How to Find Your Pathway Influentials

This is an encore post from November 2016.

To fully engage your school or community in a Pathways reform initiative, you need to build understanding and buy-in from lots of people. How does this happen? It happens mostly through word-of-mouth and person-to-person sharing and shaping of ideas.

Ed Keller and Jon Berry explored this concept through their research and book, The Influentials. [i] Based on 30 years of Roper Reports’ consumer and political survey research, Keller and Berry 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.

I thought about all the key roles and positions that would determine if a pathways initiative could be implemented, and determined that, across the U.S., there are about 368,000 “pathway influentials” that will be on the cutting edge of leading pathways initiatives. But if you break that down to the local level, we’re talking about 50-75 people in your community that need to start engaging in the pathways conversation.

Make a List

Among the people that will care about and have influence on implementing a Pathways System, I would suggest you make a list of names of people in the following roles:

  • Chambers of commerce: Executive director and 1-2 board members
  • Local business and industry associations: Executive director and key members
  • School district: Superintendent, a director of curriculum/instruction, and director of guidance
  • School board: Two school board members
  • Middle school(s): An administrator, a teacher and lead counselor
  • High school(s): The principal and assistant principal, a teacher and lead counselor
  • Regional career technical education school: Two administrators
  • Local community college: Three administrators, two student services representatives, and two faculty members
  • Local colleges or universities (that get involved in local partnerships): Three administrators, two student services representatives, and two faculty members
  • Local government: County or city executive, administrator, or council persons
  • Regional workforce development: Two administrators and three business partners from each, as well as two staff members from each of the one-stop career centers
  • Education-beat writers for local newspapers or online media or broadcast news
  • State and national government: State representative and senator, U.S. Congressman and U.S. Senators, and their staff members
  • Other key community voices and influentials: People who are involved in lots of things, and who are generally respected and liked by others

Strategic Outreach – Your Local Opportunity

At the local level, you are well positioned to get started. You can likely identify a list of 5o-75 people in your community who might be important “Pathway Influentials.” As you make your list, you can begin systematically reaching out, building rapport, and passing along ideas about the Pathway System approach. The Pathways message inherently resonates with many people, so you should be able to engender a fledgling coalition fairly quickly. As you do, you will begin to find your “ Influentials.”

Remember, this is not the actual number of individuals who need to buy-in to the change or actually implement the change. That will be a much bigger number. But our near-term goal is to begin reaching the “Pathway Influentials” who will then begin to share the Pathways message via word-of-mouth (and with electronic and social media) within their circle of influence and then begin to take action.


For Reader Comments: Have you already had success in building a coalition of Pathways Influentials? How did you do it? What questions or challenges do you face?

[i] 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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