Caucus Internal Discussion - Civic Process
Civic Caucus and other Minnesota civic groups must do better to revitalize
the civic process. September 11, 2015
Present John Adams, Steve
Anderson, Dave Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate
director), Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder (associate
director), Clarence Shallbetter. By phone: Jim Olson.
comparative advantage among states because of its long-standing
leadership on public policy action is at risk, according to Dan
Loritz, chair, Civic Caucus, and Paul Gilje, executive director.
While the state can
point to creative action on public finance, education, and government
structure, the need for solutions to today's questions, including
closing income and education gaps, never has been greater, they say.
This fall the Civic
Caucus needs to use its own interview process to learn from people in
and outside of Minnesota the status of the state's civic process and
civic infrastructure, Loritz and Gilje say. Are enough proposals for
civic action being generated? If not, why not?
include groups that initiate proposals and people who need proposals
coming to them, such as legislators, members of the media and
Minnesota-based foundations. The Civic Caucus will work to develop
recommendations on how the process could be strengthened.
Background. As part of the
celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first Civic Caucus
interview in 2005,
Loritz and Gilje provide a look at the past efforts of the Civic Caucus and its
challenges for the future.
Discussion Outside groups must
bring ideas for solving problems to the Legislature. Civic Caucus Executive
Director Paul Gilje started the internal discussion session by
referring to a 1972 Minneapolis Star interview with then-DFL
Minneapolis State Senator Jack Davies in which Davies said legislators
need ideas brought to them by the rest of society that they can vote
up or down.
He said originating solutions to problems is not a basic function of
the Legislature and that major new thrusts in legislation have to come
out of civic groups, which he described as "far and away the greatest
source of ideas."
A chart developed by
Ted Kolderie, when he was executive director of the Citizens League
from 1967 to 1980, describes the civic process as moving through
various stages. The process, according
to Kolderie's chart, proceeds as follows:
Problem Analysis Issue
Public Debate Policy
Values fit into the
process, Kolderie says, at the point where the question is whether
someone sees the data as creating an issue, either a problem or an
opportunity. He points out that values themselves can change over time.
Gilje used the example
of Minnesota's major 1971 change in its school finance system, part of
what became known as the Minnesota Miracle, to illustrate Kolderie's
1. Events prior to
the change: tax complaints. Some school districts, such as Circle
Pines, had low spending, but high taxes; others, like Edina, had high
spending, but low taxes.
2. Data: The
Citizens League began calculating each year the property taxes on
comparably valued houses in different communities, revealing high-tax
and low-tax communities and school districts.
Identification: That the differences in spending levels and tax
levels among school districts was not consistent with the state's call
for a uniform system of public schools.
4. Issues Discussion:
People like Van Mueller (long-time education professor at the
University of Minnesota, who was deeply concerned about education and
equity), and Jerry Christenson (Minnesota state planning agency
director at the time), along with various civic groups, the media and
others, were discussing the issues surrounding school finance and
5. Problem Analysis:
The state can't provide for a uniform system of public schools using
the local property tax alone.
Clarification: The issue wasn't simply how to provide adequate
resources to schools. For example, differences in student population,
such numbers from families in poverty, needed to be considered.
Policy Development: Many proposals were offered both within and
outside of the Legislature, including a report from the Citizens
League, New Formulas for
Revenue Sharing in Minnesota.
8. Public Debate:
Candidates for Governor debated the Citizens League report at the
League's annual meeting in September 1970.
9. Policy Action:
The 1971 Legislature and then-Gov.
passed landmark legislation changing the state's school finance
10. Events following
the policy action: Different complaints about taxes and about some
school districts not being able to spend what they want to spend.
Where does the Civic
Caucus fit today in this cycle? Gilje asserted that the
Civic Caucus is heavily involved in problem identification, issues
discussion, problem analysis and issue clarification, but not so much
in policy development, public debate and policy action.
What is the public
affairs context today that prompts the Civic Caucus
to conduct its interviews? Gilje suggested several
reasons for the Caucus' approach:
Not as much thorough media
discussion today of nonpolitical, more substantive aspects of
A need for broader discussion of
A need for a nonpartisan approach;
Not enough new ideas and proposals
and a need to bring more community attention to those already
Why is this review of
the role and future of the Civic Caucus
taking place now? Gilje said there are
The Caucus is celebrating the 10th
anniversary of its first interview in 2005.
