by Aaron Keith Kennard

Just a day after our first Civic Arkansas listening session in Clinton, I’m feeling rejuvenated. Being among the people of Van Buren County reminded me that whenever the current political climate gets frustrating, visiting small-town communities recharges my spirit. Our participants that night embodied Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller’s belief that every citizen has the duty to be informed, thoughtfully concerned, and participate in the search for solutions. They welcomed us warmly and showed genuine care for their neighbors. Communities like Clinton and Van Buren County are why I’m excited to continue this phase of Civic Arkansas.

Before taking the show on the road, we tested our questions and structure with Institute staff. On April 15, 20 percent of our team participated in one of two listening sessions, providing invaluable feedback to enhance the experience. Their readiness to engage and offer suggestions was a testament to their commitment to civic engagement. These pilot sessions helped us identify areas for improvement and confirmed that our structure fostered a welcoming, non-partisan environment. This exercise was crucial for me as I aimed to create a fresh, engaging experience while giving Arkansans a platform to be heard.

Over 90 minutes, participants gradually get comfortable with the facilitators and each other. It starts with a 10-question survey on political and civic participation, completed anonymously to provide quantitative data and ease participants into the session’s themes. Next, participants respond to open-ended questions on the walls using sticky notes, encouraging interaction while maintaining independence. Finally, they form small groups to discuss community issues and potential solutions, culminating in an open floor discussion to share insights and ideas. All data and responses are captured anonymously to inform our Civic Arkansas initiatives.

Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller believed in the power of local people to address their community’s needs. Civic Arkansas listening sessions continue this legacy, engaging our fellow Arkansans to understand the barriers to civic participation. Our state has such strong community ties and a history of collective impact, so making civic participation easy should be an obvious goal. Arkansans know what their communities need and are ready to tell us how to achieve it. I am excited to continue listening.

Aaron Keith Kennard

Program Officerakennard@rockefellerinstitute.org

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