The Project Wichita community engagement process, designed to discover the community’s vision for the Wichita region over the next 10 years, is moving ahead with little African-American input.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18.

If Wichita’s African-American community has a vision for the city, they certainly didn’t share it with the team of Project Wichita, a community engagement process designed to help develop a 10-year vision and action plan for the Wichita area.

During the survey phase, the last phase for community input in the approximately 8-month planning process, African-American responses amounted to fewer than 600 of nearly 14,000 Wichita area survey responses.

“Gosh, no,” said former Wichita City Councilmember Lavonta Williams, when informed about the lack of community input. Clearly disappointed with the numbers, Williams said clearly, low African-American participation means “the voice of the community will not be fairly reflected in Wichita’s plans for the future.”

Project Wichita Survey Participation by Race/Ethnicity

Hispanic/Spanish/Latino 710

Black/African American 614

American Indian or Alaska Native 393

Asian 292

Other 526

Caucasian/White 10,333

Total Responses 13,907

The Project Wichita initiative was announced in February as a broad and inclusive process to bring the community together around developing develop a 10-year vision for the area and action plant to achieve it. Inclusivity of diversity of input across ages, races, and economic groups, was heralded as an important part of the process.

Just weeks after the initiative was announced in February, there was a large group of small and large businesses, civic and regional organizations, non-profits and community groups signed up in support of the process. However, only two groups were predominately African American: The Boys and Girls Club and the NAACP. Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center team was selected to lead the planning process. It appears the WSU team was charged with developing and implementing an engagement process to reach as many people and groups as possible.

The community input process began with focus group sessions held during April and May. Nearly 4,000 people participated in more than 200 focus groups. The demographic breakdown of those participants were not made public.

The concept of the focus groups was simple: to understand what people did and didn’t like about Wichita, what they would like to see changed, and what is your big dream for the Wichita area in the next 10 years. From those sessions, eight broad focus groups were identified. (See box this page for information on the eight selected focus groups.)

In an effort to get even more input, a public survey was developed that dug further into the eight broad areas. The survey, which could be completed online or on paper, was conducted across three weeks, between June 18 and July 6.

Historically, surveys have not proven the best way to gather input from both the African American, Hispanic and Asian communities, says Williams. “You have to use some different ways to reach our community.”

“Our community is not just a sit down and take a survey community,” said Williams.

While Williams said the African-American community needs to change its mindset about taking surveys, but she also commented on a need for project planners to recognize this mindset and to find other ways to include minority groups. 

“Was there that real effort to get out there and make sure the voices be heard?” Williams questioned.

Next Steps

During the upcoming “Focus” phase of Project Wichita, the survey team, research and community findings will be analyzed for trends and patterns. Those findings will be discussed by the Vision Team – a group charged with shepherding the Project Wichita plan – in order to build work teams. These work teams will identify and review priorities driven by community feedback and will work with subject experts and those affected to help build an action plan.

A final report of the community’s vision, including priorities and an action plan should be released this fall.

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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