Clarification of definitions
It was clear early in the conversation that the overall
term "institutions of public policy" is too broad and
might also be misleading. We clarified that rather than
"institutions" such as family, community, or education,
we're really talking about "organizations" of public
policy. Moreover, we will consider some organizations, but
not all. Organizations that decide or make public policy,
such as city councils, school boards, county boards,
legislative bodies, and government agencies will not fall
within our purview. Nor are we reviewing organizations
delivering services. Nor will we review the advocacy
groups organized around a specific interest. Such groups
might be characterized as "insiders". Our focus is on
general purpose organizations involved in generating
and sharing information, analyzing options, and proposing
solutions to public policy questions, perhaps
characterized as "non-insiders". That would include
electronic and mass media, foundations, research and
academic bodies, think tanks, and civic, business, and
Assist, don't just complain
about, media coverage.
complicated questions deserve all the help we can give
them, a member suggested. The media perform immensely
valuable services because they endeavor to use plain
language, keeping matters as understandable as possible
for a broad audience. They urgently need good background
information from many sources. Thus, organizations ought
to exert special efforts to always provide good background
on a topic under discussion.
Look at helping leaders bring
about system change.
A recent book by Jennifer Garvey Berger,
Simple Habits for Complex Times, outlines why
change in an organization is complex, difficult, and
requires a new form of leadership with new approaches to
leading people and crafting solutions, a member noted. The
member suggested we should focus on strategies for system
change with the goal of closing gaps between what is
happening and what is desired to happen.
Consider how much change is
occurring. A member
contrasted the last 50 years with that of the previous 50
years. It seems that public policy organizations in an
earlier time were more in tune with culture and
institutions. Society was more coherent. Today the
situation is different. Things are not as neatly aligned,
creating difficulty for organizations to adapt.
Meanwhile, many youths are
graduating from colleges deeply concerned about the world
but don't know what to do about it.
Is our current organizational
framework not conducive to producing good leadership?
A key component of leadership, a member suggested, is the
ability to achieve consensus among persons with different
views or political affiliations. This seems very
difficult, the individual said, citing two examples, the
efforts to improve education by T. Williams, outlined in a
recent Civic Caucus interview and the efforts by Steven
Rosenstone to accomplish change in Minnesota State
Colleges and Universities.
Consider setting up different
teams explicitly assigned to bring about change.
A member cited examples in the business world where real
change--e.g. from main frame computers to mini computers
and from mini computers to personal computers--didn't come
from those involved in direct operation of areas needing
change. Instead, entirely different teams were set up to
create a climate for change and to design the specific
change needed. Thus, the member wondered, whether existing
organizations can bring about change needed in public
policy or whether a different "team" is needed. In so many
areas of public policy today it is obvious that change
won't occur if led by the people responsible for the
current situation, who have no incentive to do things
differently, the member said.
hindered by failure to recognize business contribution and
to throw off an attachment to the past.
Over the past several weeks the dialogue seems to be
headed in a direction that has no focus, a member said. We
have added too many Civic Caucus member sermons and not
addressed the real question. Too few people recognize the
value of business in the community and too few recognize
that the public policy vision is fixated too much in the
past and defined by the same team of the past.
Don't forget need for restructuring, not just attacking
symptoms of problems.
cautioned us not to forget that it's more than just
creative solutions to specific problems that are needed.
Too often we concentrate only on symptoms. We need to be
of the problems. This would open the inquiry to the larger
concepts that some call "system architecture".
Too much ill intent is
often, it seems, a member said, that almost before they
are advanced, proposals for change are attacked by
defenders of the status quo who will attribute nefarious
motives to advocates for change, irrespective of the
merits of a given proposal.
It is difficult to ensure that
change is implemented at the operational level.
A member illustrated the difficulty in accomplishing
change at the operational level by highlighting a major
report from University of Minnesota Provost Karen
Hanson. Recommendations for change in this report are very
strong, but it's not enough for top university leadership
to be supportive. Deans need to be held accountable and,
below the deans, the department heads. It's not
sufficient, the member said, for department heads to be
left to themselves to translate recommendations into
In further discussion on this
point, members wondered if a chain of command is broken
when leaders have too many subordinates reporting to them.
One case was mentioned where 23 persons report directly to
an immediate superior.
Should we narrow the focus?
Many words that coincidentally begin with the letter "c"
are of concern to one member, who cited "civic",
"citizen", "community", "collective", "coherent",
"conceptual", "communication", "challenge", "climate",
"consensus" and "change", as examples. This person
suggests that what we are really trying to talk about is
effective involvement of citizens (not just
professionals), working together (collectively), seeking
agreement (consensus). This individual is concerned that
civic groups might spend too much time trying to
restructure grand systems, when they might be more
productive looking at narrower, specific questions that
the community is trying to answer.
Build a specific recommendation
on public policy information.
Looking for something precise
that one can easily explain, a member suggested that
public policy organizations ought to periodically, perhaps
weekly, prepare reports, concise and narrowly-focused,
that could be easily picked up by print and electronic
media. The member reminded the group how consensus was
finally obtained to create the Nicollet Mall. A published
survey of business leaders, indicating their feelings, was
an important stimulus to action. Perhaps similar surveys
on current needs could be encouraged, the member said.
recommendations can insulate themselves from undue attack.