The Caucus is evaluating how much
longer to continue its current emphasis on the state of Minnesota's
competitiveness and the strength of its human capital.
There's a need to evaluate
succession plans for Caucus leadership positions.
There's a question of whether the
Caucus should issue more reports with recommendations for action on
specific civic issues.
An interview group
member said it appears that groups commonly bring topics forward, but
too often those topics are framed in general terms, not expressed as
specific proposals for action, he said. So, what should the structure
be for a public-policy organization today?
Civic Caucus Chair Dan
Loritz said he and three other members of the Caucus's interview group
had been part of a separate group that looked at redesign over a
four-year period. During that time, the "Discussion Group on Redesign"
looked at the question of redesign of public services. At the heart of
the issue of cost and quality of public services is the state's
competitiveness. So, for the past two-plus years, the Caucus has been
focusing on Minnesota's competitiveness and, more intensely, on its
human and social capital.
Loritz said the Caucus should now consider looking at the state's
institutional capacity for getting things done.
An interview group
member said the issue is how we can solve problems, which are the same
as 100 years ago, in the context of today's culture.
Asking how public action can solve a problem is very different from
asking how we can think about it.
How can we intervene to make a difference? How can we put leverage on
the system to make a difference? We don't get that type of discussion,
which has values at its root, he said.
For example, he asked,
why do some public policy organizations think differently now from how
they thought in the 1960s, when they were more involved in developing
specific proposals for civic action?
Verne Johnson and
four associates, including Jim Olson, started the Civic Caucus
in 1949. At
that time, the organization was essentially a small, quiet discussion
group, meeting alone, separate from other groups.
In 2003, several more people, including current interview group member
Clarence Shallbetter, joined the Caucus discussions. The people
involved in the Caucus at that time, in addition to Johnson,
Olson and Shallbetter, included John Mooty, Charles
Clay, James L. Hetland, Jr., and John Sampson. The group had been
issuing reports on various topics, among them transportation, the
Metropolitan Council and even one on the Middle East.
Those reports are on the Civic Caucus
In 2005, the Caucus made
a major shift toward becoming more public.
It began conducting weekly interviews, starting with John Brandl, professor
at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute and former
Minneapolis state senator, on Sept. 14, 2005. It began circulating
written reports of those interviews by email widely in Minnesota.
Gilje said moving to the
interview process crowded out the Caucus's reports, because there
simply wasn't enough time to write up notes on the interviews and to
prepare reports. Recently, the group has issued one or two
statements or reports a year.
There are now 4,500
people on the Caucus's e-mail list, who receive summary notes of each
In 2008, the Caucus set
up a website, which is maintained by a dedicated volunteer. The
website is organized by interviewee name, by date and by topic and
includes reader responses. That same year, the organization started
getting bipartisan signatures of support for its statements. In 2009,
the Caucus began focusing its interviews over a period of time on one
In 2015, Gilje reported,
there are record numbers of participants, judging by e-mail openings
and website usage:
Since 2010, 3,621 out of 4,500 on
the Caucus's reader list have opened the Caucus's e-mails one or
more times; 2,116 have opened them 10 or more times; 804 opened them
50 or more times; 60 opened them 200 or more times; and one person,
There has been steady growth in
readership on the Caucus's website, with record numbers of visits
currently, approximately 1,100 different individuals each month.
The Civic Caucus has
issued 15 reports since 2003 and has held 500 interviews since 2005.
that written summary notes of all the interviews are sent to the
group's e-mail list of 4,500 readers and, since 2008, all have
solicited responses from readers.
All interviews are available online at the Caucus's
All have been approved for accuracy by the interviewees.
Gilje said he wishes
more organizations would produce written public reports of their
meetings on public policy questions. Often there is no effort to
synthesize and send out notes of speeches, presentations and other
events to people who weren't able to attend. "We'd love to have groups
take our experience and use it themselves," he said.
The Caucus' budget.
reported that the Caucus's budget totals $65,000 annually, all from
Families of three Civic Caucus founders make major contributions. The
group pays no honoraria to interviewees; has very low consultant staff
expenses; has no office, phone or computer expense; has minimal
expense for meeting location, paper and printing; and pays about $500
a year for e-mail, web hosting and survey computer programs.
What's valuable about
the Civic Caucus approach?
Gilje listed a number of things:
Guests do not give speeches, but are
interviewed by the Caucus's interview group.
