In July of 2020, the Chamber convened a 13-person steering committee tasked with overseeing the creation of a new strategic plan for the Conway community. The effort had originally been scheduled to begin in March, but COVID-19 had put everything on hold. The only item on the agenda for this meeting was to decide whether or not it was possible to facilitate a strategic plan during a pandemic.
“I was really conflicted,” said Jamie Gates, executive vice president of the Chamber. “I didn’t know if it was appropriate. I was worried about participation. And I didn’t want the result to be a plan that focused on the trauma and uncertainty we were surrounded by. Thankfully, we already had an incredible steering committee in place for big decisions like this.”
The steering committee unanimously agreed that the effort should move forward, not only in spite of the pandemic but – in some ways – because of it.
“It was an important moment when we heard committee members say that people needed an opportunity to imagine a better future, and that the plan could bring the community together during a time of isolation,” Gates said.
During August and September, more than 1,800 residents submitted surveys outlining what topics they thought should be included in a strategic plan. This was a 30% increase from a similar survey effort in 2010. The finished results were a ranking of more than 40 topics to consider for further planning. The steering committee ultimately reduced that list to 14 topics.
As of mid-January 2021, more than 120 area residents have participated in 35 meetings related to 12 of the 14 topics. Because of COVID-19, the meetings have taken place over Zoom. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute has facilitated the goal-setting sessions. The Rockefeller Institute’s mission is to use former governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s collaborative approach to create transformational change. Their staff of trained facilitators has organized and led each of the community meetings.
“It’s been inspiring to see people so committed to participating in the process,” Gates said. “Folks are Zooming while feeding their kids, driving home from work, and just doing the best they can. There is a different, but just as authentic, sense of community when you get those glimpses into people’s lives.”
The community meetings will continue through the first week of March. The entire planning effort will conclude in May. To participate in the planning process, visit facebook.com/groups/futureofconway or email Jamie@ConwayArkansas.org. Learn more at conwayarkansas.org/futureofconway.