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Q&A Series with Leadership Community Columbia, MO

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This month we hear from Barbara Buffaloe, the Sustainability Manager for the City of Columbia, MO. The City of Columbia is part of the Fall 2015 Leadership STAR Community Program, which began last September. When the program year wraps up later in the summer, Columbia will be receiving their STAR Community Rating.

Buffaloe_headshotAround this time last year, you were getting ready to apply for the Leadership STAR Community Program. What was the driving force for you and the City of Columbia to apply?

The City of Columbia was in the process of adopting our next 3-year strategic plan and there was a lot of overlap between our plan’s goals and the goal areas in the STAR Community framework. Our team liked the synergy of using STAR metrics for measuring success of our strategic plan and the support that STAR Communities would provide in going through the process.

What were your goals for the Leadership Program and STAR certification? What sustainability issues in Columbia do you hope STAR certification could help to address?

Our main goal was to benchmark where Columbia is in regards to community sustainability related to other cities. By using the same metrics as STAR Communities like Dubuque, IA; Lawrence, KS; Evanston, IL; etc., we are measuring apples-to-apples on community performance. Our strategic plan focus areas of Social Equity was a new focus for Columbia and the metrics that STAR uses for Equity & Empowerment are giving us guidance on how to measure success and best practices to follow.

What has been the biggest benefit of being a part of the Leadership Program?

The biggest benefit of being in the Leadership Program has been the tremendous support received from the STAR staff. Starting with our intensive workshop at the start of the program where we physically walked through the framework, crosswalk, and online dashboard – as well actually doing some of the points together – STAR staff have been an awesome support group. It’s also nice having Program Coordinator David Abell available at my whim for any question we have!

As you have collected data for STAR certification, have there been any surprises from the data?

Yes and no. Yes, being the pleasant surprises where your City is actually surpassing the STAR metric! That felt nice. The “no” is when you realize your assumption that your community is not tracking data on a certain subject is correct. We’re hoping to rectify that before we re-certify!

STAR certification requires data collection from many sources. Have you established any new contacts or partners that you will engage in the future?

I don’t know that we’ve established new contacts or partners so much as shared our contacts and partners with more staff within the City. For instance, our equity & empowerment category lead was introduced to a useful contact from our lead for economy & jobs. The process has really strengthened our “web” of contacts, you could say.

How will you utilize the STAR certification moving forward to help improve sustainability in the City of Columbia?

STAR certification will give us our baseline measurement and help with framing our strategy moving forward. Some of the areas that score low will be our “opportunities for improvement” over the next 3 years. It’s basically writing my office’s strategic plan.

Do you have any advice for communities that may be considering joining this Fall’s Leadership Program?

Do it! I hesitated for a few years on going through STAR because I was worried about how heavy of a lift it was going to be for me and my office of 2 employees. The Leadership Program made the process much easier and having the support of STAR’s staff has made it a really positive experience.

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