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Technical Assistance

Creating a digital economy ecosystem is hard work. Although digital economy jobs and startups are scattered throughout rural America, building a full, self-perpetuating ecosystem requires strong foundational pieces in place, coordinated efforts across a variety of digital economy components, and committed and ambitious local leadership.

Although there is no “one size fits all” approach to building a thriving digital ecosystem in rural America, there are necessary foundational elements and direct drivers that need to exist. An ecosystem strategy must focus on the middle section of the pyramid—the direct drivers—to bring about the results at the top of the pyramid.

At RISI, we help our partners design digital economy ecosystems around their strengths and assets, raise money to invest in kickstarting all ecosystem components at once, and then use our best practices to optimize the direct drivers for rural contexts. We provide frameworks and templates, facilitate planning sessions, give feedback, help identify possible grant sources and partners, and provide a platform for ongoing collaboration across communities.

Our Process:

Align + Understand

Every community starts from a different place. In order to set our engagement up for success, we begin with a community self-assessment and asset map, and a study of the digital economy ecosystem model with concrete examples of communities using it today.

Planning + Strategy

In this phase, we work with partners to design a digital economy ecosystem strategy adapted to the unique strengths, assets, stakeholders, and resources in the community. We outline all of the ecosystem components and partners, identify ideal digital economy drivers and how they fit together in the community, space and staffing needs, and desired long-term community goals and outcomes.

Coordination + Logistics

With alignment on the digital economy ecosystem strategy, we can create a comprehensive work plan and timeline that guides the engagement from theory through execution. This includes identifying all of the personnel needed to execute, resource targets (including any matching funds) and deadlines, PR and marketing needs, organizational development and board structure and development, and more.

Resource Acquisition + Messaging

In this phase we focus on raising the resources needed to execute on the strategy with adequate staffing, space, and programming, and putting the organizational pieces in place so that once resources start to come in, we can hit the ground running. During this phase, we work closely with your grant writer (or help you find a grant writer) to craft applications based on our team’s deep expertise fundraising for this work.

Additionally, we will also assist with important organizational and foundational needs that can be done before resources are acquired. This includes developing messaging strategies, creating a communications plan, establishing board structure and formation, and delivering public relations support.

Implementation + Support

This phase can begin with addressing staffing and space needs, and quickly turns to implementation of programming using best practices from RISI’s experience working in more than 20 rural communities. RISI’s involvement in this phase can be flexible depending on the needs of the organization running the programming in the community.

Contact us to schedule a time to chat.

“This was my first experience with a technical assistance provider this detailed and engaged. I enjoyed the process and having written a few grants in my career, it was a great learning experience for me. From this experience, the way we will go after grants in the future is different than how we would have approached it just 12 months ago.”

- Joshua Ball, Shaping Our Appalachia Region (SOAR), Pikeville, KY

“This work being done is massively important. As locals, we find the communities we live in to be remarkable places, but you are taking that magic and helping us leverage our available assets and helping communities to have these important conversations.”

- Craig Beytien, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Platteville, WI

“The process was incredible and I really liked going through the process with other communities that could share their key learnings. It was very valuable. As Executive Director it’s allowed me to be stronger in how I visualize our program and utilize the information we gained in this process to impart change within different aspects of our economy.”


- Rose Reza, UNM Taos HIVE, the Hub of Internet based Vocations and Education, Taos NM

“Rural communities like ours often have limited experience with innovation ecosystems. The objective, external leadership of Rural Innovation Strategies helped provide us credibility and inspiration to excite and engage important local and regional stakeholders. ”


- Kieth Glendon, LucidCoast, Marquette, MI

Read more about the Technical Assistance and the Rural Innovation Initiative on our sister organization, the Center On Rural Innovation’s site