Rich Harwood in Arkansas Online about Walmart Sponsored Work With Children

Leaders decide change should be kid-focused
By Dave Perozek
March 20

BENTONVILLE -- A plan to engage the community in talks about how to improve Northwest Arkansas should focus on children, a group decided Thursday.

About 12 people -- consisting mostly of business representatives and School District officials -- gathered for the second time this year with Rich Harwood, president and founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in Bethesda, Md.

Wal-Mart invited Harwood to Bentonville to guide a process that eventually will involve dozens of community members. The institute plans to compile feedback from numerous group discussions in a report that will be presented to the community about 18 months from now, according to a timeline Harwood provided Thursday.

The process of collecting community members' input will start with asking them not what problems they see in the area but what their aspirations are, Harwood said.

"If we can start with people's aspirations, that creates a destination we're trying to create together," he said. "Americans are builders. So if you focus on your aspirations, we can start to build toward that. And then we can look at what are the challenges in the way of our aspirations."

The group met for the first time Jan. 29. During that meeting the group's focus shifted from primarily Bentonville to all of Northwest Arkansas. They discussed things they'd like to address, such as promoting an environment in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential.

"We want to create the best region, not just the best community," Harwood said. "At the same time we said we need to start some place to make it more concrete."

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