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Communities of Excellence 2026 Blogs

Innovation and Work Systems in a Community Setting

Tuesday’s session was a real highlight for me.  Both concepts:  Innovation and Work Systems were new to our group when applied to a community, and we had a special guest presenter joining us:  Harry Hertz, Director Emeritus for the Baldrige Program. 

Over the last couple years, Harry has been an advisor to our team while developing the COE Framework, and so inviting him to do a presentation to the group made perfect sense.  In our sessions we regularly emphasize the alignment between a community’s responses in the Community Profile and the Framework categories.  Harry’s presentation clearly outlined the connection between a community’s core competencies and its work systems, and strategic context, vision and intelligent risk taking.  On behalf of all us, I want to say a huge thank you to Harry for his help.

To date, the communities have all completed their Community Profiles to varying degrees, but they will always be updating them as the community changes or they learn more.  The profile helps to think collectively as a community, to ask if everyone is included at the table across sectors, generations, economic groups, and more.  We’ve learned that it’s a helpful tool to learn how to work together, to get everyone thinking about the community in the same way, and for agreeing on and using the same community language. 

We are now in our second month discussing Community Strategy - the approach to preparing for the future…how each community will move toward their vision (stated in the Community Profile) and how their plans address community challenges and leverage advantages (also described in the Community Profile).  The questions in Category Two are designed to make sure each community has incorporated all relevant considerations as they develop and then deploy their strategy. 

Tuesday’s conversation produced some excellent discussion to this end.  In our discussion of core competencies, COE Chair Lowell Kruse point out that, “one high level competency communities have to develop is creating a culture of collaboration and being thoughtful to ensure no one’s left out.  If someone doesn't have the ability to participate in the way they want to, it’s a teaching moment.”  Many communities recognized an enhanced need for communication and we discussed developing work systems around that.  For communities just getting started on their COE journey, a potential work system could be around how you go about learning as a community coalition.

In the second part of the presentation Harry reminded us that innovation doesn’t need to be an act of genius; but is something that creates a discontinuous or breakthrough change in the way a community operates.  An innovation could arise from borrowing or adapting from other communities.  This is especially important to consider in the context of our Learning Collaborative.  We have ten communities that are different in size, complexity, access to resources, and more.  In a learning environment such as this one, it is my hope that our communities will borrow and adapt ideas from each other.   There are already examples of this through the sharing of their strategic planning processes.

Finally, I want to end with a comment that one of our faculty members, Brian Lassiter made, as it does a great job of summing up much of what we’re doing:  “Every decision every community makes has risks, but it's all about choices.  Understanding core competencies, strategic advantages, etc. is about making the right choices, the right intelligent risks”.