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Mattessich, Executive Director, Wilder Research
Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
April 9, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Paul Gilje
(phone), Jan Hively (phone), Jim Hetland (phone), Dan Loritz, Tim
McDonald, Bob White
Wilder Research and
Minnesota Compass are
devoted to providing the decision-makers of the state with the data
necessary to lead in the development and refinement
of public sector services. The state is in a position of change, and
decisive action is required to keep it from sliding.
Minnesota needs more focus
on economic development and planning.
A. Context of the meeting—
Wilder Research studies the effectiveness of both state services and those
services provided by non-governmental entities. It is among the nation’s
largest organizations that do this work. It is Minnesota-focused and home
to the Minnesota Compass effort that tracks and analyzes social and
The Civic Caucus is
committed to sharing ideas for redesign of public services as widely as
possible and is interested in how the applied research function of Wilder
relates to innovative proposals for action.
B. Welcome and
Mattessich is executive director of Wilder Research, and has worked in
applied social research since 1973.
In 1982 Mattessich became
executive director of Wilder Research and has served as a member of the
Wilder Foundation's senior leadership team since then. He has authored or
co-authored more than 250 publications. He has also served on a variety of
government and nonprofit boards of directors and special task forces.
frequently throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, especially
on topics of organizational effectiveness, collaboration/partnerships and
major social trends that will affect our future. He worked for a year in
Belfast, Northern Ireland, with organizations that promote the development
of democratic skills to bring communities together and to resolve conflict
through nonviolent means. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the
University of Minnesota.
He maintains a blog titled
The Executive Summary, at:
C. Comments and discussion—During
Mattessich’s visit with the Civic Caucus, the following points were
Minnesota Compass may be found here:
http://www.mncompass.org/index.php. “We are data gatherers and
interpreters,” Mattessich said of the project.
A member opened the
discussion: As background for questions that come, could you lay out the
background of how MN Compass functions and how important it is to
informing change in public services?
“Compass is an initiative
of Wilder Research, which is committed to identifying trends in society
and assessing the effectiveness of policies.” Its creation responded in
part to state leaders asking Wilder if they could take their research,
package it and tie it to community.
Mattessich sees Compass as
an information source and initiative that stimulates productive,
non-partisan action within the community.
“Minnesota Compass is both
funded and governed by a consortium of foundations” in the state.
Mattessich is its director. The statewide effort is divided into regions,
which Mattessich said are reflective of the geographic areas covered by
those that are funding the effort. Focus is mostly at regional levels. The
Twin Cities, for example, is a socially and economically interdependent
Compass identified 12 key
domains, such as: health, housing, early childhood and aging, and then
identified three or four key measures for each. These are used for
assessment of efforts to determine whether programs are leading to
“We thought it was very
important to have a limited number of measures for each area,” for
clarity. To come up with the measures they “convened a task force for each
topic, worked with them for a few weeks, determined what those indicators
are to be. Some said it would be impossible to pick measures; it wasn’t.”
2. The state
of our state--A
member asked Mattessich if he could describe, as if he were the Governor,
the state of the state of Minnesota:
“I’ll break it into two
parts: the general context of demographics and concerns that I have.”
growing and continuing to grow. If you look at where we’ve been over the
past 50 years and where we’re likely to go, it looks like the following:
There has been a tremendous suburbanization of population centers. The
population of Minneapolis and Saint Paul has stayed flat while suburbs
skyrocketed. This impacts economic and political power.
Much more growth at the state level has occurred in the area that runs
from Rochester up through the Twin Cities into St. Cloud. The other
regions of the state have remained pretty much flat or have declined.
The state’s population is growing increasingly racially diverse.
Minnesota has an aging population which means more of the good (wealthy,
volunteering) and more of the bad (expensive care).
Concerns for the state,
looking into the future:
Poor 11th grade math scores worry businesses. A member pushed
that there is “a big difference between what you’d call business
mathematics and science mathematics.” Yes, Mattessich agreed, “but thought
processes and logic are honed with math.
Question: is part of this that the job world requires higher-ordered math
skills than before because of the increasingly technological skills? “It’s
our belief that in any field you go into, reading, math and reasoning
skills—including proficiency in technology—are more important than ever.
It’s a life-long issue: from birth, to ages 4/5, to early years in school,
through high school, through engagement in adult life.”
Minnesota’s jobs and economic competitiveness: “Something has taken a
toll.” Something’s off. For example, more people live in poverty in the
suburbs v. the central cities. Median incomes have slid in real terms.
Health: There has been a great increase in obesity rates in past 15-20
years. This rate has gone from 15 percent or less in mid-90’s to closer to
25 percent presently. We know that it relates to chronic diseases; costs
health care system money; that it’s preventable and it’s something
communities could act upon without significant money.