Those individuals and groups with courage to come forth
with specific, creative recommendations can usually expect
verbal attacks from individuals and groups negatively
affected, a person noted. But, the person said, those who
make courageous recommendations can come back with a
highly-defensible question: "What would you do instead?"
Perhaps keeping this question in the forefront will
promote more consensus, the person said
Is there too much concern for
"me" as opposed to concern for the "community"?
A member reminded the group
that dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War,
which was an event that produced benefit for the entire
community. Too much emphasis today seems to be placed on
concerns that are individual-focused, not
community-focused, the member suggested. Thus it's harder
to figure out what should be done about changing the world
systemically for overall benefit.
Less selfish protectionism and
more voluntary sharing of information would help.
A member said umbrella
organizations, such as state leagues of cities, would seem
to be well positioned to make as their main objective the
sharing of good ideas among member participants. Perhaps
such activity is occurring, the member said, but it often
appears as if such umbrella organizations are spending
most of their effort on trying to wrestle more aid from
their state legislatures.
Does Minnesota need something
like a state planning agency?
Some states seem to be better prepared than others with
public policy initiatives, a member said, citing an
example of the
Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Narrow the focus to
"non-insider" organizations in public policy.
A member suggested it might help us if we think of an
entire picture of organizations in public policy, elected
and non-elected, governmental and non-governmental,
for-profit and non-profit, citizen-controlled and
professional-controlled, and so forth. Within the society
of organizations, issues get raised, issues get shaped,
solutions get proposed, and decisions get made. In
virtually all cases, some kind of official governmental
recognition (permit, charter, or the like) is given to the
organizations. We're looking at a particular slice of that
entire society of organizations. Essentially our slice
doesn't include governmental agencies, elected officials,
organizations advocating on behalf of specific functions,
and organizations carrying out operating functions. Those
might be characterized as "insiders". Our slice is mainly
concerned with the "non-insider", more general-purpose
organizations that work on communicating information,
raising issues, shaping issues, and developing proposals.
Acknowledge the influence of
paid lobbyists. A
member suggested that we need to be fully aware of the
enormous sums of money being paid to professional
lobbyists working on behalf of a host of advocacy groups.
This is where the bulk of opposition to creative proposals
for change occurs. We need public policy organizations
equipped to counteract the impact of lobbyists, a member
If a problem doesn't get
solved, don't just blame the "insiders"; the do-gooders
are also to blame.
Critical problems facing the state often aren't adequately
addressed because not enough good ideas are emerging from
"outside" groups, the general-purpose organizations who
are working on behalf of the population at-large, not a
specific interest group, a member suggested. These
general-purpose organizations unfortunately don't always
sense how critical their role is. If they don't make
creative proposals, no one else is likely to do so. They
need to have more courage and stop fearing that they might
make the wrong proposal. A less-than-perfect proposal is
far better than none at all. Moreover, these organizations
need to make on-the-merits proposals, not those that take
into consideration every compromise that needs to be made
before final action. Someone else can do the compromising.
It's possible, the member said, that many general-purpose
organizations have little appreciation of the potentially
vital role for them. They need to be not just "do-gooders"
to be petted and patronized, but hard-nosed thinkers to be
respected. They need to recognize they'll likely receive
biting opposition from insiders.
There are serious problems with
"omnibus" bills. The
group noted a constitutional requirement in Minnesota that
each bill in the Legislature must encompass one subject,
which must be expressed in the title. Members wondered
whether that constitutional provision would ever be used
to declare any legislation unconstitutional, given
precedents to date. Members said it seems as if the
Legislature is putting more and more legislation together
in one bill, so that it becomes impossible to see whether
a given lawmaker is for or against any given provision. It
was noted that no individual advocacy group would ever
challenge the current legislative approach, fearing
legislative retribution. Only an outside group, largely
immune to legislative reaction, would likely bring a
constitutional challenge, members said.
The Metropolitan Council is an
issue raiser and solution proposer.
It was noted that the Metropolitan Council originally was
conceived as a body to bring issues of metropolitan
significance to the Legislature with proposals for action.
For example, it was the Council's recommendation that led
to the Legislature's resolving the metropolitan sewer
question in 1969. In more recent years the Council has
become an agency that directly operates metropolitan
functions, which has had the effect of diminishing its
role of bringing proposals to the Legislature.
notes were completed a member who was not present urged
that the following points be included.
Impact of technology.
functions must adapt to this technology revolution which
is "disrupting" the way people interact. This must however
be viewed as an opportunity, not a barrier or risk.
Impact of demographic
diversity of our community has an impact on levels of
interest, approaches to topics and the nature of
interaction in discussion. This is a major factor and
should be considered an opportunity for improved solutions
to public problems.
Impact of new media.
There are numerous blogs,
LinkedIn groups, etc. which address public policy. We must
pay attention to these new sources of information.
The Civic Caucus has moved to become more aware of how
information flows and is used today. The Civic Caucus must
recognize that community and all its interactive processes
have evolved and continue to evolve. We need to make
specific efforts to stay abreast of these changes.