The vision of the Island Institute is to be “a locally valued and broadly recognized partner finding solutions to challenges posed by local, state, national and international trends that threaten Maine’s island and working waterfront communities,” according to a new strategic plan for the organization.

The Institute’s Board of Trustees approved a series of new objectives at their December meeting that will drive the Institute’s resources and energies during the next three years. The new plan is the product of a collaborative, six-month effort between board members and Institute staff who conducted a series of island community meetings to seek input on the challenges and opportunities as well as long-term strategies in such areas as programs, communications and sustainability.

This input helped shape the new plan’s five major goals and accompanying objectives. John Bird, the Board of Trustees member who facilitated the process, expressed his appreciation for the high level of involvement by both staff and board members, their transparent exchange of ideas, and the final three-page document. “It’s a succinct synthesis of our envisioned direction, which is what a strategic plan should be. In this case, less is indeed more.”

One critical focus area for the Institute is an emphasis on expanding advocacy work on behalf of island and working waterfront communities around affordable housing and working waterfront access. Established programs such as Island Fellows, information technology (IT) education and career awareness projects, higher-education and non-traditional scholarships, and grants to island communities will continue to provide resources that meet identified community needs. Partnerships with other organizations and agencies expand the Institute’s effectiveness in all these program areas.

As a convenor, the Institute will bring together diverse stakeholders to formulate strategies that address lobster and groundfish management, climate change, alternative energy and other issues of importance to island and coastal communities. As stated in the plan, “by relying on the support of local islanders, lobstermen and fishermen, the organization becomes accountable to community input. Not every program will benefit all island communities, but taken together, all islands can benefit from Institute programs.”

Another element of the new strategic plan is increased communications capacity. Since its inception in 1983, the Institute has served as a clearinghouse for news, articles and opinions about the issues important to those who work and live along the Gulf of Maine. Improved web-based capabilities, more effective internal knowledge management and enhanced communications among island constituents, partners and the general public are specific objectives that will contribute to meeting this goal.

Events such as the Island Teachers Conference, trainings in the area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology and the production of widely-read publications such as Working Waterfront and Island Journal will ensure that the Institute’s role in disseminating information and analysis will remain at the forefront of its communications efforts. Built into the strategic plan is the understanding that, “because the organization’s constituents are geographically dispersed in isolated and remote communities, communication will increasingly need to rely on high-speed digital inter-connectivity strategies without losing the value of personal interactions — high tech and high touch.”

Archipelago, the Institute’s retail store and gallery in Rockland, will continue to feature works by island-based artists and artisans, encouraging entrepreneurship and creative expression. New funding sources, a growing membership base and enhanced volunteer-management processes will contribute to the organization’s continued financial health and its ability to support existing and enhanced activities.

By engaging more island and coastal community stakeholders and continually evaluating the effectiveness of its programs and services, the Island Institute will remain a strong, flexible organization. “This strategic plan”, says Island Institute president and founder Philip Conkling, “sets the direction for our organization to address new emerging issues and the increasingly complex challenges facing the islands and coast of Maine.”