Smart Community Sparks:
Engaging the Community
Project OVERCOME aims to launch seven proof-of-concept efforts to deploy novel broadband technology solutions to underserved communities in both rural and urban settings. Implementing the technological solution comprises a giant piece of the puzzle, but another major piece that can be overlooked is community engagement.
We recently published a resource on how to utilize community engagement to build civic trust, but below you will find a few examples of how our Project OVERCOME communities are proactively engaging their residents ahead of deploying their tech solutions for connecting the unconnected.
Clinton County, Missouri
In June, the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) invited the residents of Turney to an ice cream social. In a small rural community with only 60 households, the ice cream social provided a chance for Missouri S&T and partners to talk directly to residents about the RF-over-fiber pilot which will enable residents located outside areas with fiber infrastructure access to high-speed broadband internet. The team shared with the community their plan to program an intelligent router to stitch together multiple low-bandwidth radios to simulate a more expensive high-bandwidth device.
Over 20 individuals gathered outside the Train Depot in Turney. While enjoying ice cream, residents asked project managers and developers targeted questions about the proposed fiber network solution. By the end of the event, 18 households had signed up! In addition to the selling points of faster internet speeds, and improved education and business opportunities, residents greatly appreciated the chance to test out the solution before buying it. Missouri S&T will continue to engage Turney residents to increase sign-ups over the next few months.
To get deep engagement from community members, leaders must prove the value of new projects and make participation as convenient as possible. DigitalC in Cleveland, OH is doing this by taking their project pitch right to residents’ front door.
At a Juneteenth food distribution event, the DigitalC team successfully generated awareness about their pilot project in the Hough neighborhood. Using a combination of fiber, fixed wireless service and other technologies, broadband service will be provided to residents of the Willson Apartments Tower (a 22-story senior-living facility managed by the Cleveland Municipal Housing Authority) and the nearby Lexington Village community, which is the focus of the OVERCOME pilot. The informal one-on-one conversations worked wonderfully, particularly with the older residents in Willson and others in the neighborhood with less technology experience. Willson is a key access point for providing service to Lexington Village and much of the rest of Hough.
Loiza, Puerto Rico
As part of their OVERCOME project, Libraries Without Borders (LWB US) plans to install broadband connectivity and mesh networks in and around three community centers in Loíza. However, to become one of the three connection hubs, the Emeliano Figueroa Torres Community Center needed to be revitalized. So, during a volunteer event titled “La Pintata Collectiva”, over 35 volunteers donated their time, money, materials, and talents so that the abandoned community center (that survived two hurricanes) could be one of the centers for service providers to connect and serve the Loiza community. The LWB US team recognized the value of involving community members in every stage of the project, including revitalization efforts. Through this community-engaged approach, LWB US built the capacity of local residents to develop and implement their own solutions, which fostered greater trust between participants and partners.
Each Project OVERCOME team faces a different landscape and accordingly has planned a unique approach to engaging community members. What is common across these teams, however, is their intentionality in engaging the community. From the start, the leaders carrying out these technical pilots were deliberate about the tools they would use to achieve the desired type of public participation. Organizing events tailored to attract the target participants provided the sought-after results of engaged residents eager to learn more about the proposed connection solution. These examples show how community engagement can be more than the required public info session and pave the road for a successful deployment.
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