From November 2020 to March 2021, the Institute and the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) partnered to build Conway 2035, a comprehensive strategic plan for the City of Colleges.
“Members of the community sacrificed more than 1,000 hours of their time to serve on 14 sector committees and craft a vision statement for each sector, develop specific goals and suggest ways for individuals, families, businesses and organizations to get involved.“From the plan’s official website, Conway2035.org
Those 1,000 hours mentioned were primarily spent in breakout Zoom sessions facilitated by the Institute Programs team. At first, the Chamber wasn’t sure if this process would even work, or at least be engaging with Conway residents in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We met in July 2020 and asked the steering committee if it was even appropriate to think long-term in the middle of a disaster,” Chamber Executive Vice President Jamie Gates told our Board of Directors at a recent meeting. “We got a quick response that not only was it appropriate, but cathartic. We conducted a survey and got a 30 percent increase in response rate and a doubling in willingness to participate in the plan by helping write it, going to meetings, or volunteering. So we were quickly overwhelmed by that.”
Gates said his first call after that initial positive response was to Janet Harris, Institute Executive Director/CEO, knowing that the coalition the Chamber was building was too big to manage alone. Gates attended our Connect-Collaborate-Create (CCC) Summit in 2019 and always wondered what it would be like to get his own people and community up on Winthrop Rockefeller’s former cattle ranch.
“Our missions align so well. The idea of tranforming community through dialogue is exactly what the Institute does, and that’s exactly what we needed in Conway.”Jamie Gates
Ultimately, because of the pandemic, those community meetings could not happen in person, much less on Petit Jean Mountain. Gates said that had 2020 been a “normal” year, the Chamber would’ve hosted these community meetings in high school auditoriums, the city library, and other public spaces people could get to at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday. He knew that getting to a meeting straight from work was already a significant barrier to a lot of people, and he could expect roughly the same group of people to attend every meeting. That’s not what the Institute and the Chamber wanted.
“I think hosting these meetings virtually was more egalitarian,” Gates said. As opposed to in-person meetings, virtual sessions complimented every personality. Some people liked to talk a lot. Others preferred to use the chat box. Some people didn’t want to be on video. Yet others were busy doing other things but still listened to the conversations and gave input when possible.
Feedback from Conway Residents
“Thank you so much for your compassion, dedication, and facilitation. I learned so much through this process and feel very hopeful about the outcomes!”
“This was a very informative process. I was totally impressed with the way materials were presented and the ability for everyone to colaborate and provide input.”
“This was an enjoyable and worthwhile experience made even better by how organized and well facilitated it was. Kudos to the entire team at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.”
“Very well done. I would be open to more sessions like this for other committees and items that need to be discussed in a public forum.”
“The virtual facilitation was very well managed and we appreciated our facilitator so much! Everything was organized and run efficiently.”
After the initial process of gathering information was complete, the Institute hosted the Vision Summit Conway2035 in April 2021. It was a two-day retreat focused on reviewing community input and the work of various committees up to that point in the strategic plan process. 50 leaders from around Conway attended and with the help of Institute facilitators:
- Worked together to cut redundancies
- Built better partnerships
- Saw who wasn’t being helped by the plan
- Created a structured priority of 140 goals — all created by almost 2,000 Conway residents
“It was a pleasure to develop the plan for Conway 2035 and to facilitate 57 separate meetings with the citizens of Conway,” James Hopper, Institute Director of Development, said. “The Chamber staff didn’t balk at our meeting-intensive structure but embraced it wholly, understanding from the beginning that in order to build a plan that was truly reflective of the citizens’ priorities, it was going to take time, deep listening, and a great deal of collaboration.”