In its 11-year
history, the Civic Caucus has interviewed approximately 45
different people each year on public issues important to
Minnesotans. The Caucus has interviewed business leaders,
elected officials, nonelected government officials, academic
experts, journalists, representatives of nonprofits, and others
on a variety of issues. According to Paul Gilje of the Civic
Caucus, the Caucus is committed to telling as many people as
possible what took place during an interview. "Our whole idea is
to share," he said. The Caucus sends out written summary notes
of all its meetings to a large list of e-mail readers, now
numbering 5,000 people.
For the past 10 months, the Civic
Caucus has been undertaking a review of the public-policy
process in Minnesota and plans to issue a report. While that
review will continue for the next month or two, Gilje said, the
Caucus plans to publicly issue a report on what it has learned
during that review by Dec. 1, 2016. That means coming up with
the first draft by Sept. 1, 2016, and a complete report with
approval by the Civic Caucus board by Oct. 31, 2016. The report
will include findings, conclusions and recommendations on how
well the public-policy process in Minnesota has worked in the
past, how well it is working now and how it might work better
looking to the future.
The Civic Caucus should be bold and
courageous. Gilje reminded the interview group that in
writing its report, "the Caucus has nothing to lose, so we don't
have to compromise. We're making a contribution to the
community, rather than to ourselves. We aren't representing any
special interest, but we're thinking we're representing the
community as best as we can. We're concentrating on
accomplishing our objectives by helping others achieve theirs."
We should emphasize the health of
Minnesota. "It's a great place to live," Gilje said.
"Minnesota ranks high on just about any measure." Of course, he
said, there are some comparisons that reflect negatively on the
Minnesota's approaches to public
policy are healthy. Gilje said those approaches are a great
asset for the state and reflect the depth of interest,
commitment, optimism, confidence and urgency of people and
organizations here. He noted leadership from state agencies, the
governor and the Legislature, as well as from organizations like
Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the Star Tribune, the
Pioneer Press, the Saint Paul Foundation, the Minneapolis
Foundation, the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota,
similar schools at other academic institutions, political
parties, the Itasca Project, the Minnesota Business Partnership,
the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, GREATER MSP, Growth &
Justice, Center of the American Experiment, the Citizens League
and more. There are also strongly organized groups for one
interest or another and many locally based groups.
There is a widely acknowledged list of
challenges facing the state, including the following:
- Sort out nongovernmental and governmental roles in
- Match jobs available to qualified jobseekers.
- Attack causes of poverty-level incomes.
- Prepare young children for school.
- Remove educational achievement gaps among various groups.
- Increase the proportion of youth graduating from high
- Make college more relevant and affordable.
- Link colleges and universities with employers and the
- Integrate immigrants into the state's social and economic
- Improve the process of identifying, endorsing, nominating
and selecting the state's elected and appointed officials.
- Attract new residents and discourage exodus.
- Provide workers the means to efficiently get from home to
work and back.
- Improve outcomes in mental health treatment and prisoner
- Protect the state's natural resources.
- Adjust to climate change.
- Examine the effect and limitations of movements of tax
dollars among different levels of government.
There is no shortage of efforts to
ameliorate these problems. "Ideas are coming from many
different directions," Gilje said, "and not always from where we
Both nongovernmental and governmental
actions are inevitably involved, but it's a mistake to think
that governmental actions are always central. Nor are
organizations, whether nongovernmental or governmental, always
central, Gilje said. Government might think it's central. When
ideas are the product, who's the buyer and who's the seller?
- Ultimately, what controls is what people do. For example,
the Civil Rights demonstrations occurred before political
change. Young people are living together before marriage. They
just did it. Society accepted it. And business has been
heavily involved with early learning through scholarship
- Innovation today in helping people get from one place to
another originated not in the governmental transportation
agencies but in the creative action of individuals and
companies like Uber.
"There are ideas coming from so many
directions," Gilje said.
In the arena where governmental
organizations in particular are involved, accomplishing public
policy change is proving to be extremely difficult.
Gilje noted the following reasons that
have been offered for this:
- We're looking to the wrong level of government. We
shouldn't look to Washington for every decision that has to be
made. We need to look first within the state.
- Problems aren't easily solved; patience is required.
