Last week we took State of the South on the road to one of the cities profiled in the report: Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville is a quintessential Southern city—full of friendly people, great food, and beautiful sights. All of this Southern charm was on display during our short visit.

We met with nearly 40 education, nonprofit, and business leaders in an early morning meeting at the West End Community Development Center. After a presentation of the findings and data from State of the South, we led the group through an activity that we’ve used with other community partnerships and two-year colleges, the Loss-Momentum Framework. This framework is MDC’s adaptation of a tool created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; it helps institutions and communities visualize the structure of connections and gaps along the path from K-12 to two-year and four-year degrees. The Loss-Momentum Framework guides a deeper analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and identifies which transition points in the continuum need reinforcement or incentives to move more students toward the goals of credential completion and economically rewarding employment.

In Greenville, we mapped programs and activities that are part of the city’s infrastructure of opportunity, increasing the odds that students with limited access will make it through the education-to-career pipeline. After only fifteen minutes of brainstorming, the group was able to list nearly 100 programs in place throughout their community.

Participants eagerly started analyzing the framework, noting areas where there’s a lot of energy (school readiness) and areas that need more attention (completion to employment). During the conversation, several themes rose to the top:

  1. Greenville has a lot going on, but these activities typically operate in isolation. The city should find ways to dismantle silos and connect complementary organizations and programs in meaningful ways. A recent United Way of Greenville County study found between 30-40 different community visions across organizations in Greenville. Participants concluded that there should be one shared vision with common measures and goals, created through a collaborative effort that can unite and energize the community.
  2. Participants recognized the importance of good data to drive decision making. They want to drill deeper into State of the South data to get a better understanding of what’s happening in their community, and use these data to build more effective programs and systems with positive outcomes for young people.
  3. The group felt the need to expand the meeting table. Parents and students should be a part of these conversations, offering their thoughts on how to strengthen the education-to-career pipeline. One participant said, “Let’s stop talking about people without inviting them to be a part of the solution.”

This is the beginning of a larger conversation in Greenville. We know that systems change does not happen overnight, but it has to start somewhere. Greenville has taken the first step in changing their systems and building an infrastructure of opportunity that supports everyone.

Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on MDC’s blog, The North Star.