Category Archives: Blog

Brookfield & Marceline: A Team of Rivals

By Becky Cleveland

The rural communities of Marceline and Brookfield, both located in North Central Missouri’s  Linn County, have teamed up to pilot Communities of Excellence 2026.  We are hopeful that successful implementation of this approach  will serve to align the leadership of our communities and county in such a way as to foster cooperation and serve to provide strategic decision-making across sectors, generations and local jurisdictions.   Our goal is to restore economic vitality to our small towns and county by turning around the decades’ long population decline, out-migration of youth, and loss of businesses; all while preserving the rural quality of life that we treasure.

In our quest to work together toward a better future, let’s look at the histories of these communities, and a single tradition that would embolden them to create a team of rivals.  During the great American expansion westward, two separate railroads laid track through the beautiful countryside of North Central Missouri’s Linn County.   To service the needs of the railroads, new towns were established at fixed intervals so the locomotives could refuel and switch out crews.  Thus were the births of Brookfield in 1859, as the Division Headquarters of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and Marceline in 1887, the Division Headquarters for the Sante Fe Railroad.  As the crow flies, only 8 miles of cropland and pastures separated the two towns.  Although close by today’s measure of distance, the two towns began very separate, with each town having its own self-sustaining economy.  In those days it was a day trip by horse and buggy to visit a relative in the neighboring town, that is, if you planned to make it back home before dark.  So for most purposes, folks stayed put.  With few exceptions, everything you wanted or needed could be obtained from your own town.  Folks in rural places were self-sufficient and that belief spilled over into the social fabric and culture of rural community life.

Over the next several years both Marceline and Brookfield grew in size and prosperity, each becoming Saturday night shopping stops for the smaller towns and local farm families that dotted the countryside.  The industrial age introduced factories and more off-farm jobs to both communities.  It also ushered in the automobile and rural residents wasted no time trading in their buggies for the new horseless carriage.  Travel from town to town was now faster and easier making the distance traveled less significant, and opening up opportunities to be found in other places. The world was getting smaller and more accessible.  Even so, that strong rural culture and love for home continued to influence how each town kept its own distinct traditions and self-sufficient way of life.

A shared tradition between the two towns originated in 1909 when the high schools of Marceline and Brookfield played their first football game.  From the beginning this game was a highlight of the season. The rivalry between the two acquired regional attention in 1936 when an old brass bell donated from a retired fire truck became the traveling trophy.   The Bell Game, as it became known, soon escalated to a contest not only between two schools but also between two proud communities with the game’s winning team, and town, securing bragging rights until next year’s encounter on the grid iron.The week of the Bell Game grew to near holiday status, where hundreds of alumni from each town made their way back home to watch the game and relive their own contribution to games of the past.  It was not uncommon for the number of spectators to exceed the entire population of the hosting town with 3, 4 or maybe even 5 thousand attendees.   

From 1909 to 2004 the Bell Game tradition continued, rotating back and forth between these two towns, year after year, providing each community the opportunity for a victory,  in an economic climate where wins of any type were becoming increasingly rare.  The once growing communities had been losing population now since the Great Depression, with families—and especially their grown children—leaving for larger cities to find work.  Small farms had transitioned into larger, technologically advanced operations, requiring fewer hands to operate.  Competition overseas closed local factories forcing many families to relocate.  Even the original economic engine, the railroads, had reduced or even eliminated stops in the two towns.  It was a slow but steady drain of people, jobs, talent and, ultimately, a hopeful future for the two towns.   

As you might guess, declining populations is followed by a decrease in school enrollments and in 2004 the two school districts found themselves in different size classification.  Now what had begun in 1909 simply as two neighboring schools agreeing to play a football game had transitioned into a complicated state bureaucracy.  The outcome: the schools of Brookfield and Marceline where notified by the state association governing high school activities that the two teams could not play each other the following season, thus the legendary Bell Game would cease to exist.  

Even though, most would agree that a high school football game is not a community’s primary purpose for existence, this news just happened to serve as the final blow for two communities and schools who had experienced so much loss over the past 60 years.  This decision could not stand. What could be done?

