How Mississippi Stakeholders Collaborated to Narrow the Digital Divide – Digital Promise

How Mississippi Stakeholders Collaborated to Narrow the Digital Divide

July 28, 2022 | By

The summer and fall of 2020 were pivotal periods for the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) Mississippi Connects initiative. The program was on a tight timeline to equip every public school student in the state with a digital device and provide the training, connectivity, curriculum, and other resources needed to optimize students’ and teachers’ use of the devices. This effort took place at a time when much of the nation was facing laptop shortages.

To deliver on its promise, the MDE was charged with numerous critical tasks. MDE leaders refined device orders from districts as part of the state’s bulk device purchasing plan. Officials coordinated supply chain and delivery logistics with the technology solutions provider charged with sourcing the devices and making the deliveries. And MDE staff audited purchases and processed reimbursements to local school districts. These efforts were all crucial to Mississippi Connects’ broader vision of providing rigorous, engaging, and secure digital learning experiences to all students in the state.

Cultivating a diverse set of stakeholders

How did the MDE successfully manage these efforts? The answer is that departmental leaders had established a coalition of diverse stakeholders—including technology vendors, state lawmakers, local school districts, and the state’s nonprofit and philanthropic community. The support of so many stakeholders—each possessing its own area of expertise—enabled the successful distribution of nearly 400,000 computing devices to teachers and students throughout the state. What’s more, as Mississippi Connects took off, leaders at the MDE continued to involve and draw on the expertise of this coalition of stakeholders—a practice that continues to the present.

Who is involved and how does this partnership model work?

Leaders at the Mississippi Department of Education kept the Mississippi Connects initiative front-and-center for stakeholders. This meant spending time and energy cultivating personal relationships and making the mechanics of the program visible to stakeholders and the public. Here are some examples of how this worked in practice:

  • Early planning support to develop a cost model for Mississippi Connects came from the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy, an umbrella organization for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations across the state of Mississippi. The Alliance advocated for funding from the state and helped champion a plan that provided a constellation of services and supports beyond the initial distribution of devices.
  • Mississippi state legislators, the lieutenant governor, and the governor all supported the project, ultimately allocating $200 million of funding for device procurement, software, teacher coaching and professional development, and internet connectivity. Crucially, state legislators acted quickly and permitted a change in procurement processes to allow for bulk purchasing through the state for districts that opted to participate in the program.
  • Through surveys, phone calls, and other communications, the leaders of local Mississippi school districts shared their digital learning needs and provided feedback to the MDE. Local school districts could choose devices for their students from a menu of options and continue to work with the state education agency on digital learning initiatives and professional development.
  • Leaders at the MDE were in near constant communication with executives from CDW-G, the technology solutions provider that earned the contract bid for the distribution of Windows devices. Together, they responded to shipment delays and other supply chain woes and coordinated with districts. Intel provided strategic support around device inventory early phase of the program. Other hardware and software vendors who were involved in the project worked together to share best practices with stakeholders.

Support from so many corners of the state—and beyond—continues to be important now that Mississippi Connects has moved beyond device distribution to coaching, professional development, data infrastructure and analysis, telehealth, and continued investment in connectivity.

As other districts and states work to close the digital divide, they’d be wise to follow the collaborative approach of Mississippi Connects. The necessary stakeholders will vary from community to community, and strategies for engaging these groups will look different from place to place, as research on effective models for closing the digital divide makes clear. But, the Mississippi Connects effort shows that when done thoughtfully and strategically, breaking down silos and collaborating across sectors can have huge payoffs for students, teachers, and communities.

To learn more about Mississippi Connects and its efforts to narrow the digital divide, visit its website and explore this infographic.

Digital Promise Senior Learning Sciences Researcher, Vanessa Peters Hinton, collaborated with Mississippi Connects on implementation research about the initiative.

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