Civic Caucus Interview Group – Internal
A Progress Report: Minnesota’s public
reflects changes in state’s culture
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Discussion March 18, 2016
John Adams, Janis Clay,
Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Dan
Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Bill Rudelius, Dana Schroeder
(associate director), Clarence Shallbetter. By phone: Dave
Broden (vice chair), Sallie Kemper (associate director).
Caucus is undertaking a review of
the quality of Minnesota's past,
present and future public-policy process for anticipating,
defining and resolving major community problems. The Caucus
interview group held another internal discussion to review a
draft of preliminary findings it's learned from interviews on
the topic held so far.
Leading up to today's internal
discussion meeting, a very preliminary
findings-not previously reviewed or approved by the Civic
Caucus-was distributed to the interview group as background for
discussion. The draft highlights a number of points that have
been raised over the last several months of interviews and
formed the basis for today's internal discussion. But the draft
is just that and has not been approved as any formal
position of the Civic Caucus.
Civic organizations in
Minnesota today are functioning in a more individualistic, less
community-oriented environment today than in the past. Members
of the Civic Caucus interview group make that assertion in an
internal discussion reviewing a very preliminarydraft
of findings from the Caucus's exploration so far of the
public-policy process in the state.
Members of the group observe that
people sitting around the table dealing with issues as
generalist citizens, not special interest groups, came from a
culture that said you need to be worried about making things
better in the community. Certain civic organizations empowered
citizens to make a difference in that way. As businesses in the
community became more nationally owned than locally owned, the
interest of those businesses in the local community seemed to
diminish. That weakened the earlier culture and the civic
organizations that helped put the culture into practice. It's
important to worry about it if that culture is no longer here,
members of the Civic Caucus group say.
Participants in the discussion note
that all of the great public-policy ideas in the world won't
succeed unless we change the underlying environment. They
question what role the Civic Caucus or other organizations could
take in moving the needle culturally and socially. The group
says we must remember that there are pluses, as well as
negatives, in some changes in the environment, such as the
ability to communicate readily and easily.
The group wonders whether legislators
are unduly influenced today by special-interest groups and
whether there generally is less attention now to larger,
underlying issues than to immediate concerns. They discuss the
importance of determining what would motivate more people,
especially the younger generation, to get involved and pay
attention to significant policy issues.
During the discussion, the interview
group agrees that the Civic Caucus's challenge over the next few
months is, after completing the findings, to develop conclusions
and recommendations (that is, specific, actionable proposals) on
strengthening Minnesota's institutions of public policy.
The Civic Caucus is treating this topic of the state's
public-policy process differently from some past topics by
focusing on coming up with findings before moving on to
conclusions and recommendations.
The interview group agreed that the
Caucus's challenge over the next few months is, after completing
the findings, to develop conclusions and recommendations (that
is, specific, actionable proposals) on strengthening Minnesota's
institutions of public policy.
An interviewer said we should
concentrate on better validating some of the proposed findings.
Another suggested that we have categories of findings, such as
major issues, society, the environment and the public-policy
organizations. That would lead to categories of conclusions and
then categories of recommendations.
Civic organizations today are
functioning in a different environment today from that in the
past. Today's discussion included the following points from
interview group members:
More individualistic approach?
People must understand
the environment better. So much has changed over the last 40
years that isn't understood. We've moved from taking our
institutions for granted and letting them do whatever they
do-whether the government, the church, business or political
parties-to an individualistic way of looking at things. With
this new viewpoint, people join together with others of like
mind as special interests and push for what they want. Much of
what they want is materialistic vs. communitarian in nature.
Changes in education?
Is there too much emphasis on
economic motivations for education at the expense of larger
concerns of how what you contribute should add to the public
good? Something has deterred people from thinking about these
larger questions about where we are going and what we are
going to do about it.
Role of civic organizations.
What is the role for the
Civic Caucus or other organizations in moving the needle
culturally and socially? We need to change the underlying
environment. If not, all the great public-policy ideas in the
world won't succeed. Is there a moral bankruptcy of bad public
policy for which both liberals and conservatives are guilty?
Yearning for the "good old days"?
In looking at the
way the environment has changed, we've made some strong value
judgments about whether the past or current environment is
better. We've implied that the environment used to be more
community-oriented than it is today.