These two proud communities, once self-reliant and independent, needed a champion and, ironically, the only ally they each had to stand up in challenging this decision was their neighbor, competitor and 100 year rival.   Brookfield needed Marceline and Marceline needed Brookfield.

I don’t want to keep you guessing…this part of the story has a happy ending, and the Bell Game was played the following fall season continuing the long standing tradition.   I hope you have guessed that the real story has less to do with the game and more to do with what can be accomplished when leaders align and work together to achieve a common goal.   The two schools and towns did something they had rarely done in the past; they came together across generations and city limits, and in spite of grudges and old worn-out local customs.  Together, they developed a plan utilizing the collective resources of both communities, including thousands of alumni, enabling them to mount a successful communications and letter writing campaign that literally reached coast to coast.

In looking back, the collaborative victory of saving the Bell Game not only kept a community tradition alive, it opened the eyes of both communities to the fruits that can come to bare from working together.   And because of that we are not ashamed to say that a high school football game did serve to lead the way to more and even greater shared projects including construction and operation of a new regional airport, public safety mutual-aid agreements between jurisdictions and shared curriculum between school districts in the form of summer school programs and career and technical training.    

Today in Marceline and Brookfield we strongly believe that by demonstrating mutual respect, trust, and aligning our communities through system-based leadership and resource-sharing, we can affect positive change in our local economy and that of the entire Northwest Missouri region.   We have chosen a proven set of leadership and management principles to help lead the way…Communities of Excellence 2026.  We hope you stay tuned!

Read more about the Brookfield-Marceline Community here


Trolls, Elves, and Strong Communities

By Kruse Scholar Spencer Cahoon

A week ago my wife and I returned from traveling through the lands of trolls, elves, and Vikings: Scandinavia.  From seeing spectacular waterfalls, tasting fermented shark meat, to exploring 800-year old wooden stave churches, this is one of the most unique adventures we have ever experienced.  And yet, apart from the exciting sites we saw, there was something very interesting about the countries of Iceland, Denmark, and Norway.  Each of these places consistently makes the list of top 10 happiest countries in the world.  Why?

It was in Iceland where we saw the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano (try to pronounce that!), the volcano that erupted in 2010, canceling thousands of flights across Europe due to drifting ash.  We heard from a family who’s farm and crops, situated at the base of the volcano, were practically destroyed due to the thick layer of deposited volcanic ash.  At a time of despair, this family’s Icelandic community rallied behind them to rescue the farm and help rebuild the family’s livelihood.  The wife said this sense of community is what kept her family going.  Touched by this shared support, she noted that, if given the chance, she wouldn’t go back and change a thing.

A second experience stands out from our travels in Denmark, where my wife and I spent time with Danish relatives.  Over a delicious helping of beef, potatoes, and gravy, I inquired what makes Denmark special to them.  Without hesitation, they unanimously said it was the sense of belonging and security that comes from their community.  “If we lose our jobs, home, or health, there will always be the social support to help us get back on our feet,” they said gratefully.

So, I return to my question of why these countries rank as some of the happiest on earth?  From what I was hearing, I believe it is directly related to the building of strong communities of excellence.  One of the features of a community of excellence, as well as a solid Baldrige abiding organization, is a switch from having satisfied residents (employees), to having engaged residents (employees).  When this happens, the mindset changes from “what can I get” to “what can I give?”  This is the mindset that I encountered in Scandinavia.  Do we also see this taking place in the United States?

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith shared some inspiring words of wisdom at the 2017 annual PENworks conference.  Her words can be applied to how we increase engagement and build strong communities.  First, build a strong team.  Lt Governor Smith shared an analogy of a “beautifully balanced soup,” where all the ingredients matter.  Second is the Three Musketeers mantra, “One for all and all for one!”  Third, nothing is more important than listening.  And fourth, we need to “unplug” and rejuvenate in heart and spirit.

The Communities of Excellence 2026 experiment is flourishing in several areas of the country, with more communities joining the movement each year.  It is my hope that with the success of COE, more and more U.S. citizens will be able to say, “It is the strength of my community that makes America special to me.”

