Building a Network of Influence for Pathways

So much of our work in helping communities plan and implement pathways systems revolves around helping people develop new vision – a better approach to education that adopts the value of career-connected learning for all students, whatever their preferred education path beyond high school.

To affect the new pathways approach, people first need to adopt new ideas and perspectives.  The best way to implement change is through person-to-person sharing.  That’s why we really need to think about people in our circles who already have influence, and then leverage that influence by sharing ideas and facts about pathways with them.

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 12 of my book, the Power and Promise of Pathways, Focusing on the Notion of “Influentials”:

“In planning your adoption cycle, you should do some eyeballing of your stakeholders, both inside the education system and among non-education partners. Within each stakeholder group (students, teachers, counselors, community non-profits, employer partners), try to discern who might be the innovators, early adopters, or the early majority.  The diffusion research Everett Rogers cites[i] tells us that we are most strongly influenced by the opinions and beliefs of our peers or people who are positioned just slightly above us in term of social influence and social rank.”

For example, an assistant principal or fellow teacher will have more direct influence over the thinking of a teacher than will an associate superintendent or superintendent at the school’s district office.  So, make sure you are thinking about those who are innovators and early adopters within every stakeholder group and social/professional rank in your community.

Ed Keller and Jon Berry explore similar concepts through their research and book, The Influentials.[ii]  Based on 30 years of Roper Reports’ consumer and political survey research, they observe that most people are most strongly influenced by “word of mouth” recommendations and informal discussions about a topic.  And these decisions are most influenced by the so-called “influentials,” people who gather lots of information, read extensively, and are very well connected across social networks and a range of local organizations.  These “influentials” make up about one out of ten people.

So, as you’re thinking about moving your pathways work forward, you don’t need to reach everyone all at once, but you do need to start jotting down names of influential people, and then engage them in conversation and exploration.  Over time, these “influentials” will become your most indispensable ambassadors and advocates.

Take some time over the upcoming holiday break to do some brainstorming about who you know who can exert some positive influence, and who you want to get to know in the upcoming year.  Then start putting some holds on your calendar for individual meetings and small group conversations to expand your network of influence.  The only way to achieve long-term success with pathways is to expand the “coalition of the willing.”  And the best time to start is as soon as possible!

[i] Rogers, E. (2003), Diffusion of Innovation, Fifth Edition (2003), Free Press/Simon and Shuster,

[ii] Keller, E, and Berry, J. (2003), The Influentials, 2003, Free Press, New York, NY

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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