This paper is intended to help local leadership striving to create cohesive 21st century communities learn from the digital inclusion stakeholder engagement experiences of Rhode Island. As a state with 1,212 square miles, five counties and a population of 1 million, Rhode Island’s experience is applicable to cities, counties and regions with similar goals.
Building Digital Communities: Pilot is an IMLS funded project to support and document the efforts of local leadership teams in nine pilot communities who are leading their communities efforts to increase information technology access and use. Building Digital Communities: Framework in Action (a project of IMLS) provides the guidance and structure for the pilot communities. The first step recommended in Building Digital Communities: Framework for Action is to “Convene Stakeholders”. An important lesson we have learned from the pilot communities is that convening stakeholders is not as simple as it sounds.
Broadband Rhode Island’s (BBRI’s) public policy engagement process carefully engaged stakeholders from a variety of sectors, kept them engaged through a facilitated and well-planned process and is now implementing recommendations defined during the process.
In 2009, Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) began implementation of $4.5 million State Broadband Initiative grant awarded by NTIA (National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration) through SBI (State Broadband Initiative). One of the projects funded by the grant to RIEDC focused on state broadband capacity building.
RIEDC named their initiative Broadband Rhode Island (BBRI). To accomplish their goals, BBRI determined there was a need to create broadband policy recommendations and they wanted, in fact needed, the input of stakeholders. BBRI contracted with New Commons to help create and facilitate a stakeholder engagement process. New Commons provided essential process organization.
BBRI Stakeholder Engagement Process
- BBRI and New Commons (consultant) conduct project planning
- Core Group of 10 people met three times to create elements of the vision, produce the first list of strategic initiatives and draft initial polices.
- Public Forum of 9 attendees brainstormed external conductions and proposed essential policies and initiatives.
- Working Group of approximately 25 individuals met three times to integrate and prioritize the insights of the Core Group and the Forum participants.
- Policy paper was produced and continues to be presented to state officials and stakeholders.
Lessons We Can Learn from BBRI
- Mid-level management of government agencies is just as valuable as agency directors and elected officials.
- Defining the stakeholders and engaging them through the process is time consuming but well worth the effort.
- Impacting multiple small policy changes has cumulative effect.
- The relationship building that occurs during the stakeholder process can lead to partnerships and projects supportive of the end goal.
- A third party facilitator is necessary to stay focused and provide an organized process.