Read more about Spencer Cahoon here

Rural America: think regionally; act locally

Communities of Excellence 2026 is pleased to share a six part blog series by our National Learning Collaborative pilot cohort communities.  Today we begin with a post from Max Summers and Steve Wenger, representing the Northwest Missouri Regional Vitaltiy Initiative.  This initiative is part of the broader, regional focus to two of our communities:  Brookfield/Marceline and Maryville, Missouri who are part of this vision to think regionally; and act locally.


Like many rural areas, Northwest Missouri (NWMO) is a special place where the people are connected with their neighbors in a way that translates into “respect for” and “concern about” each other.  Children grow up with the freedom to be children, to explore and learn about the world around them. Many who left NWMO after high school look back on their childhood memories with great fondness and asked, “Can I give my children a similar experience”.

Research shows that about 40% of those who leave rural communities actually explore the possibility of returning for the sake of their children. When they look at NWMO they see quality schools, a workforce that is both talented and hardworking, a great quality of life for those that value the outdoors lifestyle, but they have difficulty to finding the needed support and networks to translate their skill and talent into economic viability. Brookfield, Missouri even set up a formal program tracking those who moved away so they could communicate and encourage them to come back home, which has been relatively successful.

Unfortunately, the economic opportunities do not always allow them to make the desired decisions. Rural NWMO is a way of life worth saving and protecting, but to do that the economics of the area must be rethought and transformed to the 21st century economy. Some argue natural economics should be allowed to take its course, however, that is not a thoughtful response as rural communities can compete, but in order to do that the region must reorganize around leadership that uses system thinking to help communities connect and plan together. This effort is bigger than NWMO or preserving rural America’s way of life, as is really about preserving the middle class.

As indicated above, our local-regional leadership has been handicapped by the lack of an appropriate structure to support regional decision-making processes cross sectorially. As a result, NWMO has unintentionally pushed away our local risk takers and innovators because of limited resources available to start, grow and develop their good customer-citizen problem solving ideas, services and businesses. Today’s innovation-based economic ecosystem is made up of quality workforce, recruitment, innovation networks and support for growing business through entrepreneurship and clustering, (clustering defined as: “similar and related firms in a defined geographic area that share common markets, technologies, work skill needs, and are often linked by buyer-seller relationship”).

Middle class has always been the backbone of rural American, but it is shrinking.  Rural communities need to move toward leadership that uses system thinking in order for communities within the region to identify their commonalities, key drivers and strategies. This will enable the region to focus and work together to amass the needed resources, talent, and networks to create shared value. Aligning decisions, engaging the right people and empowering them to work for the benefit of the region has the potential to transform the region economically, while preserving both the middle class and the quality of life.

We believe there is a way, so the Northwest Missouri Regional Vitality Initiative has stepped up to support area leaders in ensuring the region’s economic competitiveness. The initiative will use a performance excellence approach called “Communities of Excellence 2026”, which is based on leadership and management principles developed by the National Quality Award Program, aka Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework. These principles guide the initiative in aligning sectors, like businesses, schools, and government, so communities can begin to effect change.

The result will be a focus on the right things, so overtime NWMO can work toward success. It is clear there is not a silver bullet or project that will fully address rural issues, but the “Communities of Excellence 2026” process will bring focus on those issues most important to drive the enhanced competitiveness of the region and ultimately preserve the middle class quality of life so treasured by its people.

By Max Summers and Steve Wenger

The Communities of Excellence 2026 Community Recognition Program

Communities of Excellence 2026, in partnership with the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, is pleased to announce the first level of the Communities of Excellence Recognition Program—Commitment to Community Excellence. 

At this level, communities respond to the Community Profile section of the Community Excellence Builder, describing their mission, their vision, and the key factors that lead to success. They also explain their performance improvement system, give an example of an improvement to a key initiative or process that was a consequence of the implementation of the performance improvement system, and describe the key results they will track related to the health, educational attainment, and economic vitality of the community.  This will provide a strong foundation for the second step, Journey to Community Excellence, which will be announced at the end of 2017.

