Chapter Four - Winning Community Support
Successful technology programs of the next decade will establish strong linkages with a widening community, recognizing that an extensive investment in equipment requires a firm foundation of external support and a broadened conception of community. In addition, schools will do a better job of marketing services to traditional client groups.
The health and future of district technology programs may rely increasingly upon the thoughtful cultivation of powerful constituencies hitherto neglected or ignored. Since the proportion of taxpayers with students in the public schools may drop as low as 20 per cent in many places, schools cannot expect to maintain funding unless some action is taken to reach a broader group. The funding of anything perceived as innovative or supplementary has become problematic during times of scarce resources.
I. Marketing vs. Sales
Schools must begin marketing technology programs and programs of all kinds. What do we mean by marketing? Marketing requires listening and learning while sales emphasizes persuasion. A school leader emphasizing a marketing approach begins by identifying all clients and potential clients of the school. He or she would then learn everything possible about the preferences, likes and dislikes, and needs of these clients.
The next step is to bring services in line with what is learned so that they match needs. Even then the leader may not rest, for it still remains to alert the clients - including the non-traditional groups newly identified - to the match between these services and their interests. When the school leader successfully awakens enthusiasm for school services in the area of technology, she or he soon finds groups using schools which had previously considered them off-limits.
In the past, when we worked with publics in the field of education, we had a tendency to adopt the sales model of persuasion. Having a product in which we believed, we saw our task as convincing the public, and a fairly narrow public, at that.
This chapter will explore the potential of marketing strategies to strengthen relationships with both the traditional client base and the new clients alluded to earlier.
II. New Clients and Market Niches
To broaden our client base, we look for market niches we have ignored in the past. We might begin by re-examining and challenging many of the underlying assumptions which characterize schooling. We begin with what Barker calls a ìparadigm shift.
The old paradigm (assumptions, rules and boundaries) governing schooling included the following beliefs in many districts:
1) Schools are for young people between the ages of 5 and 19.
2) Schools open in the morning and close in the afternoon.
3) Technology programs are for young people.
What if we introduced the following notions as substitutes?
1) Schools are for all townspeople.
2) Schools - like ATMs - are open at all hours they are needed.
3) Technology programs are for all townspeople.
4) School leaders are marketing maestros
As Tucker demonstrates in his book on driving forces of change, changing demographics have great significance for schools. Those school districts which focus all of their energies on a shrinking client base - the group Tucker calls "the baby bust" - risk starvation and decline. Dividing the population into three main groups (waves): the mature market, the baby boom and the baby bust, Tucker points out the following:
People over sixty-five are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Population.
People over fifty 25 percent of the population in 1990 are the most affluent consumer group in history. The fifty-plus age group controls two-thirds of the net worth of all U.S. households, and accounts for 40 percent of consumer spending.
Eighty percent of all luxury travel in America is purchased by people over fifty-five.
At the same time this group is growing in numbers and purchasing power, the youngest part of the population -- the traditional school clientele has been shrinking. The other main group, the baby boomers, continue to grow in power and affluence as they age. The number of households headed by those between thirty-five and fifty-four will grow by 50 percent by the year 2000.î
Schools might seize upon this information as an opportunity and ask how they might serve the interests of the mature market with a technology program? the baby boomers?
III. Reaching the Mature Market
Beginning with the mature market, find out everything you can about this group. Take the time to identify their leaders. Meet with individuals and ask many questions. How do they like to spend their time? What are their interests? How can your technology program match those interests and needs?
Note the emphasis upon travel by this group. Is that true in your community? If so, you can offer all kinds of valuable services by showing members of this group how to make use of telecommunications to make airline reservations and comparison shop.
Redefine school hours so that the mature market can gain convenient access to the technology. Open the school media center to the community several nights each week and on Saturday mornings. Run classes showing people how to use the OAG to explore plane schedules. Take advantage of the electronic information services available through databases such as DIALOG and CompuServe. Develop an inexpensive little flier which can be included in the same envelope with quarterly tax bills. Next time you are planning a trip . . . Make it clear that the district technology is available for use by the mature market.
Gather the organizational leaders of the mature market together and discuss communications. How are they creating and distributing their newsletters for various clubs and groups? Do they have access to desktop publishing and database software to print mailing labels? If not, run classes and teach them how to take advantage of these technologies. Provide convenient access to the technology throughout the week so they can benefit from their investment of tax dollars. Why should they have to buy computers, scanners and laser printers when they could be available from 4:00 P.M. daily?
Is the mature market in your town politically active? Do they follow legislation in Washington or your state capitol? Why not run courses on how to track legislation through the various database services?
Does this group enjoy investing in the market? Do they have investment clubs? Are they familiar with the many services offered by Dow Jones? Another potential series of classes.
How about communicating with people around the country and the world? If this group loves to hop into a van or RV and tour the country, why not show them the myriad bulletin boards available on GEnie and CompuServe? Before they leave on their trip to New Mexico, they can develop electronic friendships with people from that region who can suggest great restaurants, spectacular views and traffic patterns worth missing.
Does the mature market have a strong interest in continuing education? Would your distance learning technology help provide evening or daytime classes especially suited to this group?
Electronic arts and crafts? One way to convince this group that these technologies are powerful tools of invention and expression is to sit them down for ten sessions with Adobe Illustrator or Aldus Freehand. Take them far enough into the software so they feel its power. Scan a photograph and show them how to modify it with Darkroom.
Introduce them to the magic of CD-ROM and videodiscs. Let them dance through Shakespeare's collected works or visit the Louvre. Shopping? Show them the advantages of comparison shopping by computer.
