrieved from

Rosencrans, K. (2014), Nurturing Faith for Action: Theological Education and Global Responsibility. Dialog, 53: 304-311. doi:10.1111/dial.12133

Red River Regional Council (North Dakota) - learn more about their engagement with Kendra to research and develop economic resiliency in their region:

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