A strategic objective for rural areas lacking in broadband services is development of motivated leadership and resources for broadband initiatives. It is increasingly rare for local government leaders to be unaware or uninterested in the desirability of having good Internet access throughout their jurisdiction. However, interest and awareness has frequently not translated into action in communities where financial resources are constrained, technical knowledge is missing and leadership is in short supply. Nonetheless, there is an improving climate for local leadership to emerge and develop.
In discussions with regional stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, there is broad agreement that “local champions” are critical for the success of broadband initiatives. It is recommended that communities and regions develop a structured broadband leadership development and support program within their area. Important elements of leadership development include: Recruitment of individuals with the interest, energy and time needed to provide leadership. Recruitment can come from within local government institutions or from the broader community. Empowerment of leaders by providing official sanction and support from elected and other key community organizations. Leadership without support from key stakeholders greatly reduces the chances of success. Official support may take the form of an official committee or management team. A mechanism for accountability of leaders back to the organizations that provide support.
Educational and learning opportunities for leadership so they can acquire the knowledge and skills required for developing goals and proposals related to the digital divide. Much of this material already exists. However, an effective approach is to encourage participation in formal opportunities (participation in state-wide or regional workshops) while also supporting participation in networks that provide peer-to-peer support and technical advice. Institutional support from organizations with the capacity for organizing meetings, ensuring effective communications, and providing logistical support. Development of local leadership is not necessarily limited to key individuals. Leadership may also come from a local stakeholder organization that is willing to take on some or most of the responsibility of initiating and maintaining local broadband efforts.
In practice, a mix of key individuals and local institutions is often the most effective form of leadership. Given that many rural communities face the shared challenge of developing and supporting local leadership, it is recommended that organizations with a state-wide or larger region mandate consider providing assistance to local communities by establishing a collaborative broadband leadership development program for rural areas that are willing to make a commitment to improving broadband services.
Content adapted from the wired.virginia.gov Broadband Toolkit.