For more than three decades ILSR has worked in the trenches, working with sanitation workers, engineers, bond counselors, small business owners, neighborhood organizations, city planning departments, city councilors, activists and others to develop strategies and projects that enable and manifest local self-reliance. In the process we have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Our technical assistance often is requested by communities fighting against something—a huge new big box store, a garbage incinerator, a high voltage transmission line, an unresponsive cable or telephone company. We work with them to overcome the negative but at the same time we stress the positive.

We provide the assistance needed to defer garbage incinerators and then work in an ongoing fashion with communities to maximize recycling, reuse and zero waste strategies as a new foundation for economic development. We assist communities in fighting against Wal-Mart superstores while building an alliance of locally owned businesses and environmentalists and others that later focuses on ways to nurture the local economy. We work with communities fighting extra high voltage transmission lines while at the same time helping them to maximize a decentralized energy approach. We respond to communities dissatisfied by the glacial pace at which current telecommunication service providers are building a high- speed information network by providing them the justification, information, and expertise needed to move toward a publicly owned telecommunications network with universal access.

ILSR uses three strategies to achieve our objectives.

1) Public education

We present the concept in many popular forums, through books and reports, through articles and interviews in journals and newspapers, in appearances on radio and TV, via presentations to many different types of audiences and through social networks and blogs. We publish well- documented and accessible policy briefs and longer reports. We use many forms of media: print, webinars, videos, and graphics.

2) A library of rules and tools

One of the key lessons we have learned is that the possibilities for local self-reliance are undercut by the reality of rules—regulations, tax incentives, codes, standards, laws—that channel investment capital, scientific genius, and entrepreneurial energy toward the construction of centralized and absentee owned institutions and production technologies. Our New Rules Project was launched in the late 1990s to directly address and overcome this obstacle.

The New Rules web site identifies the best rules that promote local self-reliance and thwart concentration and posts the text of the actual rule on our web site. More than 95 percent of the 400 rules posted to date have been enacted in at least one jurisdiction. That is helpful in overcoming the reluctance of other communities.

The New Rules web site also offers ongoing news items about local self-reliance efforts here and abroad, as well as links to pertinent research documents and organizations.

3) Direct technical assistance

Since we have a small staff, we focus our direct technical assistance and strategic outreach on a few sectors. We choose sectors based on four criteria:

  1.  Something is already happening. Thus ILSR does not have to try to get a community involved but rather to inform and guide its involvement.
  2.  The work illuminates and furthers the local self-reliance paradigm.
  3.  Success is possible in the short term.
  4.  The skill set needed to provide useful assistance is available either in-house or within our networks.

Based on these criteria, we focus on the following areas: solid waste, energy, retail business, and telecommunications. The first two are sectors we have worked on since our founding. Retail was added in the late 1990s and telecommunications in 2005.