In parallel with Baldrige Program’s mission, the purpose of Communities of Excellence 2026 and the Recognition Program is threefold:

  1. To develop a nationally recognized standard of community performance excellence
  2. To establish role models of that standard through the Recognition Program
  3. To encourage continuous improvement through sharing of best practices and provision of feedback to communities on the performance excellence journey that will lead to better outcomes for the residents they serve.

Applications will be accepted through September 15th, 2017.  You can access instructions and deadlines, including the intent-to-apply requirements, on our website at

The Baldrige Program, and indeed the entire Baldrige community, are excited about helping communities achieve ever-higher levels of performance and improved quality of life for their residents. In fact, that is essentially the mission of the Baldrige Program: to benefit all U.S. residents through improved competitiveness. Until now, however, we have been focused on accomplishing that purpose through single organization. Partnering with Communities of Excellence 2026 enables us to carry out that mission on a much broader level, with the potential for greater reach and impact.

Robert Fangmeyer, Director

Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

Insights from our Pilot Cohort of Communities

By Stephanie Norling, Director

During last week's Learning Collaborative Discussion Session we heard presentations from each of our five communities on their community's history, the makeup of their collaborative, coalition or leadership team participating, examples of projects they've already worked on and their goals for the Learnign Colalborative experience.  I can say with absolute certainty that we have a great group of communities working together.  

Both the differences and the similarities between these communities are striking.  Four of our communities are adopting the COE Framework as part of a pre-existing collaborative or coalition. One of these, the Kanawha Caolition for Community Health Improvement (KCCHI) began 21 years ago and I know will have a lot of insights to share with our other communities about how to develop a sustainable leadership team.  With that history comes many years of accomplishments.  Every three years since its inception, KCCHI has conducted a Community Health Needs Assessment.  I had the pleasure of attending their 7th Assessment in March 2017.  Their strategic planning process and the extent to which they reached out to residents to capture their voice, analyzed regional data and engaged community members in the decision making process for their priorities was exceptional, and I think will serve as a role model to other communities as they develop their community strategic plan.

In Northwest Missouri, the cities of Brookfield and Marceline have come together to jointly adopt the COE Framework.  This collaboration between these two cities reflects their broader recognition that, in rural America in particular, it is vital to both think regionally and act locally.  They shared some powerful stories about working together:  From turning a high school football rivavlry into an opportunity for collaboration to their partnership to build a regional airport.  The strategic focus in this region is on economic vitality.  Becky Cleveland shared some striking data about population decline in their communities and the broader Northwest Missouri region.  Their story and their journey is an important one and reflects many of the struggles that rural communities across our country are encountering.  

Our second community in Northwest Missouri, Maryville is the only community in our first cohort that is building a community leadership team as part of their journey.  i am excited to work with them, as this represents a great opportunity to initiate their journey using the Communities of Excellence Core Values as their foundation and to work with both formal community leaders and grassroots leaders from the start.  As Josh McKim pointed out, Maryville has a long tradition of quality and performance improvement.  There are many organizations within Maryville that have adopted Baldrige, and their involvement holds the potential to be a strong driver in their community's success.

West Kendall, Florida is the newest addition to our group.  A few weeks ago Lowell Kruse and I attended the West Kendall Baptist Hospital (their backbone organization) Leadership Symposium.  The enthusiasm and commitment to bettering their community was evident from the start.  The Healthy West Kendall Coalition is made up of a diverse group of organizations, including many local business partners.  Their work added a new element to my thinking about "Residents and Other Customers".  In addition to capturing the Voice of the Customer (the residents), there also exists the Voice of the Cutomer's Customers; something that will add huge value to their community journey.  I am also eager to learn more about their Innovation Workgroup.  This is the first time I'd heard of a formal focus on innovation within a community, and sometihng I look forward to following.

