Stakeholders from a cross section of the Northwest Arkansas region participated in a strategy session November 9, 2017, at the JBU Center in Rogers. Led by facilitators from Mitchell Communications, the session was designed to identify top priorities for key focus areas which will then be used to design and draft a strategic plan. The focus areas are Government Leadership and Equitable Access, Community Civic Engagement, Economic Development, Education and Safe and Connected Communities.
The session yielded productive discussions which resulted in several common themes that resonated with all participants:
1. Communication: Communication is key, and it is a broad, over-arching theme. Whether the topic is communicating with newcomers or current residents, being strategic about how different publics receive information is critical. Method or channel of communication is as important as the message and audience.
2. Meeting people where they are: All of the discussion groups touched on the importance of meeting people where they are. In order to create a welcoming, inclusive community, there needs to be understanding of the challenges, cultures, barriers to communication, etc. that a particular group might face, whether they are in a group determined by ethinicity or by sexual orientation, faith, etc.
3. Education: Like communication, education is a broad, over-arching theme. The need for education includes not just formal education, but in training and work skills and life skills such as local tax filing requirements or understanding government services, for example.
4. Collaboration between organizations: As the Northwest Arkansas region continues to experience a growing and more diverse population, many types of organizations are providing outreach services to newcomers. A means for collaborating between groups providing similar services would help make more efficient use of existing resources and possibly increase the number of newcomers served.
5. Institutions of authority: A segment of Northwest Arkansas newcomers are coming from a culture where people in authority – specifically members of the law enforcement community – are viewed with a high level of mistrust. There is an opportunity for local law enforcement organizations to help newcomers and long-time residents to feel more engaged with them and to understand and trust their role in the community.
6. Listening: Simply seeking to understand one another is a resounding theme that was heard throughout the sessions, whether one’s perspective is that of a newcomer to the area or that of a long-time resident. The strategic plan must include plenty of opportunities for all groups to really listen to one another to fully understand their needs and wants.