- The polarization at the Legislature makes progress
difficult. But it's hard to place all the blame on legislators
if others don't bother to offer creative solutions to the
- It's hard to achieve consensus among people of different
ages, ethnicity, income and other backgrounds. It's easy to
blame the "who," not the "what." Maybe we need to give more
help to each other's initiatives.
- Innovative changes never occur unless someone first comes
up with the specific, innovative proposal for the
changes. That's where a good amount of the problem lies today.
The state should be a hothouse for
innovative ideas. Gilje would like the Caucus interview
group to focus on the need for specific, innovative proposals
for change during the upcoming internal discussion on June 24.
"Let's come up with conclusions and recommendations about making
this community a real hothouse of new ideas," Gilje said.
"That's something this state urgently needs. And everybody needs
to work at that. It's not just up to the Civic Caucus to do
Who understands the policy cycle?
Gilje outlined the policy-cycle concept developed by Ted
Kolderie, a member of the Caucus interview group:
Data and information, which lead to...
Identification of issues, which then
Shaping the issues and...
Analyzing them, which produce...
Actionable proposals, that lead to...
Resolution of the issues, which, in
Then the cycle begins all over again.
Gilje then asked the following
- Is the policy cycle widely acknowledged, known and
- How important is the cycle?
- Who is tracking its overall health in Minnesota?
- Are there gaps in the cycle?
- Do we need to broaden the traditional concept of who is
involved in resolving issues?
What makes a good proposal? Gilje
asserted that the following are aspects of good proposals:
1. People need to recognize that it's
much better to be bold upfront. Don't worry about being perfect.
The proposal is the first word, not the last word. The proposal,
in most cases, is not the way it's going to be ultimately
decided. Imperfect proposals produce better proposals.
2. The proposal needs to be
sufficiently specific to be actionable. It can't just be a vague
expression of the desire for change.
3. The problem needs to be thoroughly
analyzed and factually based. It's not enough to fall back on a
cliché, e.g., "promote equity." What is actually going to occur?
4. It seems that people designing
proposals shut their doors rather than open them. It's vital to
share as broadly as possible what you know and what you don't
know. Get rid of the pride and the fear. People respect you for
5. Often, people concentrate on
symptoms, rather than underlying causes. Doing the analysis to
really think about that is key.
6. Wherever it's possible, establish
incentives that encourage people acting in their own
self-interest will simultaneously advance the public interest.
7. People must propose real
innovation, not just urge people to do the same things better.
8. Proposals should change the
architecture of our social systems as deemed needed.
9. Proposals should turn less to
central control and more to mutual accommodation.
What environment makes it more likely
that good proposals will be advanced? Gilje stressed the
1. The proposals should be
independently initiated, on behalf of the general public, not on
behalf of any advocacy group.
2. A nonpartisan atmosphere.
3. A proposal should be openly
prepared, with widely circulated information.
4. Professionals should be involved,
but the process should be controlled by citizens.
5. Someone in the community should
assemble a comprehensive list of top problems and organizations
can then select priority problems to work on.
6. Organizations and groups
undertaking studies of problems must provide broader
communication with those who are outsiders to the process,
deliberately seeking their input and sharing information widely.
7. The study and proposals must be
prepared in a civil atmosphere, with no effort to have winners
8. Someone should be evaluating the
proposals. What's the equivalent in public policy to a
sportswriter's analysis of team performance or a music critic's
review of an orchestra concert?
What enhances prospects that good
proposals will be debated and, preferably, enacted? Gilje
listed the following:
- It's important to seek endorsement by others, so a
proposal is not just some lone wolf's idea. Likewise, it's
very important to endorse other efforts.
- Proposals must be widely circulated and understood.
- There must be dependable financing for the proposing
- It's vital to listen to others.
- Individuals and groups must not care who gets the credit.
Extend credit as broadly as possible. There's no limit to what
you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.
What does this mean for the various
types of groups involved in public policy?
Gilje stressed the following:
- Academic institutions: It's important for them to document
the relative proportion of their research on state and local
as against national and international.
- Foundations: They should look at their relative emphasis
on direct service to individuals versus investigating major
- Media of all types: They need help in reporting on public
policy and on proposals for change.
- Political parties: They must not only find the candidates,
but also educate them on public issues.
- Civic groups: They must commit to widespread sharing of
information and to attempting to accomplish their own
objectives by helping others.
