A Fool-Proof Recipe for Stakeholder Engagement

State Broadband Office

Few things are as controversial as family recipes that rely on the same ingredients but have different preparation processes. 

Let’s be honest. Can anyone really make a rub like your proverbial Uncle Pete’s?   

States, much like families, all have a desired outcome for their stakeholder engagement efforts but take different approaches. What’s important, however, is that states are in agreement of the essential ingredients to engage stakeholders for BEAD and beyond. 


Build as much of a robust network of loosely organized (yet effective!) task forces for local communities across your states as possible 

State broadband offices should establish a directory of stakeholders for communities across their entire state. Listed in this directory should be elected officials, nonprofit leaders, grassroots volunteers and key community leaders, regional planning organizations and economic development officials. 

“Many states will see that there’s going to be key individuals in each community that wear multiple hats mostly on a volunteer basis,” Earnie Holtrey, Indiana’s former state broadband director, said. “That’s where we found them in Indiana whether it was economic development officers at the county level or really passionate individuals who had taken up the cause for years.” 

Don’t forget to look: Looking to these local community leaders to figure out best practices for promoting events and call-to-actions. Some communities might be heavily engaged on Facebook or others might be really engaged in a local elected official’s newsletter. 

“It’s important to leverage these existing resources and expertise within these local communities to enhance broadband infrastructure and services,” Holtrey said. 

Meet the stakeholders where they are and actually listen to them. 

Don’t: Make rural and underserved communities, anchor institutions, such as libraries, schools and healthcare centers and Tribal communities an afterthought. 

State broadband offices should be present in communities across their state to learn about the on-the-ground challenges faced by stakeholders and sharing how they plan to solve them. 

Venneth Iyengar, executive director of Connect Louisiana, and Thomas Tyler, deputy director of Connect Louisiana, have built a network that has allowed them to travel to all 64 of Louisiana’s parishes and over 100 towns and villages

Next door in Mississippi, Sally Doty, director of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM), has consistently been on the road traveling across the 48,430 square miles of the Magnolia State since the agency’s first event in October 2022.  

“You have to reach people in different ways,” Doty said. “You’ve got to use every different method you can to try and reach out to people.” 

One of the best methods to ensure that you’re listening to stakeholders is establishing clear feedback mechanisms that will continuously gather input from local communities. Doing so ensures that the strategic plan remains responsive to evolving needs.

It’s vital for state broadband offices to conduct thorough needs assessments with a reliable partner. These assessments involve numerous tools, including broadband audits and performance test and surveys, to understand the current state of broadband access, gaps and challenges being faced by various local communities. 

“Learn as much as you can about the current status, short term solutions and key players,” Holtrey said. “Doing so allows for states to set application guidelines so providers who best serve the needs of each specific community can be awarded the funding,” Holtrey added. 

Go easy on your expectations for your audience’s knowledge level on broadband, BEAD, and anything else that we think about non-stop every day. 

Access and affordability of broadband service is a crucial issue with enormous impact on the quality of life for millions of Americans. 

Now that we’ve clarified this, it’s important to remember that community members and constituents are thinking about broadband in conjunction with so many other items, such as working their day jobs, spending time with their families and doing anything besides battling special interests and monopolies. 

This means to be gracious to your stakeholders if they ask you to repeat yourself, lack a clear understanding of the timeline and are completely unfamiliar with jargon, acronyms, the inner workings of performance bonds, or anything else that state broadband offices spend a bulk of their time thinking about. 

Help these communities increase their knowledge by conducting policy workshops and forums to discuss regulatory and policy changes that can facilitate broadband deployment. 

Provide an extra serving of clear expectations and transparency 

State broadband offices should provide clear expectations for stakeholders’ efforts in closing the digital divide. Each request should be specific, measurable, manageable and lean heavily upon their strengths within their community or organizations. 

One of the best ways to establish clear expectations for state broadband offices is through documentation and transparency. 

“Be sure to document the engagement process and ensure transparency in decision-making,” Holtrey said. “Share relevant information with the public and stakeholders to build trust and understanding.” 

Don’t withhold a single tool to help your state’s broadband efforts 

State broadband offices should be sure to not leave a single tool unused in your efforts to close their state’s digital divide. 

Be sure to explore public-private partnerships as an opportunity to leverage private sector resources and expertise. Don’t forget to engage with local internet service providers (ISPs), telecommunications providers and rural electric co-ops to enhance broadband coverage. 

State broadband offices have ample resources available, like the Ready platform which includes mapping tools and data analysis, which can be used to prioritize investment and deployment strategies. 

“It’s important to remember that the NTIA is serious about stakeholder engagement and that it will be important throughout the entire BEAD process,” Holtrey said. “It’s bigger than just the challenge process and will be necessary with future projects.” 

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