The chair asked how the
speaker would peg us as a state, nationally. “There’s nothing to say we’re
a leader, but I don’t know if, as a whole, you’d say we’re falling behind.
We’re at a point where we have to take some very deliberate action if we
hope not to fall behind.”
Do you see any differences
across regions in the state? Yes—the growth regions are in Rochester up
through St. Cloud, and the suburbs. On aging there are areas in the
state—south west and north west—where it will be a heavier challenge.
3. Data and
the use of their findings--A
member asked Mattessich how the foundation communicates data with
decision-makers. “We are out there visiting with relevant groups; website,
e-newsletters, Facebook and Twitter. There are proposals percolating at
the legislature that look at elevating MN Compass into a level of what had
been Minnesota Milestones—something that provides situational awareness of
the state. But there is no planning commission now. It may go somewhere if
the state can get money.
Minnesota needs to “make
sure there is someone paying attention to trends over a long-period;
comprehensive planning perspective. Our goal is long-term thinking.”
a. Education--On education: “I don’t think we’ve done enough work
looking at what needs to be done after high school—what is needed as far
as advanced degrees. We don’t have enough data on what happens to young
people after they leave high school. We don’t really know what proportion
of kids go on to college after high school, how that differs by race and
income. We need more data to know what will help students get through high
school; into and through college. We should know from birth through young
adulthood who drops off, why and when.”
b. Jobs--On Jobs: What does your jobs data say? “Where the jobs are,
what kind of jobs they are, how they are expanding.” There are people with
college degrees, a member observed, having to take jobs that don’t require
a college-level degree.
“In terms of growth-area
jobs, they are all in areas where a college degree is required. It is true
that over the next years there will be an oversupply of people with
degrees; but when you look at long term trends, it’s trending to college
c. Competitiveness--On international corporations, and the decline in
the state’s appeal: What is it that these corporations are feeling
Minnesota is missing; how are we not competitive? “I personally in, Wilder
Research, have not looked at that question. I’m going to write it down
because I’m interested in that question of business decisions.
d. Higher education--On higher education: We’ve got a cost-increase
at a time when real incomes are dropping. Have you looked at all about the
affordability of higher ed? “I was talking with an administration official
at the U of M about the debt load students are having to take on. He
pointed out that there are people who are making their own cost-benefit
decision and deciding not to go to college. Not seeing that investing that
money will have a payoff, they take time off.”
leaders should focus on economic development--Any
overarching themes for the legislature to work on? “I’ve always thought
that the more we can do to promote economic development the more we’ll
address these problems across the board.”
“Economic development will
probably have to occur through productivity increases as much or more than
looking at additional industries coming to the state.”
A member asked about the
wealth-creation part of the equation, which funds public services. In the
dialog you have and the studies you do, is the economic side getting as
much focus as the social side?
“Some people would flip
that, actually,” Mattessich said. “They’d say we focus too much on the
former. But the point you’re making is good. I think we need more research
on both sides. In Compass what we’ve identified as our key measures are
essentially outcome measures for the population. If you look at other
studies they are process measures. What we didn’t want to do was count
ideas into the stream--Do
you get requests from gubernatorial campaigns and the legislature to be on
advisory committees? “Yes, but I tell them that I’ll meet with them openly
and will tell them all the same thing.”
There is a real hunger out
there for ideas on actions that people can take, Mattessich said. He
spends a lot of time attending meetings around the state. Paul, they ask,
could you just give us a list of possibilities for what can be done on the
local economy, education, how we care for elders and handle immigrants?
legislative action--A member asked Mattessich what going on in the
legislature that makes him smile and what makes him frown? “I was never a
fan of the no new taxes pledge—not because I want to pay more taxes, I
don’t want to pay more taxes—but it put the means ahead of what we need.
I’m happy that I was asked personally to serve on two commissions (service
commission, good government commission) to identify ways that state and
local governments could potentially work in smarter fashion and to better
link research organizations in the state to decision making organizations.
Do you make
recommendations? “We are moving that way, but our main focus is on
gathering the data on what is working. We’re looking at running task
forces to do a little bit of suggesting what might be done saying: We’ve
done research, found these points, suggest this action.” The chair
expressed concern that when a group begins making recommendations is can
lose its objectivity. “Yes, and we’re most concerned about objectivity.”
To close, Mattessich
thanked the Civic Caucus for providing a place where people can come and
talk, free of partisanship. “It is what we try to do at Minnesota Compass
with research and it is good to see you are doing it in public affairs.”
Thanks all around.