Mission & History

Mission—What Communities of Excellence 2026 Does

Improve the quality of life for our nation’s residents by assisting communities in implementing the Baldrige-based Communities of Excellence framework. 

Envisioned Future

By 2026, we will have successfully adapted and refined the Communities of Excellence Framework and set a course of action among communities across the United States to embrace the framework and begin their journey to achieve and sustain excellence. Over the ensuing decades, this growing archipelago of communities will consistently be the top-performing in the nation and their success will meaningfully influence others to strive for community performance excellence. Building on the foundation of democracy and liberty established by our founders, communities engaged with Communities of Excellence 2026 will be an inspiration world-wide in economic prosperity, educational attainment, health status, and other key measures of community health and well-being.


Communities of Excellence 2026 was formed in 2010 by two former healthcare CEOs whose organizations won the National Baldrige Quality Award under their leadership.  Beginning with a dinner conversation between friends, these founders agreed on the need for fundamentally new ways to address the grand challenges facing our nation in the educational attainment, economic vitality, and health status of our residents.  As they transitioned out of being CEOs, both believed that the value of the Baldrige framework, proven to show results in businesses and organizations worldwide, showed great promise to address the fundamental changes needed in this country.   The approach needed for community leaders and residents to come together to improve their communities is similar – a systems-based approach based on a set of principles of performance excellence to drive learning for improvement and sustained, ongoing, meaningful systemic change.

Gradually this conversation expanded to include other experts in core sectors from around the country, and by 2012, a steering committee had formed.  This committee began to examine ways to adapt the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence for use across sectors at the community level focusing specifically on education, economic vitality, and health.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, work continued on the criteria for community performance excellence and the establishment of an organization to help communities implement them. Steering committee meetings at the University of Minnesota and a convening conference held in St. Joseph, Missouri attracted participants from six central states representing sectors including universities, businesses, foundations, and city, state, and national governments. Two state quality organizations—the Performance Excellence Network of Minnesota and the Excellence in Missouri Foundation, which work to help health care, education, and business enterprises in their states implement the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence—also participated.

In 2013, Communities of Excellence 2026 was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.  We began with two pilot sites; San Diego County’s South Region and the 18 Counties of Northwest Missouri.  The progress of these pilots convinced us that we should take our effort to the next level – to provide an opportunity for communities across the country to work together, to share successes and challenges, best practices and ideas for improvement, and learn from one another on their journey to community excellence using the Communities of Excellence Framework.  In 2017 we launched our first national learning collaborative of communities.  In total, ten communities participated ranging from rural communities and rural regions, to suburbs and cities, to large urban regions.  This learning Collaborative and subsequent cohorts to come will help us refine and improve the Communities of Excellence Framework and our understanding of the key requirements needed to successfully adopt and sustain it in communities.  Eventually it is our vision that this criteria will be spread to any community across the country that chooses to pursue community excellence.