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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue

    Premise Three
Report Supplement
Using the Report

Premise Three:
Work Through Trusted Leaders in the Community

No matter how impressive the technology or how well-intended the motives, technology initiatives imposed on a community by outsiders are often ineffective. One clear path to achieving real-life outcomes with technology is through the existing veins of strength and vitality in the community—the organizations and individuals who have already established bonds of trust and have the proper channels to reach a relatively large number of people. As a result, those who hope to promote the use of technology in low-income communities should devote a great deal of time to identifying and then cultivating relationships with key local leaders and organizations.

Case in Point: Sowing Seeds of Trust in Rural Nebraska

When Steve Buttress founded the Community Networking Institute (CNI) to help remote rural towns in Nebraska apply technology to overcome their economic isolation, he quickly set out to "map" the leadership in targeted communities. He cross-referenced leaders of churches, civic clubs, and other groups, looking for people with influential roles in multiple segments of the community. Buttress found that leaders fell into a few basic roles, such as "recruiters," who knew and invited other participants; "communicators," on whom he could rely to spread key messages; and "blockers," who might be opposed to change in the community. His most important finding of the mapping process, though, was that the majority of communities, especially small ones, did not have strong leadership bases at all. To address the shortage, Buttress worked with the Nebraska Rural Development Commission to create Community Builders, an initiative in which older community leaders identify, mentor, and develop younger potential leaders.

When trusted local leaders reached out to others in their communities—and when the communities realized that their futures were a matter of local will, vision, and effort—the project began to take off. In one rural community, for example, a retired pharmacist used his local contacts to convince the hospital to donate space for a technology center. By working through trusted local leaders, Buttress was able to build an online network that connected rural manufacturers, enabling them to make joint purchases at a discount. Another network enabled veterinarians in widely separated rural communities to help each other solve business problems.

"Finding the right people to work with was really the determining factor in whether we were going to be successful in a community," Buttress says.

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