Realizing there were groups making efforts at reinvention in government in
Minnesota, but there was no legislative conduit or gathering place for
them to meet, Minnesota State Rep. Paul Marquart helped form the Minnesota
House Redesign Caucus in February 2010. In a news release at that time, he
described the focus of the caucus as improving outcomes and lowering costs
by redesigning the way government does business in Minnesota. The
bipartisan caucus has had four co-chairs: Republicans Rep. Carol McFarlane
and Rep. Dean Urdahl and DFLers Marquart and Rep. Diane Loeffler. The
Caucus has held regular meetings and has sent minutes out to all
The hope is that the Redesign Caucus will
move forward good ideas about innovation in government. The caucus has
invited the public to come forward with their ideas on innovation and held
local government innovation sessions in six communities around the state
in November 2011.
"The Caucus is a real effort to try to change
the culture of the Legislature to start moving toward looking at how we
could get better outcomes and better results at a better price," he said.
The MAGIC Act would allow counties to test
alternative ways of delivering services. Marquart said McFarlane took
the redesign caucus to "a whole new level." She was chief author the MAGIC
(Minnesota Accountable Government Innovation and Collaboration) Act, which
would allow counties, in partnership with the state, to develop and test
alternative methods for delivering services through pilot projects, with
the aim of improving outcomes and increasing efficiency. The Legislature
could use the results of the pilot projects to help shape regional and
statewide reform efforts. The act passed 72 to1 in the Senate in 2011, but
did not pass the House in 2012.
"Over the two or three years we've had the
caucus going, it certainly has begun to change the conversation in the
Legislature, which is way behind what's happening outside the walls of our
Capitol," McFarlane said. "We're trying to bring the Legislature along to
put some things into law that can actually have an impact on what we do."
Redesign effort will continue, but not as a
formal legislative committee. "This redesign effort will continue in
the Legislature," Marquart said. "I've talked to Speaker Designate Paul
Thissen about creating a committee on redesign. That didn't occur, but he
did agree that effort has to continue with some sort of formal approach.
He's very supportive. "
The Caucus will continue, but Marquart
probably won't be chair. He said he and McFarlane are thinking of other
legislators on both sides of the aisle who could be co-chairs and would
continue the work "in a very progressive fashion. There will be something
in place. I don't know exactly what it's going to look like quite yet. We
will continue the same efforts that Carol got going the last several
McFarlane added, "It would be important for
outside groups to be supportive of those initiatives. Let the leadership
on both sides know this is really important and you want them to make sure
the members take it very seriously, too."
In response to a question, McFarlane said
legislators are dependent on people from the outside bringing in ideas.
"Find a crusader legislator who can carry it and move it forward and have
it be bipartisan. You need effort both inside and outside to get something
Redesign is any effort that increases the value per dollar of a product
or service. In response to a question about how the two legislators
would define redesign, Marquart said, "It's any effort that increases the
value per dollar. If we can increase results per dollar, that would create
more value. To me, that's government redesign. So, if the cost of
something remains the same, you have to increase the value by improving
results or improving achievement or some other standard you have to
Likewise, he said, if the outcomes remain the
same, but you lower the cost, that would be an increase in value, too. "To
me it's better outcomes, better results at a better price. I like the
concept of the split screen, where you are improving upon what's currently
happening and then you're improving on the system and then maybe you're
looking at a totally new system of delivery or service."
Job protection, funding protection and
identity protection are three obstacles to reform. McFarlane pointed
out these three obstacles and noted they occur in both the private and
public sectors. "We need to move beyond that and be more centered toward
the customer. The outcomes will be there for the customer. Everybody will
benefit in the long run. We need a change in the culture to allow reform."
Reinvention must be embedded in every
legislative committee. An interviewer asked whether it would be
helpful to have redesign activities in the Legislature focused as a
subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee that deliberates about the
Marquart responded, "Every single committee
should spend the first six weeks of the session talking about what
outcomes we really want and what are the proven things that will get those
outcomes at the best price. Education finance, for example, always
insinuates that you're talking about the dollars, but it should be the
'Improving Education Outcomes Committee.' We should be talking totally
about outputs, rather than inputs."
He continued, "If everyone can agree
bipartisanly on outcomes, that's how we really should do it. I like the
concept of having some sort of committee, but if one committee is in
charge of reinventing, all the rest of us can go on our merry way.
Reinvention has to be really embedded in every single committee. Every
committee chair and vice chair must buy into this."
McFarlane was even more cynical about the
redesign legislative committee approach. "That sounds like a really good
thing from the outside. But the reality is, if you have a Ways and Means
subcommittee that has to agree, you don't get the buy-in and it gets very
political. That's one of the best things about the Redesign Caucus. We
didn't get into the political viewpoints of who was winning. We all win
when we go after something together. If it's under the structure of Ways
and Means, it's going to become a partisan issue."
House Redesign Caucus will continue. An
interviewer asked how Marquart and McFarlane envision passing on what the
Redesign Caucus has done to new legislators, new committee chairs and new
leadership so that they're not starting from scratch.
McFarlane pointed to the One Minnesota
Conference held at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the second day
after the session begins. It includes all members of the House and Senate.
She hopes it will include a segment about redesign, what is going on in
the state and how people can work together towards reform.
"They say it takes five to seven years before
you can change the culture of an organization," Marquart added. "We're
only in about our third year on the legislative side. But some people on
the DFL side are very fired up about this stuff. Carol knows some people
on the Republican side who would also be very dedicated to this. I think
within the Redesign Caucus we have the leadership to continue."
Marquart said he plans to continue to talk
about redesign in the DFL caucus. "I've talked this year to our leadership
about this. I think most committee chairs are on board with looking at
Human services and education finance are two
areas that stand out as needing redesign. A questioner asked which
policy areas in state and local government seem to be most ripe for
redesign in the coming session.
