The Blandin Foundation just released an assessment of the Blanidn Broadband Communities (BBC) initiative from January 2017 – June 2018, which is the period of one cohort experiencing the program. This cohort was a little different from past groups in that they were all from the Iron Range: Aitkin County, Chisholm, Ely, Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr), Hibbing and Mountain Iron-Buhl (in St Louis County).
The assessment of the 2017-18 cohort of six Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities and associated broadband-related activities was written by staff as part of the foundation’s overall efforts to build an assessment system that answers the basic question: “What do we need to know to do better?” The report uses the foundation’s Mountain of Accountability framework to help discern and apply what they are learning.
You can check out the report from specifics and fun stories from each of the communities. Many of not most of the stories have already been shared in the blog, so I won’t repost here. Instead I think it’s interesting to look at their lessons learned. I am lucky to be a part of the broadband team. From inside the team I see how the frontlines, education and advocacy pieces fit in well together; there’s often a disconnect between those facets but when brought together I think they are most powerful…
Some lessons learned from bringing the lens of this Opportunity Statement to our work:
Building upon proven practices: Based on positive community feedback we continue to use an intense community engagement process that brings communities from goal setting to action within about 90 days, and likewise have retained the Intelligent Community Framework14 as a model for helping community leaders think holistically about technology-based economic and community development.
Leveraging Our Reputation and Relationships: We continue to recognize reputation and relationships as two of our program’s most valuable assets. Reputation for attracting additional resources (human, financial) and relationships as the force field that keeps people engaged.
Attracting Additional Passionate Partners: In adding these words to our statement, electric coops were top of mind. However, staff has had only modest success inspiring and supporting electric co-ops to play a bigger role in addressing Minnesota’s broadband needs. In looking ahead to 2019 we will revisit whether further investments in building relationships with electric co-ops is advisable, given limited progress made to date. One factor that argues against standing down, especially in light of the magnitude of the opportunity, is the simple notion of “if not us, who?”
Drive Collaborative Approaches: Where possible, Blandin staff seeks to fill a supporting rather than leading role in the work, understanding that everything we do is one more thing the community is not doing for itself (as in the regional policy meetings, where partners were conveners and hosts, and Blandin provided content expertise and gravitas).
Continue to influence and Inform Statewide Policy and Messaging: This element of the Opportunity Statement is key to Minnesota’s long-term success in meeting its broadband goals. Foundation staff are optimistic that the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition will step ever more competently into this role, so that Blandin can be part of the choir, rather than the leading voice.