It took two years to implement this project. Tasks one through five listed below were completed during the first year and tasks six through eight were undertaken in the second year. The third year is devoted to sustaining and supporting ongoing activities to help ensure that benefits continue for many years to come.

Year 1

  1. Obtaining support from county administrators and leaders within the county
    Administrators and other leaders within each of the counties were asked to support this effort. Extension agents contacted county administrators and leaders to explain project goals and outcomes and to request their support for the project. The suggested list of people to be contacted included, but was not limited to:
    • Board of Supervisors
    • County administrator
    • Chamber of Commerce
    • Representatives of Industrial/Economic Development groups
    • Superintendent of Schools
    • School Board
    • Extension Leadership Council
    Agents were asked to request these leaders to participate and provide names of residents who would be willing to serve on the technology leadership teams.
  2. Conducting Extension Agent Training
    Extension agents were briefed about the proposed implementation plan for this project. They also received training in the following areas:
    1. Introduction to telecommunications infrastructure
      Helped extension agents become familiar with the telecomm infrastructure issues facing rural communities.
    2. Community assessment
      Extension agents were briefed about community assessments with a special focus on telecommunications. The CSPP model to be used as a starting point for technology assessment was described during this session.
    3. Introduction to community networks
      Extension agents learned how community networks can make local communities more effective in solving problems by engaging more citizens in local issues and creating a stronger sense of community.
    In addition to these training sessions, agents were informed about the evaluation component of this project.
  3. Establishing Local Technology Leadership Teams

    Each agent was requested to recruit at least ten residents drawn from representatives from local governments, business and agribusiness, industry, public education, the faith community, civic organizations, youth, and seniors with a strong interest and commitment to the effort and willingness to contribute time and energy for the following tasks:

    1. Serve as the core group for planning and implementing the Take Charge program intended to reach out to the entire community.
    2. Advise and coordinate local program planning and to communicate and advocate the process to all segments of the community.
    3. Work with project staff and Virginia Tech faculty to perform an assessment of current technology in the community.
    4. Serve as facilitators in community workshops and forums to enhance the understanding of the general public about the potential of technology.
    5. Work with project staff to identify and secure the resources necessary to fulfill and sustain the strategies of the local plan.
    6. Remain in place after the end of the TOP funding with a commitment to continuing to provide technology leadership in the county.

    Hind sight has proven what we anticipated from the outset of this program: Leadership teams are the single most important factor to determine the overall success of this project. The next two paragraphs therefore expand on recruiting and selecting members for the leadership teams in each county.

    Recruitment: Extension Agents were fundamental to the process of recruiting these members because they knew their communities and the members that represent the power base. They used the following process designed to provide an opportunity for citizens from all walks of life to volunteer for this project:

    1. Begin by inviting members of the local government board or council. This is usually best accomplished by a personal phone call explaining the process and intended outcomes. Agents should get a firm commitment from at least one member of the board or council in each of the participating communities.
    2. Create a list of other leaders in the communities using Appendix C: Significant Segments of the Community and Decision Makers in the Take Charge manual as a guideline. Every effort should be made to include as many sectors as possible. Inform these individuals about the project and invite them to join this effort.
    3. Contact individuals identified by local leaders as most active and likely to champion the process. Request these individuals, if they cannot participate, to recommend other individuals to be invited to serve on the leadership team. In most cases, several follow-ups may be necessary to fill all segments of the community.
    4. Publicize the project and the need for participants using a combination of the following suggestions:
      1. Plan an informational meeting to attract interested parties
      2. Meet and make informal presentations to local groups to generate interest
      3. Run advertisements for the informational meeting in the local papers
      4. Distribute and flyers place posters throughout the community
      5. Send out personal invitations to groups such as, but not limited to:
        • Clubs and organizations in the community
        • Fire/Rescue
        • Service organizations
        • NAACP
        • Churches
        • Principals and staffs of all schools
        • Historical societies
        • Business heads that have shown support for progress in the county
        • Private residents that have shown interest in economic growth
        • Senior Citizens groups
      Selecting members for the TLT: TLT members were selected based upon the following criteria:
      1. They had a personal commitment to using technology to improve the community
      2. They were willing to participate actively in both training and ongoing citizen team training
      3. They represented a broad cross section of the community
      4. They made a commitment to continue work past the end of the grant period in order to help their communities with their ongoing technology needs
  4. Training Technology Leadership Teams
    TLT members receive training in three areas:
    1. Introduction to telecommunications was designed to familiarize them
    2. with the telecomm infrastructure issues facing rural communities.
    3. Take Charge taught how the Take Charge program works, key aspects and phases of the initiative, and how to participate effectively in the process. During this session, the team members divided up the responsibilities for finding suitable locations in three areas of the county, establishing dates for the community meetings, finding sponsors for food, notebooks, copying, workshop materials, and establishing a plan for advertising the Take Charge program
    4. Introduction to community networks taught them how community networks can make local communities more effective in solving problems, engaging citizens in local issues, and creating a stronger sense of community.
  5. Conducting Take Charge Workshops

    Extension agents facilitated the Take Charge program. Its three, three-hour workshops are designed to foster collaboration among the citizens of each community, to move the group toward consensus, and to provide a framework for creating a vision for the county.

    Workshop #1 - Where Are We Now?
    • Examine historical and current trends and characteristics of the community and consider implications for the future.
    • Self examination of the community's strengths and vulnerabilities in terms of financial, social, human, and natural assets.
    Workshop #2 - Where Do We Want To Be?
    • Develop a collective vision for the future of the community. Findings for each community will be combined to develop a collective vision for the future of the county.
    • Assess the opportunities for and threats to achieving that vision.
    Workshop #3 - How Do We Get There?
    • Identify and frame overarching development issues
    • Identify existing resources to help address these issue
    • Explore alternative ways to organize the community for action

Year 2

  1. Deploying Community Network

    Each county received a local version of the Blacksburg Electronic Village services referred to as BEV in a Box customized for them. Training sessions were held to familiarize team members with each of the services which were deployed in stages. Each county held a public launch of their community networks to let residents know about the various offerings available to them.

  2. Technology Assessments and Master Plans

    This is described in more detail in the Technology Assessment and Master Plan section of this report.

  3. Launching Virtual Business Incubator and Community Connections

    These packages were designed to allow home based and micro businesses (five employees or less) as well as community organizations an opportunity to establish a presence on the Internet without incurring any overhead. These packages consisted of Web hosting, two email accounts and an online mailing list of up to 100 subscribers. Training was provided to those who signed up for these services on how to put up their Web sites. Interns working with the BEV assisted some of these businesses and organizations with their Web sites as well.

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