Communities of Excellence 2026
I became a Kruse scholar in the spring of 2015. Thrilled about the opportunity but overwhelmed by the concept of Communities of Excellence, I spent much of this first year as a Kruse Scholar feeling as though my understanding of Communities of Excellence 2026 was never clear. When I thought of Baldrige and of the work being done to adapt Baldrige to serve communities, I thought so not with clarity, but with inflection at the end, as though it were a question unanswered. This lack of clarity felt a lot like a layer of fog prohibiting me from truly understanding the implications of Communities of Excellence and the vision that Lowell Kruse and his team share—that is, until I attended the Baldrige 101 event held at Augustana University on February 23rd.
The event was phenomenal: though my fellow Kruse Scholars and I significantly dropped the average age of attendees, most of whom were established and experienced members of the work force, we seized the opportunity, networking with others throughout South Dakota working to achieve excellence, puzzling over ways to apply our new found knowledge of the complexities of the Baldrige framework to our little college community, and grasping for a better understanding of what Communities of Excellence is all about.
Thankfully, for me, I think I’ve finally figured it out: Baldrige and Communities of Excellence are about helping businesses, organizations, and communities commit to and reach their full potentials. If you think this task sounds easy, I encourage you to think again. If the Baldrige 101 conference taught me anything, it taught me that we must celebrate our successes and seize on our opportunities for improvement. Both of these tasks require intentional and thorough examination, reflection, and action. Additionally, I’ve learned that these steps must be taken systematically; Baldrige and Communities of Excellence provide us that system, that framework that allows us to improve.
I, like many others I’m sure, assumed that these frameworks were like cookbooks, providing the ingredients, the instructions, and the exact measurements for a successful outcome. I realize now that I was wrong. These frameworks are not step by step processes by which communities and organizations come to solutions. Instead, these frameworks are like the light-bulb-illuminating moments of insight achieved only after a little probing by the older, wiser chef in the room. These frameworks provide the questions that probe and the direction necessary to come to organic solutions tailor-made within the organization or community to be implemented throughout.
Now, it took me quite some time to arrive at these revelations, and I am sure that I have much left to learn from Lowell Kruse and Communities of Excellence. But as I have recently learned to do, I plan to celebrate this new found understanding, a major success as far as I’m concerned. And more importantly, I plan to seize on my many opportunities for improvement in the year to come.