On October 15, 2003, a total of 34 representatives from 23 Community Technology Centers (CTCs) and 8 organizations that support the mission of equal access to technology from around the state converged on Ohio's state capitol. Their mission for the day was to educate legislators about the valuable role Community Technology Centers play in providing free, local access to computer and information technology. This event marks the first combined, coordinated effort of dozens of activists, community leaders and volunteers to establish the legitimacy of the community technology cause in Ohio.
Organizing the Event
As with organizing any great event, the Ohio Community Computing Network (OCCN) relied on a few very important partners. Through the Nonprofits at the Statehouse Program, the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations (OANO) made all legislative appointments for the day. Having a third party make the appointments saved OCCN hours of staff time. State Representative Jon Peterson's office was instrumental in arranging the use of a large meeting room in an office building that houses legislators and is across the street from the State House. We learned the location of the meeting space is very important. Our location was perfect. Participants were able to come back to the meeting space between appointments and legislators were easily able to join us for lunch. The meeting space was free and had a great view of the city. The only downside to the location was the parking costs for the participants. We did offer a shuttle service to help participants avoid the parking costs but only two participants made use of this service. Participants did not comment on the parking issue on their feedback forms so maybe the parking cost is not as irritating as we thought it might be.
Organized in groups of two to three, the participants met with a total of 31 legislators or their aides. Keeping the group size at a maximum of three worked out well, as did grouping the participants based on geography. We found we needed to be very flexible regarding the groups. A few registered participants did not show up so we rearranged their groups to ensure at least one person attended all scheduled meetings. Next year, we will be sure to stress the importance of registered participants giving us advance notice if they cannot attend.
We did not anticipate contacts being made in the hallways and elevators. Some of the informal contacts were arranged (by standing outside the door as a session ended) and some were accidental (recognizing a legislator in an elevator). One participant was very impressed with the hallway and elevator meetings. He suggested next year maybe we should schedule time for participants to just walk around the State House with name badges hanging around their necks.
Participants were amazed at how many legislators and aides were not aware of the existence of Community Technology Centers. Most legislators and aides were very cordial to the participants. A few asked if we were looking for funding. We were not. The purpose of the day was to educate legislators as to the value of Community Technology Centers.
Via the feedback form, participants expressed their appreciation of the training provided prior to the legislative meetings. Both the OANO Director of Public Policy and State Representative Jon Peterson spoke to the participants prior to their meetings. They stressed the importance of being prepared and keeping the message clear and concise. Representative Peterson also gave great tips on how to make a personal connection with a legislator that would result in memorable meeting.
Appointments were made by OANO. Next year we will provide them with all the participants' names a whole month in advance so they can give us the list of appointments two weeks prior to the event. This will allow OCCN to provide the appointment list to the participants so they can research the legislators they will be meeting. Having the appointment list in advance will also allow us to schedule the lunch when the majority of the participants are present. The lunch buffet was good idea because although participants were available at different times, we had invited the legislators to join us for lunch at 12:30, when most of the participants were in appointments. Next year we could turn lunch into a celebration of Community Technology. One way to do so would be to invite more of OCCN's partners to join us for lunch.
The participant and legislator folders that OCCN prepared looked great. The legislative folders included an OCCN Brochure, an OCCN CTC Success Stories Brochure, technology statistics for OH, the OCCN History, and my business card (OCCN Executive Director). The participant folders included the same documents plus the appointments schedule, Legislative Talking Points (borrowed from the community technology education day in CA), and an OCCN VISTA Program Description. Participants had been encouraged to bring brochures from their CTCs but many did not. Next year we will be more emphatic. Multiple participants stated they wished they had brought PR materials from their CTC. Governor's Resolution
Bob Taft, the Governor of Ohio, declared October 15, 2003 to be Ohio Community Technology Day throughout Ohio. An important lesson we learned is that requesting a resolution from the governor is not difficult. After a series of phone calls, we learned how to request a resolution, what to include in the request and the advance time needed. We asked a state organization and a state representative to write letters of support which may have aided our request.
Via the "Debriefing Questionnaire" (or feedback form) participants commented on how valuable the day was. Meeting with legislators was a new experience for many of the participants. They appreciated the opportunity to participate in the legislative day, the tips on how to convey issues to legislators, the tour of the state house and the quality organization of the event.
Participants stated they would like more time to network with the other participants and they would like to see more than two or three representatives. We had kept the day short to allow participants to return home early but next year we could take advantage of the surfeit of CTC reps being in one place. We could also establish an arrangement with a hotel for a discounted rate to encourage participants to spend the night prior to the event. Multiple participants stated that driving to Columbus very early in the morning was a challenge and we assume it was a deterrent to others participating.
A few participants suggested we encourage youth to participate next year. This year's event was held on a school day but we will ask the participants their opinions concerning the youth missing school or the scheduling of a Community Technology Day during the summer.
The participants enjoyed the lunch (which was prepared by the OCCN staff the day prior to the event). A few participants suggested a morning snack be offered during the legislative training. We will do so next year. Press
One newspaper responded to our press release. We need a reason for the press to show up. Next year we will try to have one of the mobile labs parked in front of the State House. We had this idea at the last minute this year which made getting the lab to Columbus (from Akron) and having it staffed the whole time very difficult. The good news is we learned that parking a vehicle on the corner sidewalk in front of the State House is not difficult to arrange. Vision for 2004
We kept the 2003 Ohio Community Technology Day simple and straightforward. Our purpose was to educate legislators. The day began with a discussion of how to speak to legislators and then we attended pre-arranged appointments with legislators. The participants were comfortable with the agenda and ended the day energized and happy they had attended.
The 2004 Ohio Community Technology Day will be very similar to this year's day with a major difference being we will have a legislative agenda. We will be promoting specific state legislation to develop funding for Community Technology Centers in Ohio. We expect we will have more participants next year. We expect at least 60 representatives of CTCs will participate.
Next year's event will be just as successful if we continue to have the support of our partners, especially the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations and State Representative Jon Peterson. And of course, just as important, the dedication and hard work of the OCCN staff.
Overall, the Ohio Community Technology Education Day was successful in bringing the accomplishments of Ohio's CTCs to the attention of state legislators. The day catalyzed an enthusiasm for the cause that signifies an important step in Community Technology's progress towards political viability.
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