Cultural Competence is a process of lifelong learning.  It results in knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes that allow us to work effectively with others from different cultural backgrounds, increases the ability of organizations to maximize the benefits of diversity within their workforces, and improves the services we offer to our various stakeholders.

Culture refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups.

The primary work of the Cultural Competence Learning Institute is a strategic initiative which your institution will engage in over the course of the year.  As a leadership team, you will identify and design an initiative that will be locally relevant and helpful to your institution’s growth and capacity building. We would like to suggest that the identification of a strategic initiative is a three step process which is completed collectively by your leadership team.  

1) The first step encourages you to take stock of your institution’s current cultural competence—determining where you are, as an institution, in relation to such topics as: Staff Diversity, Outreach and Community Involvement, Working Atmosphere, Strategic Planning, and Program Management.  Our notion of cultural competence is that it is a spectrum:  as institutions, we are always somewhere along a continuum of cultural competence, with the ability to move forward in different topic areas.  So, taking stock of where you are currently is a great way to get a sense of where you want to head in the future.  

2) The second step of the strategic initiative planning process is to identify a clear direction that you would like to work on over the course of the upcoming year.  

3) The third step of the process encourages you to get specific about your initiative.  Commit to some specific audiences and strategies, think about what success will look like, and consider who might be part of your larger team.  We have provided a template to help you as you hone in on your specific project.  We hope that you will choose your project by considering both what you want to do and also how you will know that you have been successful.  

1.  Taking Stock of Institutional Cultural Competence

As you consider the elements of the strategic initiative that you will undertake over the course of the upcoming year, we suggest that you use an appreciative inquiry process—build from your strengths.  Start by identifying the assets that you already have as an institution, and figure out how you might leverage or grow those assets.  

Describe the key threads of your institution’s cultural competence path.    What institutional impact or changes do you hope to see in the upcoming years?

  • What is the impact of your institution’s past and current work?
  • What drives and motivates your institution now?
  • In what ways does your institution position itself to impact your community?  How does your institution define community?
  • How does your institution aspire to change over the next decade?  How does your institution hope to impact the community over the next decade?
  • What processes might help you to achieve your institutional aspirations?
  • What might help you to achieve the impact you as an institution hope to have with your community?

2. Questions to help you frame a strategic initiative

Sufficient magnitude and impact
The strategic initiative provides a focused opportunity for action and impact in your community or institution.  It is an opportunity for you as a leadership team to implement something, make a decision or change something prior to the end of the CCLI program.  Your strategic initiative may be a phase or project within a larger set of change efforts.  In general, projects in the early phases or entering a new phase of work make for the best opportunities to try out new ways of working within a cultural competence framework.

Beyond the boundaries
The strategic initiative will ask you to work outside of the usual boundaries and practices of your institution—reaching out to and interacting with different constituencies and stakeholders or putting staff in different roles.  It may require you to actively engage multiple stakeholders or to partner or collaborate in new ways with other organizations within your community or with staff members not typically engaged on these types of projects.

Boldness and risk
The strategic initiative makes your organization feel stretched; as a leadership team you should feel as though you could make a big difference to your organization and/or your community if you were able to make it happen.  This may mean that the strategic initiative has an uncertain outcome, is ‘messy’, political or conflict-laden.  If there is potential for failure and if you feel some discomfort in getting started, then you may be on the right path.  The strategic initiative should have some element of innovation, requiring a departure from the status quo or an unconventional approach.

Cooperative effort
The strategic initiative will be undertaken by your entire leadership team and will likely also include others.  It is understood that implementation of the project will require a team effort and you should identify a working group who will focus on the project.

Measuring Success
Though it may seem challenging at first, it would be great to think about how you might assess the impact of your strategic initiative.  Asking the question at the beginning, ‘What might success look like?’ can be a helpful way to begin.  However, also be aware that your project may change dramatically throughout the course of the initiative, and your measures of success and impact may look quite different at the end of the project from what you thought they might be at the beginning.

3.  Strategic Initiative Description

Describe a strategic initiative that your institution will undertake over the course of the upcoming year.  Include an explanation of why your leadership team believes that this initiative will move your institution forward in serving your community or addressing cultural competence issues in your institution more effectively.  Be sure to articulate why this initiative is strategic to your organization. Please note that strategic initiatives do not have to be completed within the program year, but it ought to be feasible to make significant progress during this time. Your initiative may change as you engage in the project.

In describing your proposed initiative, address the following:

Who is the primary audience you will reach, engage, and change with this initiative? Why did you select this audience? What specific expressed needs or wants of this audience will be met? What assets does this audience possess that they can bring to the initiative?

What do you propose to do? Why do you wish to do it? What impact do you believe your initiative will have near and long-term with its intended audience(s) in your community?

How will you accomplish your initiative? What strategies will you use? What resources are needed? How will you secure them? How will you engage and leverage the existing assets in your institution and in your community? What possible actions or critical steps are necessary to achieve progress during the CCLI timeline?


Who within the institution is invested in the success of your initiative, how are they positioned to support its success and how will you insure their ongoing engagement? What about external stakeholders? How will you identify, engage, and ensure continued commitment from them?

How are you as an institution defining community for the purposes of this project? How will your community benefit from this initiative, and how will you document this benefit?

Institutional Change
How will your institution benefit from this project? How will you recognize, respond to, document, and celebrate changes made as a result of the initiative?

Summary Statement
How would you summarize your strategic initiative? How will you describe it to others in your institution who have not been involved in the planning process? How do you hope that it will affect your institution? The community?