Finally, we heard from San Diego County's South Region team.  This is the group that I've worked with from day one of Communities of Excellence 2026.  The region's formal collaborative leadership team began in 2005 from the Chula Vista Healthy Eating Active Living Coalition with the goal of reduing childhood obesity.  Today, the Live Well San Diego South Region Leadership team is composed of 30 partner organizations, over 150 collaborators and is open to residents.  This region serves as a great role model for collaboration and unity, and their commitment to COE 2026 is exciting.  They are leading the way in terms of developing the first Community Profile and putting together a shared Community Strategic Plan using Baldrige and Communities of Excellence principles.  

Again, I am thrilled to be working with this group of communities and i hope you will continue to follow their progress over the next few months.  In September of 2017, they will be joined by up to seven additional communities as we launch our full yearlong National Learning Collaborative.  You can learn more about the Learning Collaborative and how to join here and more about our five communities here.


PENWorks, Baldrige, and Leadership

By Kruse Scholar Shelby Crespi

After allowing the dust to settle following the whirlwind of my first semester as a Kruse Scholar, my thoughts about leadership and creating change have evolved. So much of my understanding of leadership was rooted in the idea of making tangible change, but not always how exactly this change would be executed. I viewed myself as a leader that could leave something that could be felt and touched - leaving evidence - as so eloquently explained by Dr. Bryan Williams, the Keynote Speak at this year’s PENworks Conference. However, such a large part of leaving behind this evidence is having an underlying structure that allows you to leave your mark.

So much of the leadership skills that we saw so many incredible organizations like Mayo Clinic and the MN Pollution Control Agency demonstrating was rooted in an underlying framework that holds everything together. This conference finally helped me to put into perspective the role of Baldrige. Just as Bianca mentioned being skeptical of this framework when she first entered her time as a Kruse scholar, so was I. What could a manual tell me that being in tune with the community can’t? Hearing the stories of how exactly people treated Baldrige at the PENworks conference helped to understand that Baldrige is not a manual of “how to do things in an organization,” but instead a living document that very much moves in rhythm with the ebb and flow of an organization. When the waves get rough, Baldrige gives us something to anchor ourselves in and weather that storm. (Please excuse the cheesy cliché, but it’s really true.) Baldrige is not a prescriptive problem solver, but a school of thought that demands an organization be honest and self-aware about the populations it serves, it capacity, where they are weak, and where they are strong all with the goal of improving efficiency and capacity through effective management techniques. This all ultimately improves services provided to our beneficiaries whether they are students, patients, clients, or other organizations.

Like Dr. Williams described, Baldrige helps to find the balance between the workplace that always has breakfast burritos and company outings, but cannot meet company goals and the organization that works employees into the ground and meets all productivity goals, but drives away burnt out and fed up employees quickly. Baldrige brings to life the ideal that we can have a breakfast burrito friendly and high efficiency work environment. Baldrige is not meant to be the overt means of operation that dictates exactly how to run the company, but it does force you to be honest about whether a company trip to a Twins game is time and well spent. It forces you to truly consider what the returns for the community are regarding making every decision. I believe that it is the self-reflective component, the questions, that many are fearful of when considering the introduction of the Baldrige Framework into their organization. It forces you to face the fact that you might be too much of the of the “friend manager” or too much of the “dictator manager” --which no one who thinks they have been effectively managing ever wants to hear. However, the best way to tackle these issues is with an effective and honest framework, and I now know that this framework for this task is Baldrige.

After PENworks, my skepticism has been addressed and my questions answered. Seeing how Baldrige has been implemented and how it is improving services to the community’s most vulnerable people, especially Doug Parks’ work at Mayo Clinic, was exactly what I needed to see. Baldrige fosters inspired leadership and innovation in the workplace. Effective organizational management has improved services to the community and that is a major driver for meeting health goals. As this first year as a Kruse Scholar comes to a close, I have a renewed understanding of my goals and my future role in using the Baldrige Framework to promote goals and actions that contribute to improving the health at the community level.