Gather the leaders of the mature market together and share information about Apple's grants of equipment to community groups. Offer to help write the grant proposal.
There is a tremendous amount of technology power going underutilized each day in schools across the land. After millions of dollars are invested in wonderful equipment, it sits unused for 16 hours each day. Some studies have shown that many computers, especially stand-alones in classrooms, are dark even during class hours. If we could re-think our utilization patterns, we could double the availability of the hardware, for students as well as the adults in the community.
If students do not have home computers, how do they write term papers and essays? Do the wealthy students have an unfair advantage? By keeping labs open late afternoon and some evenings, we serve the mature market, the baby boomers and the students all at the same time. As a side benefit we begin to build community across groups at a time when groups are segmenting and separating. We begin to heal the divisions which so often show up at election time.
IV. Reaching the Baby Boomers
How do we broaden our marketing campaign to include the baby boomers and all other important constituencies? We can replicate many of the same strategies used for the mature market, beginning, for example, with the leadership of important groups throughout the community.
Hold a coffee for the officers of all clubs, service organizations and associations within the community. Many of these groups will be paying a premium for the design of newsletters, for mailing services and for printing. Show them how they can more than cut those expense in half by taking advantage of school equipment. Open the doors on a regularly scheduled basis during the business day and in the evenings so that business people and others can work side by side with students.
The advantage to the small business or club is the lowering of costs without investing big dollars in hardware. They may decide to purchase an inexpensive computer to compose their newsletters, but it will save them a bundle to rely upon school equipment for high quality printing, scanning, CD-ROM storage of graphics, etc.
There is no way that this chapter can anticipate all of the useful strategies you might design to match the special needs and interests of your community groups. That can best be done by your asking great questions and doing some serious listening.
The important thing to remember about this marketing approach is the need to update one's understanding of client needs and interests on a frequent basis. Decades of practice have accustomed schools to the notion of steady states, conditions during which all systems operate smoothly with little adjustment and high predictability. Those days, if they ever existed, lie behind us.
School leaders will use at least five strategies to maintain current understanding of client needs:
1) Surveys of attitudes, preferences and needs
2) Individual interviews
3) Focus groups
4) Informal observation
5) Scanning of the horizon for new developments, trends and driving forces
V. Reaching the Traditional Client Base
Using some of the same marketing strategies listed above, most schools could dramatically improve services to students and their families while solidifying their support base for further exploration of technologies.
Schools might begin their marketing with questioning which taps client needs and attitudes broadly and then focus in on ways to deliver technology programming effectively. For too long, schools have acted as if their clients are captive and have no place to go.
In many cases the strategy of developing school programs without "catering" or "pandering" to client needs and interests has been couched in professional philosophies and values. With some justification, many educators feel that some parents can and do make poor decisions for their children and that it is the job of educators to protect children from such bad influences, whether it be the parent who pushes too hard, the parent who neglects, or the parent who abuses.
The challenge is to pose the right questions to find out how both students and families are feeling about key issues and then create programs which meet those client needs which make sense and reasonably match district values.
Once committed to marketing, a school staff might discover that its parents would be much happier if the school day extended from 7:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening so they would be able to cover their work responsibilities without worrying about taking care of their children. The staff might reasonably complain that the parents are too little committed to nurturing their children and the schools are being forced into baby-sitting. At the same time, the economy and the nature of work may have changed so dramatically that these parents feel that they have little choice but to both work long hours, and they will seek alternative care for their children regardless of how the school responds to their needs. In many cases, a single parent is struggling to raise a family on a limited income and cannot afford the luxury of greeting the children at 3:30 with milk and cookies. An extended school day might be educationally and socially preferable to a hodge podge of informally created baby-sitting alternatives.
Marketing surveys are available to help schools begin this questioning process. If those surveys fail to touch upon key concerns, each school may add items to fit local circumstances and technology issues. Appendix E offers some items to support questioning with regard to technologies.
In most districts there will be substantial numbers of parents do not understand how new technologies might be central to the education of a child for citizenship in the next century. They may have too little personal contact with such technologies in their own work places to understand their significance. At the same time, the schools may not have been using technologies in ways that are analogous to work place applications. One of the goals of a marketing campaign is to bring parents into more active contact with the new technologies so that they gain a personal affection for the power of these technologies to empower decision-making, communication, reasoning and performance.
Ameritech has launched an exciting experiment, Project Homeroom, with high schools in the Chicago area which provides hundreds of families with home computers to link teachers, parents and students via Prodigy. Parents begin to see the dramatic ways the new technologies may shift communication and learning.
The marketing should include students as well as parents, since many schools have inadvertently fallen into patterns which make technology more available or more attractive to some groups than others. In many schools we have seen patterns of use reflecting gender, race, socio-economic status and preferences for various subjects such as math and science. In order to change these patterns to achieve broader acceptance of new technologies by students, we must take the time to gather data and question those students.
If we find that young women in our high school spend far less time than young men using computer labs outside of school hours, for example, we need to ask them why that might be so. Our questioning may uncover social reasons that can be addressed through some form of new club or organization which reverses the trend and makes it socially acceptable to visit the labs after school. Each school will face challenges unique to its setting, but there is a solid research base now on strategies which can be used to close the gender gap.
If a school invests in understanding its traditional client base and developing technology programs designs to meet client needs and interests, the resulting support base will amply repay the school staff for the time invested.
School leaders must redefine their job assignment to include marketing campaigns which will broaden community involvement and support for programs in order to avoid a decade of declining resources and disappointment. Schools must also redefine their missions to include all learners within the community, consciously pursuing and courting each of the three age waves. We must learn from the dinosaurís example and adjust our behaviors before the arrival of the glaciers.