First Best Place

Montana is known for its big skies, mythology about cowboys and Indians, and as home to writers who describe the state as the “Last Best Place” in the world: a place of uncommonly beautiful landscapes, capable residents and a simpler way of life.

Much of this is true. It’s certainly a good part of what drew me to Montana as a young woman, and what has kept me here to fall in love, raise my children and do my life’s work.

Yet Montana is also the “last best place” to make certain policy commitments and public investments in its families and children. It is the only state in the nation that does not provide public funding to educate 19-year olds still enrolled in high school and it remains one of five states yet to ensure every child can go to preschool, regardless of income.

What would it take for Montana to become the “first best place” in the country, in terms of investing on one of its long-term interests: children? Continue reading “First Best Place”

Words for a Young Woman

A young woman looking at the sky

Last week I was approached by a young woman looking for help because she’d lost her belief that the world can become a better place. She had just attended a workshop I’d given on how to expand strategic alliances. Throughout the session, she said, it was clear that I believe change is possible. How, she asked, have I maintained such optimism in the midst of so much wrong in our world?

It reminded me of a talk I gave last spring last spring, titled: How to Avoid Burnout While Trying to Change the World, in which I describe how I have spent 25 years as a community and political organizer and still wake excited for each day.

Continue reading “Words for a Young Woman”

Stakeholder Engagement in Montana

Community members in discussionI recently was honored to author a guest blog for the Education Commission of the States, entitled: Stakeholder Engagement in Montana: How one SEA does it. The full text is below.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ups the ante on stakeholder input into state education plans.  Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement, a report from the Education Commission of the States, is a terrific guide for state education agencies (SEA) and stakeholders alike.  For many SEAs, the report observes, stakeholder engagement is limited to informational websites, press releases and statewide advisory councils. This kind of input rarely allows for new insights and strategies to emerge.

Continue reading “Stakeholder Engagement in Montana”

Circles of Influence

circles of influenceGraduation Matters Montana (GMM) was fortunate to have Liz Weaver of Tamarack Institute deliver the keynote address at our June 2016 Summer Summit. Liz shared the findings of her recent paper, “Transformational Change is Possible”. Much of her analysis aligns with the GMM framework, and I was pleased that Summit participants connected with her presentation.

At a follow-up workshop, Liz provided an overview of collective impact, and led several activities to help collaborative efforts expand scope and effect. It was during one of the activities – 100 Names, in which teams brainstorm three people they know who can advance their mission – that someone commented, “It’s easier for people to talk about what we can’t do, rather than what we can do.” Several people nodded in agreement.

It made me think about “circles of concern and circles of influence,” and how I use this concept in my work. Continue reading “Circles of Influence”

The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together

GMM community meetingI was honored to submit a blog post to Philanthropy Northwest entitled The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together. Full text is provided below.

I received an invitation to our nation’s capital last month for a gathering of 100 practitioners working on high school dropout prevention across the country. Continue reading “The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together”

Transformational Change: Montana Style

Liz Weaver of Tamarack Institute recently released Transformational Change is Possible, in which she reflects on six elements that support collaborative efforts to make lasting change possible. She reminds us that complex problems require a different way of working, and begins by reviewing the framework of collective impact: (1) build a common agenda; (2) engage in shared measurement; (3) support the work through mutually reinforcing activities; (4) keep partners engaged through continuous communications; and (5) ensure ongoing support through a backbone infrastructure.

Weaver then offers us an opportunity to learn from the evolving lessons of collective impact efforts throughout the world: What, she asks, does it take to make transformational change possible?  Continue reading “Transformational Change: Montana Style”

Expanding the Conversation

Circle of childrenFor the past few months, I have been exploring how the school-community partnership framework of Graduation Matters Montana can be of service to a new effort in Montana – the Montana Preschool Development (MPD) project. This is a federal grant to help up to 16 Montana communities develop high quality, affordable preschools. Is the GMM framework specific to K-12 education, or can it find utility elsewhere? Continue reading “Expanding the Conversation”

Elevating Community Capacity

19724826_sIn the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic, the media is asking what led to the containment of an outbreak that ultimately killed over 4,000 Liberians. As headlines captivated the world over the past summer, Liberian officials struggled to respond to the growing crisis, and the U.S. government is now being viewed as ultimately ineffectual for spending the lions’ share of $1.4 billion on a network of clinics that now lie empty.

While the debate over exactly how the epidemic was contained continues, a particularly promising side of the story is the role that local Liberian communities played in containing the spread of the disease. Continue reading “Elevating Community Capacity”

Montana’s “Nested Collective Impact” Leverages Rural Community Connections

I was recently invited to be a contributor to a new blog organized by the Collective Impact Forum. Here is my first essay.

Montana recently hosted Jeff Edmondson of StriveTogether in a daylong workshop to explore collective impact in rural communities. Six Montana towns, with populations ranging from 7,000 to 100,000, gathered teams from early childhood, K-12, college access and employers to explore the StriveTogether framework.

Folks in the room were local leaders in Graduation Matters Montana (GMM), a statewide initiative of the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI), which seeks to increase the state’s high school graduation rate through artful local partnerships between schools, community organizations and Main Street businesses. Since it began in 2010, forty-three communities have launched a GMM initiative, representing 75% of the state’s high school students. Dropout rates are down and the state graduation rate is on the rise. GMM is, as Liz Weaver of the Tamarack Institute describes, an example of “nested collective impact”. 

Continue reading “Montana’s “Nested Collective Impact” Leverages Rural Community Connections”