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Stakeholder Data & Statewide Digital Equity Planning


NTIA's BEAD program provides formula funding for all US States and Territories to build a Statewide Digital Equity Plan that will be followed with additional funding for capacity building and infrastructure development. As this important process begins, it's important to focus on one of the initial and foundational components of planning: stakeholder assessment. Simply put, high quality stakeholder assessment can increase the quality of a Digital Equity Plan and the likelihood of that plan's successful impact.

A little lower in this post are three steps that can increase the quality of stakeholder assessments. Each step makes intentional and transparent use of relevant stakeholder input. A best practice is treat stakeholder input as data. So, first a few comments about stakeholder data.

  • Stakeholder data collected through literature review, surveys, interviews, consultations, and documentable interactions need to be logically-relational, analyzable, and respectful of privacy concerns.
  • It's important to have an overall logic model for data collection; this will ensure the data is relatable and on-target with the planning parameters and focus.
  • Data securely stored in an indexed and searchable format allows the insights captured by the assessment to guide the development and implementation of the plan.
  • The quality of data (in terms of richness, validity, and applicability) can be strengthened by using effective, reliable, and penetrating tools that stakeholders find convenient, relevant, and clear. 
  • Data collection can be designed to benefit the planning process by producing 1) actionable ideas aligned with the. plan's parameters and focus, 2) strong rapport with, and support of stakeholders, and 3) alignment and mobilization of resources.

Step One: Combine and integrate stakeholder inputs into clear, coherent, and concise ideas that respond to the plan's purpose and represent a consensus of stakeholder perspectives, values, and needs. Creating ideas with a uniform structure can enable ideas to be connectable (like building blocks) into operational objectives, strategies, activities, and measures. A simple structure for an idea is "What, How, and Why." It's important if each idea is traceable to the stakeholder data from which it was combined and integrated; this important step can help ensure the vision is strongly grounded in stakeholder input.

Step Two: Build a vision using ideas. Align and arrange the ideas to build a shared vision of the future the stakeholders share. This vision can (and should) guide the creation and pursuit of the plan. Clearly the quality of stakeholder data will affect the quality of the vision, but there are other factors to consider:

  • Degree to which the data is "forward-looking"
  • Presence of a realistic-yet-inspirational tone and content
  • Transparent grounding of the vision in the data
  • Steps to allow stakeholders to inform the vision's content and priorities
  • Level of strategic and tactical detail conveyed by the vision

Step Three: Transform the vision into the plan. A deep, detailed, and representative vision can significantly improve a plan's relevance, responsiveness, and support. When stakeholders see their ideas reflected in the eventual plan they are more likely to support, promote, and assist in the plan's implementation. As a plan is pursued over time, conditions will change and sometimes so must the plan. Data from the initial stakeholder assessment can be reviewed for nuggets of wisdom to help evolve the vision and amend the plan. Significant changes to the plan may require the addition of newly collected stakeholder data.

To recap: one way to build a strong and effective Statewide Digital Equity Plan is to collect high value stakeholder data to build a shared vision of a shared future in which digital equity is attained.

An important topic not discussed here is how to engage stakeholders. This will be the subject of another post.