EXCEL participants visit Chaumette Winery in Ste. Genevieve County.
The first step toward launching an EXCEL program is to assess whether the community is ready for a leadership program. Assess readiness by asking a wide variety of people about their perceptions of the community; closely listen and observe as they answer.
Listen to what people are saying
Conversations with people about the community and its leadership provide valuable information and stimulate thoughtful consideration of community issues. You can generate an inventory of concerns and desires as well the names of people who may be interested in helping to organize a community leadership program.
Observe what's going on in the community — and what's not
Is the community growing rapidly? Has it faced a sudden change? Are existing leaders nearing retirement — or burnout — with no emerging leaders to take their places? Have leaders changed their philosophies or methods to meet new challenges? Are community efforts uncoordinated or splintered? Do projects get started but not completed? The best indicator of community readiness for a leadership program is having people in the community who care about their community and are willing to work to improve it.
Bring people together
If the community seems ready, the next step is bringing people together to discuss the possibility of a community leadership development process. An existing group or organization may be a starting point, or the organizer or facilitator may call together a small informal group of people. If there is interest and support, the core group should consider the formation of a steering committee.
Forming a steering committee
The steering committee is the heart, soul and manager of the community leadership program. The committee makes final programmatic decisions, sets priorities and implements action with regard to:
Program purpose and goals
Curriculum and instructors
Budget and fundraising
Participant selection and recruitment
Publicity and marketing
Evaluation and continuity
The steering committee is a working group, not an advisory one, so it is important that members understand their roles and responsibilities. For example, making decisions by consensus rather than by voting may produce better results. The committee process itself is a leadership development experience, so the committee should develop open communication, create a vision, and gain a sense of control over its own future.
A trained facilitator is valuable in forming the steering committee and aiding in the development of the program. The facilitator keeps the process going and makes sure it works from beginning to end. Generally, the facilitator is an adviser but not a chairperson nor a voting or active member of any subcommittee.
Officers and committees
Most committees choose a chair or co-chairs to call and conduct meetings and provide coordination of subcommittees. They often choose a recorder to keep meeting attendance, correspondence and decisions. A treasurer may also be needed. Choose a structure that fits the group's needs.