Read more about Shelby Crespi here

Enthusiasm for Baldrige

By Kruse Scholar Jasmin Fosheim

This spring I attended my second PENWorks conference in Minneapolis as a Kruse Scholar. The first conference I attended was largely overwhelming. My understanding of Baldrige and Communities of Excellence was still elementary, and I was a little flabbergasted by the enthusiasm with which people engaged in what seemed to be an incredibly complex and challenging process of identifying and attempting to enact change to systemic problems. This year, however, I have a newfound understanding and appreciation of the Baldrige criteria and Communities of Excellence I credit to the Kruse Scholar program and PENWorks wholly.

It took two years, but I finally get it. Communities of Excellence and Baldrige have invaded my thoughts and I’ve found myself becoming gradually more critical of the same old same old. More importantly, my skepticism regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations I’m a part of and the employers I work for has become more than just criticism and identification of flaws. I now have a mindset of identifying opportunities for improvement and searching for solutions.

Further, I’ve learned that identifying opportunities for improvement and coming up with solutions on my own to implement isn’t enough; solutions should consider all components of an issue, sectors of an organization, and stakeholders in the mission of the organization.

Finally, after two years of engaging with Communities of Excellence and Baldrige, I feel like I finally understand the crucial need for these strategic approaches to address the systemic issues in organizations, communities, and our nation. This newfound understanding led to a PENWorks conference in which I could be engaged and finally share the enthusiasm of the professionals and Baldrige enthusiasts that I, at one time, just couldn’t relate to. Baldrige and Communities of Excellence have changed the way I perceive, assess, and engage with my entire world.

Read more about Jasmin Fosheim here

Communities of Excellence 2026 Update

There’s certainly been a lot of activity lately.  So much so that I’ve been a bit delinquent in my blog postings.  Here’s an update on the exciting progress we’ve made:

Quest for Excellence/CCE/PENWorks Presentations

Over the last couple months we’ve been presenting both our progress and the progress of our San Diego South Region pilot.  In March, Sarah Rafi from San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and I presented in Long Beach, CA, in April Anabel Poole, also from HHSA presented in Baltimore at the Annual Quest for Excellence Conference.  Most recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a 90 minute intensive learning session with the Communities of Excellence Kruse Scholars.  These undergrad and graduate level young people are truly inspiring and represent the best in youth leadership.  Among other things, this session featured a panel discussion of their experience learning about Communities of Excellence and the quality and systems thinking skills that they will bring to their organizations and communities in the future.  I can’t emphasize enough how impressive they are.

San Diego County’s South Region

The San Diego South Region leadership has been working hard moving their implementation of the Communities of Excellence Framework from planning to action.  In their last Leadership Team meeting each South Region Live Well San Diego partner organization presented a brief synopsis of their organization’s priorities, resident groups served, data capabilities and target customers.  This information led to a set of key themes that help leverage their shared competencies, resources and priority areas to drive their shared community strategic plan.  At the same time, a cross-sector Ad Hoc committee was formed to provide feedback and add input in their Community Profile.  At the next meeting, coming up next week, that information will be shared to fill in gaps in the Community Profile and start narrowing down their key themes into goals.  I am so impressed by the hard work and dedication of this team.  They are an inspiring and dedicated group.

National Learning Collaborative

On May 2nd we begin the first session of our pilot cohort’s journey in the COE National Learning Collaborative.  This group of five communities has spent the past month preparing for this session through Prework activities and planning.  Over the next four months they will partake in bi-monthly sessions designed to build their collaborative leadership team’s knowledge of community performance excellence and begin to create their Community Profile. 

There is still room for your community to participate in the second cohort of communities joining in September/October of 2017.  You can find information on participation on our website at or contact me directly.

Thank you for your continued support as we work to bring a higher level of performance to our nation’s communities. 

Stephanie Norling, Director

Creating a Culture that Solves Community Problems

By Kruse Scholar Shelby Crespi

It’s the word at the heart of so many conversations today especially as they pertain to the rising discussion surrounding health and social well-being. We ask: how do we promote it? We ask: which one? We ask: where? It holds different meanings for different people. I often find myself saying, when speaking about community, that it’s the solution--the solution to so many problems we’re facing today. But sometimes we forget to ask: what exactly is community? Is it who? Is it where? The truth is that sometimes I find myself speaking about the idea of a “community” without really defining what that is at times.

