Livable Lesson

Challenge Your Community to Change for the Better — in 100 Days or Less

Quick, frequent wins keep players engaged, build momentum and get the work done

Efforts to make a community truly livable and great for people of all ages can take years. Maintaining such livability — and improving upon it — is an ongoing endeavor.

But when a project takes a long time to get started, the motivation of everyone involved begins to wane. When a project drags on without results or a foreseeable end, the needed commitment and energy for the work involved can vaporize overnight.

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That's why, when a group or community decides to set upon a path toward improvement, one of the most effective first steps is to set course for a "quick win" or several quick wins. Pursuing such doable goals enables a community to see that change really is possible. Establishing a timeline helps participants understand that change requires both dedication and patience.

The 100 Days Challenge

A great way to hit the ground running with a new project is to initiate a "100 Days Challenge." The concept is the brainchild of change management experts Robert H. Schaffer and Ronald N. Ashkenas, authors of the 2005 book Rapid Results! How 100-Day Projects Build the Capacity for Large-Scale Change. Write the authors, "With rapid results projects you can experience the immediate gratification of results while also opening the doors to long-term success."

The magic of a 100-day plan is that it combines prioritization with packaging.

When a community initiates a challenge, residents or the effort's leadership set the goals (that's the prioritization) and deliverables. In doing so, they can and should select accomplishable wins that will please the community-at-large.

The packaging comes from setting the time frame as 100 days, which is easy to remember and has become a common marker for evaluating, celebrating and critiquing what an initiative, group or leader has or hasn’t achieved within the first 3-1/2 months. (Case in point: Fans and foes alike judge American presidents at the 100-day mark.)

The 100 Days Livability Challenge

Since early successes help propel a group from one achievement to the next, the 100 Days Challenge is especially useful at the grassroots and community level, where many participants are volunteers and the cause at hand regularly competes with other demands and distractions.

"Livability and community-building work is long-term in nature," notes Jeanne Anthony, a livability consultant and former program manager for the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. "We need to keep key people motivated and inspired. At the same time, being able to show immediate and tangible results helps to convert nonbelievers and skeptics. A 100 Days Challenge sets attainable goals that show a genuine commitment to livability."

For instance, a case study based in Little Rock, Ark., describes two facilities serving people with mental and mobility disabilities. Both are located within a short walk to a shopping center. But because the street is so treacherous to pedestrians, people at the community centers endured a 90-minute bus ride in order to shop. Although plans to improve the street with sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic calming measures were being discussed, it would take years for such work to be completed. The short-term solution (aka the quick win): The bus route was changed to significantly shorten the trip between the centers and the shopping to just 10 minutes.

Following are other ways to pursue a doable, quick-win project:

  • Establish a project committee, and introduce its members to the community at a public meeting or through a press release, local newspaper article or community website.

  • Build a public-facing website for the project, and/or establish a project email address, Facebook page and Twitter account.

  • To encourage bicycling, stripe a bicycle lane in an area with high bicycling potential. Since the availability of bicycle racks can encourage bicycling, install bicycle racks in key locations so people can see that places exist around town for securely parking their bikes. (If the racks are installed in existing parking lots, 12 bicycles can fit into every vehicle parking space.) To learn more, read the AARP Livabiity Fact Sheet: Bicycling.

  • To slow vehicle traffic in pedestrian areas, enlist temporary measures – such as signage, portable barriers, repainted lines on the pavement – to test effectiveness and get drivers accustomed to any road changes prior to implementation. To learn more, read the AARP Livabiity Fact Sheet: Traffic Calming.

  • Promote economic development by encouraging local shops and eateries to set up some of their wares outdoors, such as during an organized sidewalk sale or by setting up a few benches, chairs and tables in front of their establishments. To learn more, read the AARP Livabiity Fact Sheet: Economic Development.

  • For other ideas about quick wins and projects that can get and keep a community motivated, visit the AARP Pop-Up Demonstration Tool Kit as well as our Bethel Better Block slideshow and how-to. Created with the goal of revitalizing communities one block at a time, Better Block organizers host one- or two-day events in which they temporarily transform a block "to show the potential for what could be if the street had a more inviting presence."

    Such efforts have involved creating a pop-up café with outdoor seating, a kids’ art studio, a gift market featuring local crafters and a bookstore created from donated and used books.

Start Counting Now, or Later

Another benefit of the 100 Days Challenge is that the project's committee or leaders can choose when it begins. While the clock can start at the very first meeting, it can also start a bit later, after some kinks have been worked out.

Also, challenges can be issued throughout a project or effort's lifespan. When 100 days starts to feel too cushy or lengthy, up the stakes by setting deadlines of just a few weeks, days or even hours.

You can practice with this challenge: How many people in your community can you share this article with — in a minute or less? Ready, set, go!

Melissa Stanton is an advisor for AARP Livable Communities and editor of AARP.org/Livable

Article published November 2014, updated June 2017


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