University of Iowa

Keokuk - Engage and Promote Keokuk

Students from the School of Journalism & Mass Communication will create a strategic communications plan for increasing community pride and volunteerism in Keokuk.

The City of Keokuk, located in the southeastern most tip of Iowa at the confluence of the Des Moines River and the Mississippi River, was once a boom town for manufacturing and industry.  Like many rural communities, the changing economic landscape and shifting demographics have introduced significant challenges in the community.  Although it remains an economic hub in the tri-state region, several large plant closures and increased automation have left Keokuk poorer, less populated, and less healthy.  The city and its county, Lee County, have the unfortunate distinction of bottom (or close to bottom) ranking in the state across many community wellness indicators, including unemployment, educational attainment, and health outcomes. 

Over the past year, Hoerner YMCA, a community-based non-profit, conducted a community needs assessment as part of an effort to craft their own strategic plan and to determine how they can best respond to community needs.  As they interviewed community leaders and community members at-large, they came to believe that one need surpassed all others: the need to engage residents in volunteer efforts and improve the pride in the community.

 They and other community leaders recognize that the path to a stable, healthier community requires positive momentum and broad community support.  While they can point to many unique community assets and significant accomplishments, community leaders struggle to overcome the pervasive attitude of pessimism and negativity that plagues the community.  A key element of the communication strategy will involve asking why the public is disaffected and unavailable to follow “leadership.” Taking this research approach will include the review of previous research in addition to the proposal of alternate methods designed to assess the citizens’ definitions of their needs.

Through this project, the community leadership will seek to bolster civic pride with the hope of engaging and motivating local residents and organizations to collectively work toward a better future.  The resulting strategic communication plan will help answer big questions: What kinds of issues will resonate with community members? How can we motivate residents to take part in identifying their interests in the solution? How can their wants, needs and ideas be applied to resolve the culture of negativity? What might be their rallying cry?

The outcomes community leaders hope to see as a result of a coordinated and strategic communications plan include increased volunteerism from residents that have generally stayed on the sidelines, as well as a measurable improvement in civic pride.   To assess this situation, the communication strategy development team will take a bottom-up research approach to complement the assessment of program needs described here.

This project is scheduled to begin in the Spring 2020 semester.