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”

Inviting in Wisdom

cosmosIn her new book Thrive, Arianna Huffington challenges us to define success beyond wealth and power. Instead, she encourages us to cultivate what she calls the “third metric,” comprised of well-being, wisdom and wonder.

Early in the book, Huffington states, “I’m convinced of two fundamental truths about human beings. The first is that we have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony and strength… The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place again and again and again.” Our life’s work, she writes, is in part to get better at returning to that centered place, and to stay there for longer periods of time.


Her words remind me of the best of collaboration.  Continue reading “Inviting in Wisdom”

Montana’s Benevolent Community

As humans, we are storytellers. How my Scottish great grandfather came to America only to pine for his homeland love until he earned enough money to send for her is a family story of devotion, adventure and hard work. How George Washington confessed to cutting down the cherry tree is a public story of honesty and character in light of human imperfection.

Some stories have such a pull on our imagination that variations are told over and over again. These familiar storylines help us to understand life and we (consciously or not) often interpret new events through the lens of our dominant storylines. The Horatio Alger story of “pulling one up by one’s boot straps” is an example of a dominant storyline: when we see someone rise from poverty to power through hard work, grit and gumption, we celebrate that the little guy sometimes comes out on top.

There are, economist Robert Reich observed, four dominant storylines in America:   Continue reading “Montana’s Benevolent Community”

Five Essential Lessons of Graduation Matters Montana

by Deb Halliday – April 24, 2014

Keynote presentation, Title I Conference – Billings, Montana

Thank you for inviting me – we have some of the best folks at OPI working with you right here in this room. I am honored to be here. I also want to share with you my deep pleasure in having my daughter Mae here – she is a 7th grader at Helena Middle School, and it is National Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, so I have taken her on the road with me.

Later on today State Superintendent Denise Juneau and I will be opening our statewide Student Advisory Board meeting at the Yellowstone Art Museum. The theme is student voice in civic life. We will learn from high school students across the state what public policy issues are of greatest concern to them, and how well they feel our schools and our communities are equipping them to make a difference in their lives. I look forward to learning from them.


I was born in upstate New York – a landscape of cornfields and Finger Lakes – into a family that for generations were either teachers, or preachers.   Continue reading “Five Essential Lessons of Graduation Matters Montana”