Steve Kelley of the University of
Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Stimulate innovation to help solve
Minnesota’s pressing problems
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview December 11, 2015
John Adams, Steve
Anderson, David Broden (phone), Janis Clay (phone), Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson (phone) Steve Kelley, Sallie
Kemper (associate director), Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow,
Bill Rudelius, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence
Former legislator Steve
Kelley offered several suggestions for producing more innovation
in solving Minnesota's pressing public policy problems: enact
proposals that serve an entire population, rather than only
targeting groups in greatest need; involve advocacy groups, but
don't let them dominate. Look beyond the state's borders for
good ideas; encourage Minnesota's colleges and universities to
balance their research on international and national problems
with research on problems specific to Minnesota; urge the
Minnesota House and Senate to create more joint House-Senate
commissions to stimulate lawmakers to work together earlier,
possibly making consensus more likely; enact ranked choice
voting, giving candidates incentives to take positions that
appeal to broader segments of the population.
Steve Kelley is a
senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs,
University of Minnesota. His expertise includes green chemistry
policy; innovation policy; public budgeting; science and
technology policy;science, technology, engineering and
mathematics education policy; telecommunications and information
He served in the Minnesota Senate from
January 1997 through December 2006 and the Minnesota House of
Representatives from January 1993 through December 1996. He was
chair of the Senate Education Committee for four years. During
his service as a legislator, Kelley served on the Executive
Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
and co-chaired its task force on the No Child Left Behind Act.
Before his legislative service, he was
a public member of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice from
1984 to 1992 and served one year as its president. Aside from
his public service, Kelley practiced commercial litigation at
the Minneapolis firm of Mackall, Crounse, and Moore PLC for over
Kelley received his B.A. from Williams
College graduating cum laude in 1975 and later earned his J.D.
from the Columbia University School of Law in 1978.
Today's interview is
part of the Civic Caucus review of institutions of public policy
in Minnesota. Such institutions include academic schools,
foundations that finance efforts to develop proposals for
change, media, and voluntary public policy organizations,
including the Civic Caucus. Kelley was invited to meet with
Civic Caucus because as a legislator he was always in need of
quality proposals to address public problems and now in academic
world he is involved in making such proposals.
Address the barriers to innovation.
began his remarks by highlighting what he considers barriers to
innovation in Minnesota public policy action today. One is
intransigence of interest groups in being open to proposals
other than their own, a new orthodoxy in thinking. Another is a
feeling that solutions involving government are inherently
inferior to solutions in the private sector. A third barrier is
an increased emphasis on individualism as against
Using the issue of early childhood as
an example of the new orthodoxy, Kelley noted that in the 2015
Minnesota Legislature certain interest groups that were
supporting scholarships for low income families insisted on
their approach, rather than universal pre-kindergarten for all
children. The universal approach was treated as illegitimate
despite the existence of reasonable alternative arguments. For
many, the universal approach is better because it reminds
everyone that we'll all in this together, collectively and
because pre-kindergarten benefits all children, not just low
Recognize that industry stakeholders
must be involved, but not dominate the discussion. Kelley
referred to an interview the Civic Caucus had with
executive director of the Citizens League, a few weeks ago. The
question involved how, in discussing public policy problems and
solutions, to give a voice to advocacy groups without giving
them undue influence in the outcome, and at the same time to
assure critical leadership of the general-purpose citizen
members. The question isn't whether advocacy groups should be
involved, he said, the question is how and when they should be
Kelley recalled that he came face to
face with the question of potential undue influence by industry
stakeholders in telecommunications when he chaired the Citizens
League Program Committee in 1988-1989. Changes successfully
opposed by the industry at that time ultimately have become the
reality today. He recounted another more recent experience of
undue influence of stakeholders in battling an environmental
lobby that was trying to block action on toxic chemicals.
Look elsewhere for good ideas.
cited examples of innovative legislative action that occurred
after legislators picked up good ideas in trips to other states
and countries. Minnesota would gain by looking more at
successful innovation in states like Oregon and Colorado, he
said. Looking at in-state sources, he praised the Center for
Innovation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester that, rather than
concentrating only on research, has come up with ways to deliver
health care better, including protecting safety of patients and
lowering expenses while maintaining quality.
Kelley cited the
as an effort to stimulate innovation
among its students. Stanford states it provides students with a
methodology that combines creative and analytical approaches and
requires collaboration across disciplines. The Stanford effort
parallels the School of Design
at the Hasso Plattner University in Potsdam, Germany, he said.
Relate a university's work to real
problems in the state.
An interviewer inquired whether
there are many examples of schools at the University of
Minnesota that are involved in researching and studying current
problems that need action by the state. The interviewer cited an
example of a university school whose students are receiving
degrees in areas related to the state's economy where none of
the school's research over the last five years seems to have
been related to specific current problems in Minnesota.
Kelley replied that there's a very
specific tie-in between research by the Center for Sustainable
Polymers of the University of Minnesota's College of Science and
Engineering and and other groups focused on protection of
Minnesota's lakes and rivers.
