Gaining stakeholder buy-in for an LDS is critical for the long-term sustainability of the project, as well as for the effective design and utilization of the system. Unfortunately, developing a system, even one that will greatly benefit the entire organization and its stakeholders, may not on its own be enough to get everyone on board. Agencies often need to also "sell" the idea to gain support for the LDS, and many have pursued different tactics to do so. This section offers best practices to help your education agency face the marketing challenge.
Cast a wide net to promote the system, reaching out to stakeholders throughout the education community and focusing on all levels. Present the project to education agency executives and decisionmakers at the top, focusing on the policymaking advantages of the LDS. Brief them regularly on the progress made, as well as how the system can help achieve the organization's goals. Buy-in at the top may also increase when the LDS team moves forward with the project—contacting districts or schools for data, for instance. In addition, take a grassroots approach to publicizing the project. Make sure that information and support travel up, as well as down, the organizational ladder and ensure that all stakeholders realize that the LDS will be critical to the organization's day-to-day operations.
Put special emphasis on the business side of the organization. While the project will need support from your organization's technology team, buy-in from nontechnical staff is critical. Involving a wide variety of stakeholders in the design process will help everyone feel connected to the project and gain early buy-in (see chapter 4). Get input from program area staff, district representatives (for a state LDS), school administrators (particularly important for a district LDS), teachers, and other interested parties before designing your system; and let everyone know you are incorporating their feedback. What data do they want? What information will help them save time and be more successful? What tools will best suit their needs? How will privacy be ensured? (See chapter 4.)
Communicating about an LDS development project can be a major challenge. However, getting everyone to understand what the new system will be, and what benefits it will offer, is important if the project is to succeed.
Start with a clear vision for the project. Communicate it consistently, and be prepared to repeat your message multiple times. Frame the LDS around organizational goals and how the new system will better equip everyone to achieve them (ESP Solutions 2007). Get the word out:
|What will the new system be? How will it be different from the current system?|
|Why is the system being developed? How will it benefit the education community? Stress streamlined daily operations, time and money savings through increased efficiency, quicker access to data and better informed decisionmaking, and improved services. Make sure the LDS is not perceived as a burden. (See chapter 5 of Book One: What is an LDS?)|
|How will the system better equip the organization to meet its goals?|
|How will the data be protected?|
|How will the culture of the educational community need to change in terms of the way people think about and use data?|
|Also provide frequent updates:|
|Who is backing the project? What support and resources have been won (governor buy-in, grants awarded, etc.)?|
|What progress has been made toward system goals? Which benefits and functionalities have already been achieved, and which will materialize in the future?|
|What is the timeline for the system? Be realistic in your estimates so that expectations are appropriate. Highlight planned milestones and gain support for reaching them.|
While many will get on board early without much convincing, there will probably be individuals who are not so willing to embrace the project. For instance, many schools and districts do not see data systems as critical to their day-to-day operations. Show them the value of the system. Win these people over by showing them that the LDS will improve their days and make their jobs easier. For example, what information will they be able to get through the portal? What reports will be made available to them? What data entry will become automated? How will greater efficiency improve the data's timeliness and usefulness? How will better information equip them to make better decisions and spend their time and resources more effectively? Note that improvements do not always need to be high tech. Often, the changes that please local staff the most are simple ones that save them time every day.
Explain why the system they are using and the data it contains are inadequate. For example, the current system may collect and store redundant and/or conflicting data in various silos, rather than collecting data once and storing them in a centralized, integrated, and authoritative data storage facility. Data entry may be laborious, or getting information back in a timely manner may be difficult. Then show how the new system will address these issues and improve their data. For example, if your development project involves the construction of a data warehouse, identify all of the silos the LDS will replace. While the silos may have served the state well in the past, explain that the new data warehouse will be better for reasons x, y, and z. For example, how will the new system be different from—and better than—existing transactional or other types of historical data systems in use? What insights can new data linkages provide that could not be derived from a system of disparate silos? Ease anxieties by stressing that the system is being implemented to help staff, not to replace them.
When all else fails, more coercive measures may become necessary. For instance, an executive such as a superintendent might send out letters or emails to noncompliant districts requiring them to get on board. Some states make compliance with the LDS mandatory. If that is the case in your state, communications can be more forceful than merely offering encouragement.
This following plan has been adapted from "Strategic Communications Planning." See this resource for more guidance on developing a communication plan.
When trying to get the word out, having the right people promoting the project is important. Identify these passionate communicators among your stakeholder groups and deploy them to talk with their peers. Energized district leaders, for instance, can talk or give presentations to other district leaders, sharing with them the benefits of the LDS and the status of the implementation process. They can also solicit valuable feedback. Enthusiastic legislators, governors, state superintendents, and other high-level leaders can also make a strong impression and help overcome resistance and remove political barriers. These high profile advocates, or "champions," can speak at meetings or communicate through mailings to raise awareness and get the system on people's radars. Alternatively, these roles might be filled by outside consultants who can focus exclusively on the marketing effort. Either way, these champions should be knowledgeable about the system and the progress towards its implementation.
While agencies have used a vast arsenal of communication techniques, a large share of the information about the project should be shared during internal and external stakeholder meetings. Presentations in these meetings or at conferences (both in-person and web-based) should include progress updates. Training sessions and other development activities are also great venues for marketing the system. Other means of communication include email campaigns; paper mailings such as letters, newsletters, or brochures; and press releases to announce the project and milestone achievements. If the media are contacted, staff must be ready to effectively and consistently respond to their questions and concerns if support is to be gained from the general public. Assign specific personnel as the go-to people for specific types of information on the system, and direct calls and questions to them. Agencies might also consider creating a web page or site dedicated to the project, to which stakeholders can be directed for up-to-date information.
Agencies must be able to disseminate information quickly in a format that is understandable to nonspecialists. Again, have a clear message and make sure that your audiences understand what you are saying. Avoid miscommunication, for example, by limiting the use of jargon in general presentations and communications. Agencies might also consider creating a common glossary of terms for stakeholders to reference. (DQC 2006b)
Communications should be used to keep everyone excited throughout the project. An LDS development project plan that includes many short-term deliverables will lend itself to a successful marketing effort. Show progress, however small, by announcing achievements and delivering results along the way. With the completion of each deliverable, a separate communication can be disseminated to celebrate each little "win." These victories can be advertised via the media and throughout the organization. But be careful not to promise anything you cannot deliver quickly. If results are not forthcoming when promised, or if your first success is long to come and subsequent ones infrequent, faith in the project and your ability to create and maintain support may be diminished (DQC 2006b). And, in addition to talking to staff about the project, project managers should also acknowledge a job well done. A little recognition or token of appreciation for those working on the project will go a long way in keeping everyone motivated and invested in the project.
Finally, the system and the data themselves are another important marketing vehicle. Along the way, get the data out and show stakeholders its usefulness. Further down the line, when parts of the system are ready for testing, pilots are also an effective means of winning over key stakeholders. They get districts and schools interested in the system, let them try it out, and give them the chance to help improve it and resolving any kinks (ESP Solutions 2007). If a new data mart is created, for instance, let the appropriate stakeholders explore it and see how it will benefit them. If an analysis tool is created for teachers or administrators, let them see its value and chime in on ways to make it more useful.