Adding Advocates to MIRC programs

Thanks to Bill Coleman and Pam Lehmann for sharing a research paper written by students from Gonzaga University on the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) program. The students (Dale W. Hammond and Lyndon Perry) started by looking at a program in the UK where folks in rural areas were offered computer and Internet training. Initially their assignment was to consider how this program could be implemented in rural American but they learned about the MIRC program here led by the Blandin Foundation and realized the programs were similar. So they adapted the assignment to look at how to further the MIRC efforts based on the benefits of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). Specifically, they looked at adding to the MIRC initiative a concerted effort develop local advocates through a Hometown Advocate Program (HAP).

The idea is to find HAP candidates who are broadband users and work well with groups and to encourage them to become local champions, provide them with tools they need and reward them for their efforts. Local HAP volunteers are key to highlighting the Elaboration Likelihood Model because it opens to the door to locally grown trainers who have a higher probability of knowing their neighbors, of encouraging their neighbors to get engaged with broadband program and of reaching students in various classes and other sessions.

The local trainer becomes part of the local capacity that does not go away when the grant funding ends. So it’s an effective way to build lasting capacity.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m kind of an academic junkie so I could go on for hours here – but I’m going to hold back except to say that I think the power of ELM cannot be stressed too much. A super abridged version of it says that people are persuaded two ways: 1) the message and 2) the messenger. By training local folks to promote and facilitate broadband adoption we can hit the target market with a one-two punch a clear message presented or promoted by someone they know.

I was just on the phone with folks planning local broadband training and heard what I’ve heard for years – the greatest challenge is getting people to attend the first session. Once a connection has been made (assuming the class and trainer are a good fit) subsequent training sessions are much easier. We said the key is having a local connection – that may mean a local trainer, it may mean a local person making one-on-one connections with potential attendees to persuade them (through their existing relationship) that the class is a good fit for them. It’s interesting to read the theories behind what we’re finding in practice.

1 thought on “Adding Advocates to MIRC programs

  1. Finding those local community connectors can be a challenge. But when you do find them, you do need to support them and find a way to reward them. Recognition is always great and need not be expensive.

    Within key demographic groups, there are always key people that you need to identify and build relations with. Taking the time up front to do that is a great investment.

    Just a quick correction to a typo in your post above. I am sure that you meant to say that people are persuaded by 1) the message and 2) the messenger.


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