The Civic Caucus interview group
should be prepared to concentrate during the June 24 internal
discussion on how to get high-quality public-policy proposals
initiated in Minnesota. Gilje said our assumption is that
the community could do better: Issues are not getting developed
and good proposals are not being offered. One thing the Caucus
can do is to stimulate people to do a better job. "It's so easy
to leave it hanging," Gilje said. "Who's going to take action?
We need to concentrate on how it can happen."
The meeting was opened to questions
and comments, including the following:
If we are going to say we need better
proposals for change than the community is generating today, we
must demonstrate how we're falling short. An interviewer
said we must do this if we want to have standing with various
groups. "Otherwise, it's just an allegation," he said.
The state Legislature is a closed
system and is getting more and more closed, except to all the
special interest advocacies. An interviewer asserted that if
we look back at the interviews, there are lots of places where
good ideas are not being considered. "The process is broken," he
The world's a different place; with
change, do we need to change the way of coming up with
People coming into the policy world
today are being educated by teachers who don't understand how
public policy works. "Kids come out of school lacking a
basic understanding of how things work, yet these are the people
we're electing and sending to the Legislature," an interviewer
said. "There's no collective understanding. This was evident in
the Citizens League's Metropolitan Council Task Force. We're
grappling with a new world we don't necessarily understand.
Where in the system can you apply some pressure when the system
has interacting elements?"
Gilje commented that the Metro Council
Task Force didn't spend three or four months listening and
learning. The advantage of listening and learning is that it
puts people who don't know much at the beginning on equal
footing with those who started out knowing more.
The Civic Caucus needs to model this
type of activity. An interviewer said organizations must be
explicit about the methods and the process they're using when
looking at community problems. They must be clear about what the
goal is, because the problem is defined in terms of the goal.
And he said it seems a necessary precondition to involve leaders
from business, foundations and others influential in the
community. An active executive might be able to contribute
resources to help fund an effort.
The Citizens League's Program
Committee from years past undertook an important task in
choosing a problem to work on and then narrowing the topic by
developing a very specific charge to a study committee.
We're distressed about how things are
going at the Legislature. Legislation dealing with a large
variety of areas is all being bundled into omnibus bills, so
leaders get to control things at the end of the legislative
session, an interviewer asserted. "The Legislature is never
going to reform on its own," she said. "An outside organization
must come up with proposals. That is such an important thing.
It's hard for legislators to resist good ideas from a good
Gilje noted that Verne Johnson,
founder of the Civic Caucus, always stressed the importance of
looking at the structure of government. Johnson said
participants can't solve this themselves. They need the help of
outsiders. But many organizations, Gilje said, don't dare
comment on the Legislature.
"The process in the Legislature is
nonsensical," said an interviewer. "It doesn't even allow for
policy debate. We're trying to fit a square peg into a round
hole. The process is so broken that it doesn't even allow for
people who are interested to fix it."
Can we get agreement on what the goal
is? Civic Caucus Chair Dan Loritz said we should come up
with the goal, look at the problems in achieving that goal and
determine the how of dealing with those problems. Gilje
suggested the following goal: Minnesota could do a better job of
coming up with proposals.
We have to pay attention to how
Minnesota is changing. An interviewer said we must look at
demographic changes in the state and their impact. For example,
the population is aging and health care costs are driven by
aging. Also, new immigrants and other factors are diversifying
the population. "We must think about who we are in Minnesota and
who we will be in 2030," he said.
We need to think about who the
audience for the report would be and work back from there.
Perhaps the report should concentrate
on sending better proposals to the Legislature. In response
to that suggestion, Gilje said we're trying to sell our ideas to
legislators, so we should concentrate on people getting better
proposals to the Legislature. "Who are the buyers and who are
the sellers in the public-policy world?" he asked. "I think the
public needs to be selling its ideas to the Legislature, rather
than the other way around."
An interviewer commented that you can
think of policy ideas as seeds. If those seeds land on bad soil,
they'll never take root. "The bad soil is, to a significant
degree, the structure and processes of government and
nongovernment," he said. "If we're going to have omnibus bills
and crazy systems by which laws get made, we can rain good ideas
down, but it doesn't matter; they're all going to die in that
bad soil. And we heard in