Why is technology missing from CNCS's strategic plan?

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, is readying its strategic goals for 2011-2015 [PDF]. Conspicuously absent from its goals or plan is nearly any mention of technology or media. Their proposed priorities are:

  • Economic Opportunity
  • Education
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Disaster Services
  • Healthy Futures
  • Veterans & Military Families

Of course, technology and media can play an important role within each of these 5 priorities, but past experience has shown CNCS reluctant to explore solutions without an explicit mandate, despite a strategy to “Identify and invest in innovative local solutions, as well as the infrastructure that supports them.”

Explicitly acknowledging public media and technology infrastructure as a necessity in support of these priorities would enable many critical and impactful projects to receive support from CNCS; support for which they might otherwise be determined ineligible.

Where technology is mentioned is within CNCS’s strategic goal to fortify management and internal operations:

CNCS is committed to setting and sustaining the highest standards of stewardship. Thus building upon our current infrastructure, we will strengthen and stabilize our IT systems, grantmaking and grant management processes, human capital and transparency efforts so that CNCS is optimally positioned to enable grantees and service participants to succeed.

A focus on building IT capacity internally would be valuable, for example CNCS’s 2010 annual report recently announced “First high-speed internet access for 35 of the 52 field offices”.

Listening sessions with CNCS stakeholders [PDF] over the proposed 5-year strategic goals have identified the opportunity a focus on technology can offer for CNCS:

Challenges: Participants cited challenges related to access to opportunities, as well as at-risk populations in need of skills development and job readiness.

Opportunities: […] Additional opportunities exist to engage potential job providers and skill developers as CNCS partners and to advocate for the growing role of technology in employment and education.

Whether this stakeholder feedback will be integrated into CNCS’s strategic plan at an actionable level remains to be seen.

One place for optimism in the strategy brief is the strategy to “Embed service-based approaches with federal peers and partners that align with CNCS priorities.”

This strategy leverages CNCS’ national leadership role and potential to catalyze efforts that feature service-based solutions to pressing needs. For example, given our priorities in education, health, economic opportunity, the environment, military families and veterans and disaster services we will seek, and create where necessary, opportunities to partner and collaborate with other federal agencies and organizations. Specifically, we will prioritize those opportunities where national service combined with the capabilities and resources of our partners’ yields stronger, sustainable and scalable results.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan recommends just such a partnership between CNCS and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—Recommendation 9.3—in the creation of a Digital Literacy Corps. Time will tell whether CNCS or NTIA will have the capacity to develop such a large-scale partnership.

Despite the opportunity for federal-level partnership, much of CNCS’s resources are aimed at generating local non-profit partnerships. Without a specific focus on technology or media in CNCS’s strategic goals many innovative technology and media projects—and the individuals and communities they support—will not benefit from CNCS’s capacity-building service model.


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