The media are not present for the
interviews, freeing up the interviewees to speak candidly, knowing
they can edit their remarks before they are made public.
Interviewees readily accept the
The group is nonpartisan.
The Caucus shares and respects
others' ideas and has a commitment to helping the interviewees'
ideas become widely understood.
It promotes the value of civil
It creates a permanent, written,
accessible record of all of its interviews. The notes it sends out
are not transcripts, but are summaries, with boldface headings to
help the reader easily absorb the content. All interview notes are
approved by the interviewees for accuracy.
It's willing to help other groups.
The Caucus's emphasis is on
Minnesota, but it does hold interviews by conference call with
people from outside the state who have particular knowledge about a
There are no membership or
subscription requirements or dues charged to receive the Caucus's
It has a small Board of Directors
(Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Dwight Johnson, Dan Loritz and Bruce
Its interview group is kept
It also has a small planning group.
An interview group
member said healthy community action also requires drawing conclusions
and making recommendations. Another interviewer said that's different
from the Civic
of providing a forum for publicizing people's ideas.
"What we're doing is educational," he said.
"We look at what an interviewee is doing, why and what help they need."
An interviewer said he
has never understood why some of the most highly respected
universities in the state fail to give more attention to public policy
education as part of their mission. "Why don't we use the
universities' public spaces for what they were intended: to hold
public conversations about important public issues?" Another
interviewer commented that often when universities sponsor public
education events, there is little public reporting afterwards
outlining what went on.
An interviewer wondered
whether society has changed, so that many fewer people want to be
involved in civic organizations. How are we accounting for that? Will
a new structure bring people back in?
Another interviewer said
that in a recent column, David Brooks suggested that voting and
political activity has become a matter of self-expression, not a
matter of producing change. "It's very individualistic," he said. "I
express myself and then I just walk away."
An interviewer said in
the past, people thought of themselves as members of a group and as
getting things done by engaging with a coalition of groups. Now we
have the culture of the individual. "We don't have people talking
about large questions," he said. "Now it's very personal."
An interviewer wondered
whether it was more common in the past for employees to regard
participation in community groups seeking solutions to public problems
as a natural extension of their jobs. Lawyers, for example, may have
gained an understanding of the structure of government and can apply
that knowledge while engaged in a civic group's discussion. Another
interviewer highlighted the advantage of networking with other people
interested in the same issues. "That kind of linkage was part of the
public- policy fabric of the Twin Cities," he said.
An interviewer mentioned
the name of James L. Heltland, Jr., former Civic Caucus member, now
deceased, who for many years was involved in public affairs in the
community as a large part of his job. The interviewer wondered
whether employers then had different attitudes about community
involvement than today.
The Civic Caucus
should interview people in the Twin Cities, in Greater Minnesota and
outside of Minnesota who are deeply interested in high quality
discussions of civic affairs to identify strengths and weaknesses in
Minnesota's system of generating public policy proposals. Gilje and Loritz
suggested that all kinds of people and organizations need good public
policy information coming to them, for example:
Legislators looking for ideas for
action on civic problems.
The media, which welcome the
opportunity to comment on specific proposals.
Foundations, which need to give
money to the community in intelligent ways.
"Where does the Civic
Caucus fit in the future?" Gilje asked. "It could continue as is. It
could be absorbed by another organization or perhaps be part of a new
organization. But that seems premature. Instead, we could conduct
interviews on what people think about the civic process today. It
could be that the future of the Civic Caucus would become clearer
during this interview process."
"What are our social
infrastructure and our civic infrastructure?" Loritz asked. "We had
strong civic infrastructure once and it was our comparative advantage.
In the 1970s, people visiting here thought something remarkable was
happening here. You can't go back, but if that spirit were here, what
would it look like? The idea is that the Civic Caucus could use its
own interview process to figure out where the organization belongs in
that civic infrastructure. What would civic infrastructure in the
future look like? What is needed?" He said that process would lead the
Caucus to make some recommendations.
Gilje suggested that the
group start its internal discussion next week by looking at Ted
Kolderie's civic process chart and then suggesting people we should
invite for interviews on the process of generating actionable public
It was clarified that
the Civic Caucus' work on human capital would continue.
An interviewer commented
that the Caucus must engage younger people, "because they understand
the power of social media and we don't.
It's an extraordinarily powerful community-building force."
Several other people commented that we could invite interviewees who
are more knowledgeable about harnessing social media in the promotion
of civic engagement.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,