In these times, I step back to when I learned what that word meant for the first time. I think back to when I was a teen and volunteered at a community center located in a gang hotspot. It changed my understanding of community as a group of people in one place to a frame of thought. I didn’t replace my more geographic understanding of community, but rather I nuanced it. I began to understand community as a way of thinking in which community was a word that described the ways we react to and experience the human condition together. When I discuss community as a solution to many issues, health issues especially, I tend toward the idea of fostering a culture in which solutions to issues that affect certain groups blossom out of these communities themselves. I also envision collaboration of various sectors with the goal of cultivating these community-based solutions.

In order to create a culture that strives to create lasting impact at the community level, it’s necessary to re-orient values toward engaging in the kind of collaboration that puts the desires of the community at the center and supports those goals rather than sets them. Too often, we see hollow collaboration which usually involves one large organization absorbing a community “in need” and hurling what they consider solutions at them. Even in trying to benefit others, we can do harm with this mentality. When we begin to re-think the idea of community as something human-centered, we also begin relinquish ideas of “them” and “us” and more toward embracing “we.” Here is where the trust that is so incredibly necessary for productive collaboration begins to take root. After this, an exchange of ideas takes place and the roles of all entities at the table become more defined. Ideas for how different sectors can contribute to this solution begin to grow organically. This type of thinking in combination with the integration of frameworks for excellence, such as the Baldrige Framework, allows us to come together to build something sustainable and meaningful--something excellent.

As I move forward as a Kruse Scholar and continue to learn different ways in which we can begin to bridge gaps between sectors, I always hold tight to the ideology that a community is so much more than where and who. It’s experiencing the human condition together and acknowledging the humanity of another person before all else. It’s forming frameworks that create human-centered and efficient processes that benefit people, the planet, and can generate profit. I believe that only with this kind of thinking will we truly create a culture that is invested in promoting the health and vitality of communities in positive and meaningful ways especially in the face of adversity.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” - Lilla Watson

Read more about Shelby Crespi here

Collaborative Progress!

As you may know, the Communities of Excellence 2026 staff, board and our many wonderful supporters and volunteers have been focusing much of our attention lately on developing a National Learning Collaborative of communities to start spreading the COE Framework across the country.  This is no easy task, but I am pleased to say that we have a small cohort of communities ready to help us launch in May.  This group, made up of small, large, urban and rural communities and regions will be working with us from May to September to test the learning curriculum, develop a robust best practices and management platform using ManageHub and pave the way for a second cohort to join in September, 2017. There are still opportunities for your community to join us in September for this year-long collaborative effort of communities. 

In a past blog post, Brian Lassiter, COE Board Member and Collaborative Faculty Member wrote, "Imagine a time when leaders within a community – official leaders (those elected or appointed to their formal positions) as well as the many informal community leaders – work together to set community vision; listen to community stakeholders to better understand community assets and needs; (re)allocate resources to address community issues or advance community initiatives; use community scorecards to monitor progress of those initiatives and the outcomes they intend to impact; and engage, mobilize, and align people resources – workers, volunteers, and citizenry – on the initiatives that will make a difference in a given community.  That’s how high performing organizations succeed; we believe that’s how high performing communities will succeed."

This is the vision that guides Communties of Excellence 2026 and motivates us to continually take our work to the next level.  I am excited and thankful to this first cohort of communities who are willing to be the trailblazers on this journey and help us continually improve our approach.  I want to acknowledge the work of San Diego County's South Region and their Backbone Organization, San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency.  Their willingess to share their journey with us has given us invaluable feedback on how to implement the COE Framework in other communities.  Now we have the opportunity to take what we've learned and spread our efforts to this next group.  

There are many varieties of this quote, but as Nicholas Sparks said, "Nothing that's worthwhile is ever easy.  Remember that."  Thank you to those that have supported us and to all of you that follow our progress.  I think this next stage of our journey is going to be a great one.

Stephanie Norling, Director, Communities of Excellence 2026