But that's true. People sitting around the table dealing
with issues as citizens came from a culture that said you need
to be worried about making things better in the community.
Community and business leaders encouraged young people to be
involved; some even gave their employees time to be involved.
It's important to worry about it if that culture is no longer
here. In the past, people used their citizenship to make
Another change has been the increased
ethnic and cultural diversity in the population.
Don't over-emphasize the negative.
We should look at
positive changes in the environment, as well as negative ones.
What might be positively operating today as opposed to in the
past? There are some pluses in being able to communicate
readily and easily. We must make observations about the
Citizen participation in the
public-policy process has changed. Comments by the interview
group included the following:
Are there changes in citizen participation that impact
Participation in traditional organizations
has declined, but people remain interested and participate in
different ways. We need to understand how that impacts public
People participate actively in neighborhood organizations.
Different age groups participate in different ways.
It's not just the way organizations use new forms of
communications, but it's also how the public and other groups
People still participate in getting together to influence
and advocate through government organizations and committees.
But some of the civic organizations we knew and loved in the
past are not operative any more.
Are legislators unduly influenced by groups with
Legislators always ask now which groups are
supportive of an idea. That's what they want to know. They're
so influenced by groups who hire lobbyists. It's such a
different milieu than just looking at whether something's a
Need to look to larger questions
. Is there less
attention to larger, underlying questions than to immediate
concerns? We had studies of larger questions in the past, such
as a study by the Citizens League years ago about how many
hospitals the Twin Cities area needed. Perhaps it's more
difficult to think of larger questions now. In past years, it
was possible to know by reading the newspaper or having
conversations at various meeting places. Today there's more to
Self-interest versus community interest.
wondering if it is true that typical citizens today are more
concerned with their self-interest rather than the community
In earlier times, when communities were small, the
leadership in the community knew a lot about what was going
on. Now the knowledge being transferred is too small. The
combination of not knowing what's going on and the
self-serving approach taken by some people makes consensus on
community betterment more difficult.
We never talk about what is it that
motivates the next generation to be interested. They don't
have all the same issues priorities that the older generation
might have. We must ask people how they are motivated to
become involved and how they connect with other people to get
action to happen. We must ask what would motivate people to be
What would motivate people to pay attention to significant
policy issues? What are the obstacles that prevent people from
participating? To us it seems obvious that they ought to pay
There are young people who want to make a difference and
and are intensely interested in big ideas. Is education doing
an adequate job of helping them learn the concrete steps to
take that would make a difference?
One interviewer put forth a proposal
to simplify the Civic Caucus mission to making Minnesota better.
He suggested a role for the Civic Caucus in moving the
needle on making Minnesota better.
Evaluation and feedback are critical parts of the classic
business P-I-E model
: Planning leads to Implementation,
which leads to Evaluation, which leads to feedback for
improvement back to the planning step. That should result in
doing more of what works and correcting what doesn't.
Importance of planning.
Planning is fun and glamorous.
Where it breaks down is finding people to slug out the
nitty-gritty of implementing the plans. And the planners don't
want to discover through evaluation that their plans were too
complex or were a complete failure.
The Civic Caucus should consider shifting its main focus
from the planning stage to the implementation and evaluation
stages by (1) identifying and publicizing key state issues and
(2) publicizing how current state actions are really doing,
using actual, timely data.
The underlying assumption is that making Minnesotans (and,
hence, key government decision makers) keenly aware of these
two things will stimulate constructive action.
Seek sidebars twice a month in Twin Cities and Greater
Minnesota newspapers describing one key Minnesota issue, as
space permits. Also, invite Minnesota Public Radio to cover
this. Describe what's happening in the issue, what's working,
what's not and why not. Identify groups to put heat on to get
Try to recruit a group from the University of Minnesota to
collect data and feed data to the Civic Caucus, which would
highlight the issues.
Get citizen readers involved in evaluation by letting them
respond online either "act" or "don't bother."
Don't act as if we seem to have all
the answers. An interviewer responded to the proposal by
saying it sounds as if we have all the answers, that we know the
issues and how to get things done.
How do we inform the next generation?
