Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #069. First published in the St. Cloud Times Apr. 23, 2013

Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The cat volleys the question: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Lewis Carroll creates a succinct and direct prescription for strategic planning.

Earlier this month we were presented an answer to the Cheshire Cat’s challenge that goes well beyond Alice’s “I don’t much care where, so long as I get somewhere.”

The Greater St. Cloud Community 2013 Priorities were announced by the sponsoring partners — Central Minnesota Community Foundation, the Initiative Foundation and the St. Cloud Times — after a Feb. 21 forum where more than 200 people gathered to hear about progress on priorities identified in 2011 and to provide input on new ones.

The results were organized across nine community themes that provide a framework for specific activities with measurable outcomes. Specificity and measurability are antidotes to the fate of too many strategic plans — unread, gathering dust on a shelf.

The scope and shape of the list direct us not just somewhere, but somewhere to get excited about.

The announcement’s opening does bear repeating: “Growing business, developing our future workforce, improving physical amenities of our community and providing opportunities for all members of our community to be involved are the driving themes for the new community priorities.”

This sentence demonstrates the plan’s three special virtues: It is comprehensive, intergenerational and inclusive.


The plan is comprehensive in two senses.

First, “Greater St. Cloud Community” includes six cities: St. Augusta, St. Cloud, St. Joseph, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park. Too often these entities see themselves at odds, vying for resources and attention, falling into the trap of “win-lose” thinking. The priorities, with a stated intention to “increase collaboration,” propose a “win-win” frame.

Second, the priorities dismantle silos. Silos, iconic symbols for this area for a century and a half, are great for storing grain but a poor model for organizing society. The priorities signal that if you want to expand business, you’d better pay attention to education, transportation, infrastructure, recreational amenities and the arts. Indeed, whichever of those might be your main concern, its flourishing depends on the flourishing of all the others.


The plan is intergenerational in two senses.

First, it pays explicit attention to young people, especially in its consideration of “success through a cradle to career approach for education and workforce development.” Particular notice is given to next steps in the development of Partner for Student Success, which has already brought to the top of mind in this area the conviction that the success of all our kids is everybody’s responsibility.

Second, the priorities recognize that within generations there are huge disparities that urgently need specific and measurable focus: “assist those in poverty” — the poverty statistics for our region are disgraceful, and poverty’s spillover into many other dysfunctions is thoroughly documented; “support aging in place” — the population’s aging is inexorable, so “opportunities and needs for seniors” will become steadily more urgent.


The plan is inclusive in two senses.

First, it calls for expanding “participation and engagement of people of color in community leadership,” those born in this country and immigrants and refugees. Getting specific: “address language barriers” and “nurture culturally diverse entrepreneurs” (a marvelous example being Tohow Siyad, featured as “St. Cloud’s business man” in the April 7 Times, who says, “Wherever your home is, that’s where your base needs to be.”)

Second, the priorities call for enhancements to the area that will benefit everyone — activities on the Mississippi River, air service to Chicago, a regional aquatic center, Northstar rail, extending trail systems to urban core areas, expansion of I-94, access to essential services like mental health.