"The county lines need to be more invisible
in program delivery areas in health and human services," McFarlane said.
The governor's office and the state agencies want to make changes in state
government, but she feels the Legislature needs to look at local
government. "It was the conversations with the cities, counties and school
boards that really were the catalyst to keep things going. We all serve
the same people and everybody was doing the same thing in parallel. It was
bringing those voices together that was really instrumental in moving
The counties came forward with the MAGIC Act,
she said, and the state's Department of Human Services and the counties
were very engaged in it.
There should be no new money for education
unless it is for something with a proven track record of increasing
student achievement or closing the achievement gap. Marquart, the
incoming chair of the House Education Finance Division, said there is an
opportunity to look at redesign in education finance during the next two
years. "I know a lot of that is linked to policy, to what's happening in
schools and what really works. I've already told folks there will not be
one new dime that goes into our education system unless it is for
something that is data-driven and has a proven record of increasing
student achievement or closing the achievement gap or some innovation with
sound principles that can show we can get there.
"We cannot just continue to put dollars into
the formula for education," he continued. "We're sending out $7 billion a
year to our schools. We have a responsibility to steer as much as possible
to those things that have a proven record. We have to be able to tell
citizens that new money is going to a program that has shown it can
improve your child's reading by third grade or improve graduation rates or
student achievement. People are not going to be satisfied to just put more
money into education. People will pay more if they're getting better value
and they know what they're spending is actually helping their kids and
their communities. We need data-proven programs and strategies that
actually have generated positive results."
Marquart said his position as chair of education
finance offers an opportunity for change. "You've got a chairman who is
going to be very favorable to looking at things that work and is willing
to buck the system, to push it in the education finance realm. I don't
know what those ideas are. I'm just very sold on that concept. If you've
got ideas, I'm ready to listen and to implement what we can."
The state has no coherent plan for early
childhood programs. In response to a question about investing in early
childhood programs, Marquart said he agrees on the importance of such
programs, yet only $53 million out of the $7 billion education budget goes
toward early childhood. "It doesn't have to be sold on me. That's where
you get the best value. We don't have any coherent plan at all for the
early childhood years. That's a major, major area for closing the
achievement gap and increasing student achievement."
Many people misinterpreted the MAGIC Act, 3rd
line: Add comma after "Minnesota" and add comma in next line after
Many people misinterpreted the MAGIC Act.
An interviewer commented that there had been a real impetus of moving
redesign that would give counties more power in decision-making in the
human services area. Then the MAGIC Act and the effort in southeastern
Minnesota, where 13 counties were going to cooperate in offering services,
lost momentum. He asked if the powers that are invested in keeping
everything at the state level are so strong as to resist and prevent
things from being devolved to the county level.
McFarlane responded that a lot of people
misinterpreted the MAGIC Act and thought it would give the counties much
more power than it actually would. It was only going to give them waivers
to do things on a trial basis. Then the Legislature would have to decide
whether to change the law to allow permanent changes. "I think it will be
better as it comes back next year," she said.
"In health and human services a lot of process
is being prescribed by statute," she continued. "That's what people wanted
to waive. They wanted the ability to try doing things differently. Health
and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson was very supportive of the
Let local governments try pilot projects and
have the opportunity to fail. Marquart added that he would like to
bring back the state innovation board. The board could act as a conduit
where local units of government can try pilot projects, get seed money and
have the opportunity to fail without hurting taxpayers. "The ramifications
of failure are larger in the public sector than in the private sector. We
need this group that would kind of shelter these local units of government
to allow them to innovate without the fear that if they do fail, people
are going to lose elections and all kinds of tax dollars are going to be
Worry about the quality of the service rather
than about working with 87 counties. A questioner asked if it will be
hard for nonprofits offering human services to work with 87 counties
instead of just the state and whether that would lead to opposition by the
"We're trying not to worry about 87 county
boundaries, but to worry about program service delivery areas," McFarlane
responded. "Those boundaries might not be the same as a county." She gave
the example of Itasca County working with other counties to develop a
human services delivery software system. "They can't all do it by
themselves any more. The providers should be embracing this possibility of
being able to spread out even further, instead of thinking it's going to
take away from things."
"It's about the service delivery," Marquart
added. "One size fits all doesn't fit every area of the state. The bottom
line should be the quality of the service to the customers. If you give
power to the counties in exchange for better results, I think everyone's
better off, even if you have 87 potentially different systems. Our
bureaucracy has to be a little more flexible because the bottom line has
to be the quality we provide to our clients."
McFarlane offered the example of workforce
development centers, where people may have to talk to different people,
depending on whether the state or the counties are offering a particular
service. "The constituent doesn't care what pot of money the service
comes, from county or state. They just need the service. We forget about
the need to be citizen-based."
Gov. Dayton and the administrative agencies
are trying to work into the budget the idea of value-driven outcomes.
In response to a question about the need for the governor and the
administrative agencies to buy into redesign, Marquart said they are very
favorable to the idea of value-driven outcomes and are trying to work
those concepts into the budget. He said Gov. Mark Dayton is "up to at
least a seven on a scale from one to 10." Marquart said redesign is an
area where there can be bipartisan buy-in. "If we focus on results, it can
be win-win for everyone."
"I'm heartened by a lot going on with the
governor's and commissioners' offices," McFarlane added. "But they're
concentrating on the state level, not the local level."
Marquart said the governor's education reform
group is looking at giving schools more flexibility in spending
compensatory revenue, which is distributed to school districts based on
the number of low-income students. "I agree; we'll give you more
flexibility, but we need results. We have the data on how students are
doing. That revenue is supposed to go to improve lower-achieving kids.
We've got to make sure that's really happening."