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, 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.

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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”

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”. 

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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”