Ryan Sougstad, PhD: There’s No CEO of a Community…

Bus-Ryan-Sougstad_0In a slight departure from our weekly Kruse Scholar blog series, Augustana University Associate Professor and student advisor to the Kruse Scholars Ryan Sougstad, PhD has agreed to contribute his experience to the COE blog series.

There’s No CEO of a Community…

This is probably the first objection that arises from Communities of Excellence (COE) discussion. This makes sense. The fundamental premise of COE is to apply the Baldrige Performance Excellence framework to our communities. And fundamental to any serious adoption of the Baldrige Framework is a deep commitment from the senior leader of an organization.  

If this objection is meant to imply that a community-wide excellence initiative will fail because there is no chief executive to drive it, then I find the premise flawed. It is precisely because there is no CEO to address the emergent, systematic problems faced by our communities that we need a community excellence framework adopted by ALL stakeholders.

Leadership is of course addressed, and addressed well, by the Communities of Excellence framework. Area 1.1 asks: How do Senior Leaders Lead Your Community?  Communities who do this well will have systematic processes by which visions and goals are established. They will tie these approaches to results. Senior leaders will review and implement improvements. Communities that do this well will be on a journey toward excellence.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The Baldrige Performance Excellence and Communities of Excellence frameworks are not prescriptive. They don’t tell you how to design– but rather ask whether you have– systematic, well-deployed, and integrated approaches to building excellence.

In her outstanding blog post, Autumn Chmielewski highlights a related, and more pressing problem. Traditional “senior leaders” of a community do not represent a community in its entirety. As Autumn states: “a system designed without authentic input and buy-in from the people it will most significantly impact is doomed to fail.”

So how then do we design and implement approaches which address the challenges our communities face? What follows are thoughts on a possible answer: a community excellence wiki.

 “Community Excellence Wiki”:  A Self-Organizing Approach to Community Leadership

Absent a chief executive, with explicit power to enforce accountability across community sectors, community leadership should be in large part a self-organizing, emergent process. Communities themselves are emergent phenomena; they are not designed from the top-down.

As Kofi Gunu points out in his outstanding blog "Power to the People" , we have a model for an effective, self-organized, community-based information system: Wikipedia. 

Consider Wikipedia. It actually does a great job at delivering content which “is intended to be factual, notable, verifiable with cited external sources, and neutrally presented”[1]. Wikipedia does not accomplish its aims by centralized command and control, but by enforcing simple rules on writers and editors. These rules lead participants to engage in debate and reach consensus.

I argue these same simple rules could be applied to a community excellence initiative.

Consider again the question: How do Senior Leaders Lead Your Community?

Let the community answer…in an open, transparent, publicly available forum. Anyone can contribute, but the edits will be reviewed and vetted by the user community. Ultimately, effective approaches will emerge.

There is an understandable fear that a community wiki would be taken over by vandals, trolls, and other malcontents. Look at the online comments section of any political article, or your own Facebook page, and you’ll see examples of dysfunctional online discourse.

However, simple rules ensure that non-neutral, non-fact based comments would be identified, contested, and ultimately removed. In fact the simple rules which govern Wikipedia could be implemented in a community wiki without much modification. 

There is another objection, one that is perhaps latent: a community wiki is, by its nature, the ultimate vehicle for transparency. That means that the community, and all its warts, will be open for the world to see. Tourists and business investors will review the wiki. Senior leaders may be called to account. At the same time, effective community excellence initiatives would be held out as an exemplar. Transparency is one of the eleven core Baldrige values, and this value should carry over to community excellence initiatives. 

I do not claim senior leadership is not essential to achieving community excellence. It most certainly is. However, a well-designed online forum will augment senior leaders’ efforts, and enforce accountability across the community. More important, it will provide a vehicle for ALL members of the community to participate on the journey toward excellence.




[1] Wikipedia – About Wikipedia



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