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K-State Today

October 7, 2021

Staley School of Leadership Studies releases research on grassroots pandemic activism

Submitted by Staley School of Leadership Studies


Third Floor Research — the research partnership between the Staley School of Leadership Studies and the Kansas Leadership Center — has released a new report that evaluates the grassroots efforts and networks mobilized in response to the center's call to take action to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In partnership with the state of Kansas, the Kansas Leadership Center launched Kansas Beats the Virus in November 2020. The civic action campaign was designed to improve public health practices in communities across the state. Over five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, 4,596 Kansans participated in 851 community meetings and created 827 action projects that would help slow the spread of the virus in Kansas communities.

The result: Kansans from all walks of life rallied around a common cause and proved that:

  • A network of motivated individuals with a shared purpose can mobilize the masses.
  • People are more connected to an individual than a cause.
  • When Kansans take action, they feel more confident, connected and responsible.
  • A clear and established process led to better community-specific outcomes.
  • Leveraging relationships + incentivizing action projects enabled thousands of Kansans to work together and develop unique approaches specific to their community's needs.

"To better understand the impact of Kansas Beats the Virus, we set out to learn more about the process of engaging communities and to implement action projects specific to those Kansas communities," said Roberta Maldonado Franzen, lead researcher and instructor at the Staley School of Leadership Studies. "To do this, we took a multimethod approach. First, Third Floor Research at the Kansas Leadership Center surveyed everyone who participated in the initiative. Then, Kansas Business Services conducted an analysis of Kansas Beats the Virus action projects." 

An online survey was sent to all participants within two months of their Kansas Beats the Virus meeting and action project occurred. The survey found that the top two indicators motivating community members to take part in Kansas Beats the Virus are "invitation by an organization I feel connected to" and "invitation by an individual I respect."

"This suggests that slowing the spread of the virus is a relational activity. Experts play a part, but leveraging relationships is key," Maldonado Franzen said.

The survey also found that two-thirds of participants felt more confident to make a difference in their community, more connected to others with a shared purpose, a better sense of responsibility for the health of their community and a willingness to engage in public health initiatives after participating in Kansas Beats the Virus.

"These results indicate that by starting where individuals are and empowering them to exercise leadership in this way, we are mobilizing an ever-expanding network of Kansans that are committed to leveraging their relationships and using their own leadership to combat the virus. This is an opportunity to continue to build on civic engagement activities," Maldonado Franzen said.

A slide deck summary of the report, as well as the full report featuring case studies of Kansans working to beat the virus in their communities, can be downloaded here.

About Third Floor Research: Third Floor Research is an applied research center operated through a partnership between Kansas State University's Staley School of Leadership Studies and Kansas Leadership Center. Research focuses on the impact of leadership training and contributes to global learnings in the field of leadership and adaptive change processes. Research findings address individual development, organizational impact and community capacity. Read more about Third Floor Research.