Ordinary People Being Awesome

Skiers glide along one of the many trails maintained by TART volunteers in the Grand Traverse region.

Skiers glide along one of the many trails maintained by TART volunteers in the Grand Traverse region.


We believe that change is local - micro-local, actually. Micro actions of many individuals lead to real, sustainable system-wide change. All people have the potential to positively impact their community. We want to learn how to better empower others to be change makers as it relates to the health of their neighborhoods.

This Systems Practice learning cohort was among the most challenging we’ve taken on. How do we identify the concrete steps that can be taken to influence mindsets, and create sustainable habits leading to both personal and community health?


In February 2018, the NorthSky Nonprofit Network asked Connect_CX partner Mark VanderKlipp to lead a systems mapping cohort focused on grassroots advocacy as it relates to community health. Our team included the Executive Directors from three local nonprofits: Norte Youth Cycling, Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation trails (TART) and the Traverse City Track Club, as well as representatives from local government and healthcare organizations. We worked together through the curriculum provided by +Acumen and their Systems Practice Collaborative.

Our Systems Challenge: What empowers or inhibits people from speaking up and acting on the things they’re passionate about? How can we better recruit, train and inspire local champions to help weave a culture of health into the very fabric of their communities so that they can be their best – their healthiest?

Guiding Star: Traverse City is one neighborhood. Everyone in our neighborhood has the opportunity to fulfill their potential through a shared sense of connectedness which empowers us to contribute to the health and resilience of Traverse City.

Near Star: The Traverse City neighborhood fosters a culture of acceptance, for ourselves and others, which results in observable changes in:

  • Equity

  • Health

  • Action

  • Connectedness

  • Generosity

Our System Narrative:


Community Health is brought about by either groups or individuals inspired to initiate action. The foundation of community action is connection: the way we’ve described our map’s “deep structure,” connection is made up of equal parts belonging, belief, knowledge, awareness and openness.

Connection fuels cross-sector collaboration between groups, and can lead to catalytic events for individuals. The core loop for each is causal; the outlying factors are points of leverage that our group sees as necessary to move forward: “pollinators," if you will.

There are multiple societal factors that influence connection. These structural, attitudinal and transactional factors can be either positive or negative, depending on the definition of “Community Health” that’s held by the group or individual viewing the map (the entire map can be either virtuous or vicious depending on that definition).

The fact that the graphics hint at natural ecosystems is intentional - the genesis of connection is societal, and when done well, good things emerge.

Grassroots Advocates for Healthy Communities system map

Moving forward

So what did our cohort participants decide to do with this knowledge?

TART: Thinking about the importance of the personal invitation and how we incorporate that from an organizational perspective, also presenting this to the Board.

NORTE: Share the project with walk/bike advocacy group to gather their feedback begin a conversation about community health.

TC Track Club: We have almost 700 members with whom we can have direct contact. Use this as a tool to demonstrate points of leverage at the board level to influence the membership’s impact on community.

Table Health: Neighborhood collaboration and points of leverage so TC becomes a recognizable place for health: happy, active people making choices that are good on a personal and community level.

And for one of our team members, this effort even inspired an article:

Community Action Begins with an Invitation