Engaging Your Community for Maximum Impact—The Kick Start Lonoke Story

Recently at the Breakthrough Solutions Conference “Reimagining Your Community/Region,” CCED/CDI Director Amy Whitehead and Kick Start Lonoke co-chair Ryan Biles shared “Engaging Your Community for Maximum Impact – The Kick Start Lonoke Story.”

Their presentation covered the following:


What is Kick Start Lonoke?

Kick Start Lonoke is an initiative of the community of Lonoke, in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas Community Development Institute and the Breakthrough Solutions Program at U of A Cooperative Extension. The purpose of the initiative is to assess the community, bring together citizens and key leaders to outline a vision for the future, organize around top priorities, and craft a strategic, action-oriented plan for the future.

Through extensive public outreach and engagement, the community identified its top priorities as branding and marketing, education and workforce development, downtown development and retail, beautification and recreation, and housing and real estate. The Kick Start Lonoke Action Plan was unveiled in May 2017. More information at kickstartlonoke.wordpress.com/.

What Has Made Kick Start Lonoke Successful?

  • INVEST (the “Pre-work”): our process of making connections and on-boarding before we ever engaged with the UCA & the Kick Start Program
    • Diverse leadership group
    • Cultivating buy-in from influencers and doers
  • INVOLVE (the “legwork”): our approach to making sure all neighborhoods and generations understood that they were WANTED and NEEDED in this process
    • Rotate meeting location
    • Diverse leadership group and participation
    • Engage the community in a variety of ways, which might include a community survey, public meetings, and small working groups
    • Do a stakeholder analysis and communicate with each group in the way they want to be communicated with. It is not one size fits all
  • INFORM (the “hard work”): our methodology for continuous updates and perpetuating the conversation in a clear and concise manner
    • Use a variety of communication strategies- e-newsletter, emails, phone calls, social media, community calendars, a stand-alone website or Facebook page, the local paper and radio station
    • Continuously ask for feedback from key stakeholders to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table and take everyone’s temperature on what else needs to be done and how it should be done
    • Recognize the hard work and achievements of volunteers and the community, and take the time to celebrate publicly

Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own Community Planning Process

  • Recruit a good communicator
  • Respect people’s time
  • Start with the end in mind
  • Identify short-term projects to get quick wins
  • Determine if there is a desire to work together for positive change—not all communities are ready and sometimes trust-building activities have to be conducted or the right leadership has to step up before a planning process can be initiated.


Other speakers and communities from across the state shared innovative stories and creative programs. Keynote speaker Zachary Mannheimer, Principal Community Planner, McClure Engineering Company spoke on “Creative Placemaking – Economic Development for the Next Generation.” All in all, the Breakthrough Solutions conference did not disappoint! Participants left with a fresh perspective on community and economic development in the 21st century.

You can view photos the the Breakthrough Solutions pre-conference here.