Who is in Charge?
Within a community team, there are two primary types of team members: community chairperson and general team members.
A community chairperson is the local leader within the community that is willing to lead the effort for improved broadband and technology access, adoption, and use. Community chairpersons can be found in any number of sectors within a community. The chairperson does not need to have technical knowledge of the broadband industry or technology in general, but should understand how broadband, (or a lack thereof), impacts the community, has a passion for its improvement, and is willing to invest time and energy to drive this initiative. Some communities opt to have co-chairpersons for their broadband or technology team. This allows two stakeholders to share chair responsibilities, which can be helpful in communities where stakeholders tend to already occupy multiple leadership roles in the community.
Characteristics of a community chairperson include:
Desire for community improvement
Passion for technology
Knowledge of local situation
Leader with influence / power
Specific responsibilities of the Community Chairperson include:
Identify and recruit team members
Facilitate community team meetings
Solicit additional community involvement for planning and implementation.
Guide the community team through an assessment of the local broadband ecosystem, development of a broadband plan, and that plan’s subsequent implementation.
Collaborate with other communities and entities working to expand broadband to garner best practices and examples.
Share and communicate the status and progress of the Community Broadband Initiative with other key leaders and sponsors across the community.
Team members are passionate advocates for community improvement in the area of broadband and technology and come from the many organizations and entities that comprise a community, (those identified previously). The team members will work with the chairperson and others throughout the community planning effort.
Characteristics of a team member include:
Desire for community improvement
Passion for technology
Knowledge of local community environment
Possess sector‐specific knowledge
Specific responsibilities of a community team member include:
Assist in the collection of community technology data.
Provide sector-specific insights to the team and process that are not available elsewhere.
Provide input into the overall technology and broadband assessment of the community.
Regularly participate in team meetings and activities.
Perform tasks to accomplish the goal of expanded broadband and technology usage within the community.
Articulate the goals and objectives to others inside and outside of the community to help build awareness.
Willingness to invest time in “doing” as activities beyond meetings and their success will hinge heavily on volunteerism in their early stages.
With a community chairperson identified and team members assembled, it is time to decide on and create a structure that will allow for effective pursuit of the project’s goal; the expansion of broadband access, adoption, and use.
There are two primary paths for the creation of the community broadband team, (could also be called a committee, group, coalition, technology team, etc.): formal and informal. Many communities follow an informal organizational path where the chairperson and team members follow an unwritten organizational and meeting structure. The informal organizational style allows flexibility in the actions of the group, however, without a formal structure, informal groups can suffer from fatigue, staffing changes, lack of commitment, etc.
Formal organizational structures can be established for a local broadband planning effort through the establishment of a 501(c)3 or similar not for profit entity. Alternatively, the team could explore the opportunity to formalize their structure as a committee or sub-group of an already established community organization such as a chamber of commerce. Formal structures can offer stability and the creation of leadership roles, boards of directors, bylaws, meeting structure, etc., but are less flexible than informal structures.
It is likely that you’ll find efficiency in developing your group through informal means, and even in establishing your team. Working through the questions of “where you are”, and “where you want to be” might be most effectively completed through an informal group. This initial group typically commits to participating for a short-term engagement through the assessment and planning phases. However at the end of answering these questions, it will be important to start the work of implementing solutions and doing things in your community that help you progress towards where you want to be.
The formal structure of an incorporated or un-incorporated organization can provide the most stability for your team over time. Beyond stability, having an incorporated organization, 501c3 or other, also provides your organization some independence, financially and organizationally, providing insulation from local political cycles, and turnover often associated with leadership among local organizations. This also helps alleviate issues of community leaders being over-extended with responsibilities that are often beyond those of their regular duties.
It’s important to look at the community definition and the goals of starting this process. If your community is a small area, and really is focused on relatively short-term goals it’s unlikely that developing a formal organization will have many benefits. The larger the community and the longer-term the goals, it’s likely that developing that formal structure and even incorporating can empower the team to accomplish more aggressive goals.