Earmarked dollars influence the
University of Minnesota's research agenda
. The Humphrey
School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota has 40
faculty members, all of whom have their own major fields of
interest and funding sources, Kelley said. Thus the interest of
the funding sources play a major role in setting priorities for
problems within the state, as well as problems with national and
international interest. The Minnesota Legislature earmarks
dollars for the University of Minnesota to take on selected
research projects that the Legislature identifies as high
priority, he said. An interviewer wondered whether the
University of Minnesota is taking the initiative and submitting
requests for funding to the Legislature, accompanied by a
priority list of urgent state problems that need attention.
In the continuing discussion on this
point, Kelley acknowledged in response to a question that the
Humphrey School recently has given more emphasis to
international and national issues than to state issues. To
illustrate the global emphasis, Kelley highlighted the
of the University of Minnesota that addresses issues ranging
from fracking to global hunger to reconciliation and
justice. Eight courses have been approved for Spring 2016 on
issues including disease, rivers and cities, climate change, and
structural violence. An interviewer suggested it might be
helpful to interview a university leader about where Minnesota
problems fit in this Grand Challenge Curriculum.
Getting action on public problems by
An interviewer wondered whether
implementing innovative solutions to public problems is
disconnected from the process of coming up with proposed
solutions. The interviewer speculated that polarization among
elected officials could be a factor. Or, the interviewer
suggested that public policy discussion today seems to resemble
litigation, not consensus seeking. One interest group has one
set of "clients" and another group, another set of clients,
neither of which is seeking consensus.
Benefit of ranked choice voting. Kelley
said he is a supporter of ranked choice voting because it has
the effect of stimulating candidates to appeal to a broader
group of voters than only a narrow constituency. With ranked
choice voting a candidate needs to attract at least a majority
of votes, not just a plurality. Thus candidates should be more
inclined to support proposals that represent consensus, rather
than extreme positions to the left or right.
Benefit of joint legislative
. Kelley said it appears that joint
committees of the Minnesota House and Senate are more a rarity
today than in the past, which contributes to polarization. Joint
committees could work on problem solving together, he said,
which increases the likelihood that an innovative idea will get
serious consideration by both legislative bodies.
Opportunities for these joint committees to travel to look at
issues could also help build bridges.
Taking advantage of technology to make
public policy changes.
An interviewer noted that some
educational changes don't require any legislative action, just
the decision to take advantage of them. The interviewer
cited help available to students, parents and teachers via
Khan Academy. But
the interviewer wondered whether some teachers lack the
knowledge or ability to take advantage of Khan. Kelley
replied that he questions how relevant Khan can be to the
one-third or more of students who have significant learning
barriers. As the discussion on technology continued, Kelley
questioned the value of MOOCs, massive open online courses,
because so few enrollees complete their courses. "We need to
remember that motivation is a big part of educational success,"
As the discussion continued about
teachers' use of technology, Kelley mentioned a conversation he
just had with a school principal who related how delighted his
teachers were with the new I-pads that their students had been
Selecting topics for PhD dissertations
that are relevant to the state.
An interviewer noted
that PhD candidates devote endless hours in research on their
dissertations, but it seems as that many are on exotic topics
that seem to bear slight relevance to problems facing the state.
Would it not be better, the interviewer suggested, for the
faculty of University of Minnesota schools to play a stronger
role in advising PhD candidates on possible topics? The
University is a land-grant institution, with a clear
responsibility to helping the state, the interviewer said. Why
not at least make sure the directors, deans and professors are
fully aware of the high-priority problems the state faces as
part of advising their students of possible topics for PhDs?
Importance of strengthening
institutions of public policy in Minnesota.
interviewer pointed out that the Civic Caucus has chosen to
emphasize in its interviews the roles of institutions of public
policy including media, foundations, post-secondary education,
think tanks, and other civic organizations. We're looking at how
they functioned in the past, are functioning today, and what
their functions should be in the future. Today's interview is
part of the process.
Need for independent, general purpose,
citizen-based organizations offering specific, actionable
. An interviewer suggested that successful
innovation in public policy in the past would suggest that what
is needed today are more general pupose public policy groups
that are independent, unaffiliated with advocacy bodies, open to
any topic of public concern, not concentrating on one area only,
and truly citizen-based, involving interested individuals, not
just professionals in various fields. Such groups would produce
recommendations that are immediately actionable, not vague
expressions of hope for change.
Kelley replied that a big problem
today is the fact that too many organizations are dependent upon
contributions from wealthy individuals whose own views are
reflected in proposals from such organizations.
Successful grass roots effort on gay
. One of the outstanding and
astounding examples of grassroots citizen impact is that of the
gay rights movement in Minnesota, Kelley said. First the
movement was faced with a state constitutional amendment that
would have banned gay marriage. So that amendment had to be
defeated, which it was. Then, probably more astounding was that
the group was able to get a law passed that specifically allowed
gay marriage. Moreover, all this was accomplished in a
relatively short time.
Importance of rural-metro cooperation.
It's fine to work for ways to strengthen the metro area, Kelley
said, but what is really important for positive action is a
solidarity among all parts of the state. "Don't just think of
the non-metro area as providing the food and energy for the
metro folks. We need a rural innovation strategy, too."
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,