Communities of Excellence 2026 was formed in 2010 by two former healthcare CEOs whose organizations won the National Baldrige Quality Award under their leadership.  Beginning with a dinner conversation between friends, these founders agreed on the need for fundamentally new ways to address the grand challenges facing our nation in the educational attainment, economic vitality, and health status of our residents.  As they transitioned out of being CEOs, both believed that the value of the Baldrige framework, proven to show results in businesses and organizations worldwide, showed great promise to address the fundamental changes needed in this country.   The approach needed for community leaders and residents to come together to improve their communities is similar – a systems-based approach based on a set of principles of performance excellence to drive learning for improvement and sustained, ongoing, meaningful systemic change.

Gradually this conversation expanded to include other experts in core sectors from around the country, and by 2012, a steering committee had formed.  This committee began to examine ways to adapt the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence for use across sectors at the community level focusing specifically on education, economic vitality, and health.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, work continued on the criteria for community performance excellence and the establishment of an organization to help communities implement them. Steering committee meetings at the University of Minnesota and a convening conference held in St. Joseph, Missouri attracted participants from six central states representing sectors including universities, businesses, foundations, and city, state, and national governments. Two state quality organizations—the Performance Excellence Network of Minnesota and the Excellence in Missouri Foundation, which work to help health care, education, and business enterprises in their states implement the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence—also participated.

In 2013, Communities of Excellence 2026 was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.  Initially, we plan to test and refine the framework and criteria of community performance excellence in  pilot settings of differing sizes and complexities: A large rural region, large urban region, and a small rural and urban community within those regions. Work with these pilot communities will help to refine the criteria for community performance excellence and to identify the tools needed to support communities as they implement the criteria.  Eventually this criteria will be spread to any community across the country that chooses to pursue community excellence.