Education is a consistent topic of passion in Idaho, as the state has notoriously ranked near the bottom nationwide in several metrics. As a primarily rural state, the education landscape largely varies across urban, rural and remote school districts. Formed to draw attention to the greatest education issues facing rural communities, the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho was created to inform key stakeholders in Idaho and states with similar education climates. ROCI brought together a handful of the nation’s finest, and most passionate, education researchers to dig deep and expose the unique needs of rural students, educators and school districts. The research encompassed a wide variety of rural education issues, spanning from budget constraints and college attendance patterns to technology access and the specific challenges facing minorities.
Peer-reviewed white papers produced over the course of two years by the ROCI task force were released on a bi-weekly schedule. Given the vast interest and robust nature of the topic, the outreach strategy and audience differed with each unique research paper. Author name recognition, digestibility of the research, available resources, and political climate were each taken into consideration when determining outreach. The main audience segments included policymakers, education groups, business leaders, students, higher education institutions and school districts. Channels utilized were based on the audience and topic.
All of ROCI’s research was originally published as white papers which were distributed via email to key constituents. Many of these white papers were repurposed in the form of blog posts, Op-Eds, key takeaways and infographics to expand reach within target audiences and present the research in the most appropriate form of readability. Nearly half of ROCI’s publications were pushed to local, statewide or national media outlets, as well as industry-specific blogs and journals. In addition, panel events, face-to-face meetings, webinars and conference calls were facilitated with ROCI task force members presenting their research to support white papers. These tactics had the most robust impact, as the environment in which research was presented drove insightful conversation around these issues.
ROCI produced 19 white papers with the following reach and engagement:
- Thirty-three separate outlets covered ROCI research or published editorials supporting the research. Seven of those publications had national audiences, including Education Week, Eduwonk and Real Clear Education. Five of those publications published numerous stories on ROCI research.
- Thirty-five Idaho legislators participated in a ROCI event or read a ROCI white paper. Eleven of those 35 participated in numerous events.
- Nine education groups at the local and state level participated in one or more ROCI events or read one or more ROCI white papers, including current Idaho State Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra and former Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna.
- Five Idaho higher education institutions participated in one or more ROCI events or read one or more ROCI white papers.
- Six business/ cultural groups participated in a ROCI event or read one or more ROCI white papers, such as the Idaho Association for Commerce and Industry and Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
- Eighteen school districts from Idaho and Oregon participated in one or more ROCI events or read one or more ROCI white papers.
- ROCI’s awareness campaign was highly successful. Through the different tactics implemented, ROCI was able to reach various audiences and generate thoughtful conversation around education issues in rural communities across the nation.