Comments included the following:
An interviewer described his experience in being invited
to talk to high school juniors and seniors about his
experience in ministry to kids at the Hennepin County Juvenile
Detention Center and to adults in prison. He said the high
school class was attentive, but there was no plan for further
reflection or follow-through on the topic.
What are kids learning in social studies classes today?
Where is civic education today? Kids can get engaged in
public-policy issues. But at the college level, they come in
with no knowledge of these issues and how to go about solving
them. How do we do a better job of civics education?
What has caused a decline in seeming
relevance of certain civic organizations in Minnesota?
Interviewers made the following comments:
This discussion proves what a loss effective civic
organizations are to this community.
A proliferation of other organizations, some of them
special-interest organizations, has developed, causing some
formerly effective civic organizations to be less effective or
Finances have played a role.
As businesses in the community became more nationally
owned than locally owned, the interest of businesses in the
local community seemed to diminish.
Leadership of some civic organizations changed the focus
of the organizations.
The media have made some efforts to
investigate and shape various issues. The interviewers made
the following comments:
The Star Tribune has done some strong investigative
series on child protection, special education and other
Many people watch public television and listen to public
radio and there are examples of programs put together on local
issues and challenges.
There are far too few African American
teachers in Minnesota, but little thinking about what to do
about it. An interviewer pointed out that only 500 of the
state's 65,000 teachers are African American. The Legislature is
desperate for proposals about what to do about this, he said,
but there is no hard thinking about it going on at the state
Department of Education.
Prior to this meeting, the Civic
Caucus received a number of comments from readers reacting to
the notes of its
"Special interest groups have bullied and forced their
agendas for the last 30 years to the point that people who
care about our society have just given up hope for the
"Focus on issues that can be substantially resolved by the
state (or smaller jurisdiction). Prison populations and mental
health treatment probably fit this category." Also, many
community problems are aspects of poverty and inequitable
distribution of income.
Migration of Minnesota residents to lower tax states is
picking up steam. "Minnesota has a lot of major government
problems and doesn't have leaders to legislate and manage for
the overall good of the state."
It's a serious issue that public forums on policy issues
are being populated more and more with various interested
parties and not generalist citizens or the informed lay
The sharing and movement of money among different levels
of government, with its resulting effects and limitations,
should be studied.
The Minnesota Association of Counties has made some
recommendations that have fallen on deaf ears. "I'm not sure
if it's because the two political parties can't (or won't) get
along or if the issue is that the bureaucracy at the state's
different departments is afraid of change."
In addition, some members of the Civic
Caucus interview group commented in writing prior to this
meeting on the draft of preliminary findings. Among those
We should not ignore the cultural foundations after World
War II that made it possible for civic institutions to form
and flourish in the Twin Cities: (1) the relatively
homogeneous cultural environment and (2) the relative absence
of troubled/challenged populations. This was a different
environment from that of the large Northeastern industrial
metropolises, with their cultural heterogeneity, that led to
more present-oriented rancor and stalemate, rather than
future-oriented cooperative activity.
The problem is the tendency today to discuss issues in
terms of (a) problems we deplore and (b) goals we seek to
achieve: that is, resources we put in and results we want out.
There's a failure to understand the system that turns
resources into results. That leads to failures to think
through to the heart of the problem, which is essential to
develop proposals truly able to resolve problems. We could
assert that after 100 years of centralization, things are
likely to decentralize. States are bound to become more
important, so it's time to re-equip states to perform this
One institution of public policy not mentioned is the role
of media, both written and broadcast, and the changes
contributing to what is covered and the amount of space given
to specific topics.
Our recent experience in Minnesota has been that
presidential-election voter participation has been rising for
the past 20 years. But voter participation in nonpresidential
elections has been "falling like a rock." Campaign finance is
not really an issue. We might want to drop it from the list.
Decrease in citizen input may be somehow linked to the
growth of the role of staff.
Minnesota's strength in public policy has in the past been
linked to the active role citizens played in participating in
various groups. Citizen participation has changed, with fewer
actively involved in regular public-policy discussion and
Changes in the media are significant. In the past, media
provided a focus and often depth of reporting on issues and
topics that citizens grabbed onto and a public debate
resulted. Today, people can select the source of information
with which each citizen is most comfortable.
The Civic Caucus needs more focus on how public-policy
infrastructure and process should evolve in the future.
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,