Josh Pauly, PeopleSourced Policy founder
& executive director
Combine meetings with technology to
inform, engage citizens
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview June 23, 2017, 2017
Adams, Steve Anderson, Janis Clay (executive director), Pat Davies,
Paul Gilje, Randy Johnson, Dan Loritz, Paul Ostrow (chair), Josh
Pauly, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter, T.
PeopleSourced Policy (PSP) Founder and
Executive Director Josh Pauly created his organization to make it
easier for people to have their voices heard in the local community.
He describes PSP as a nonpartisan civic-engagement organization that
is issue-driven and uses both technology and in-person meetings to
make it easier for people to have their voices heard and to be part
of the policy process. He sees it as an outlet for people to
understand a little bit more about what's going on, to share their
voices and to have their concerns heard.
Pauly says PSP is looking at aging in
Minnesota as its first topic. The first step would be to have a
panel discussion on the topic, including various experts on aging
and related issues, like the workforce and housing. PSP would
live-stream the panel discussion on Facebook and archive the meeting
on YouTube. People could share their ideas on the topic on PSP's
online platform. Policymakers could use the platform to find out
what their constituents are thinking and to offer suggestions
themselves. Pauly sees PSP as a platform for the whole community.
He says PSP also plans to "gamify" public
policy by creating games that focus on different elements of public
policy. The organization will sponsor its first game night this
fall, since it has several games ready to go and plans to create two
more in the coming year.
Josh Pauly is founder and executive
a project of the Minnesota-based Center for Policy Design. For the
past three years, he has taught middle-school social studies and
AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) at Sanford Middle
School in Minneapolis. AVID is a nationally known program designed
to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college
readiness and success in a global society. (Click here
to learn more about the AVID program at Sanford.)
Pauly also spent the past year as a fellow
of the Education Policy Fellowship Program, which is
a partnership of the
Washington, D.C.,-based Institute for Educational Leadership and
the Minnesota-based Center for Policy Design. He
is currently a fellow at the Center for Policy Design.
He received his bachelor's degree in
history in 2011 from the University of Minnesota. In 2014, he
completed his master's degree in education, also at the University
Since September 2015, the Civic Caucus has
been undertaking a review of
quality of Minnesota's past, present and future public-policy
process for anticipating, defining and resolving major community
problems. On Nov. 27, 2016, the Caucus issued its report based on
that review, Looking Back,
Thinking Ahead: Strengthening Minnesota's Public-Policy Process.The
Civic Caucus interviewed Josh Pauly to learn how his organization,
PeopleSourced Policy, will use its digital platform to engage
community members directly in the political process.
Josh Pauly founded
to make it easier for people to have their voices heard in the local
Policy Founder and Executive Director Josh Pauly explained that he
created the organization after Donald Trump was elected president.
As a teacher at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis, he and his
sixth-grade students looked at the data about who voted for Trump.
The students said they didn't agree with
Trump and wondered what they could do. Pauly told them they needed
to make their voices heard in local politics. Minneapolis City
Council Member Andrew Johnson, who represents the area where Sanford
is located, came in to speak to the students. The students brought
up issues like potholes in the streets and problems with the
"The students felt like their voice was
heard and like they did something," Pauly said. "I felt like I
should live out the advice I gave my students. I should make my
voice heard in my community."
Pauly went to his city council member's
office hours, but he noted that some people don't have the
opportunity to do that because of their work schedules. He attended
a night meeting about a possible redevelopment project in his
community and said the meeting was "chaotic, loud, unorganized. My
voice was never heard." The meeting location wasn't on a bus route
and there was no childcare offered, he said. He left the meeting
thinking, "There's got to be a better way."
"I wanted to create something a lot more
functional that works with different people's schedules," he said.
So he created
(PSP), a nonpartisan civic-engagement organization that is
issue-driven and uses both technology and in-person meetings to make
it easier for people to have their voices heard and to be part of
The $15 minimum-wage issue in Minneapolis,
recently passed by the Minneapolis City Council, provides an example
of how PSP could work. For example, Pauly said, if the
minimum-wage issue were still under consideration, PSP could first
hold a live panel discussion in a place easily accessible by public
transit, where childcare would be provided.
The panel would be made up of people with
different perspectives on the issue. It would not include
politicians, he said. The panel could discuss the tip credit, time
for implementation, the small business exemption, etc.
Pauly said PSP would live-stream the
meeting on Facebook, so people could access it from anywhere, if
they couldn't actually attend the meeting. The meeting would be
archived on PSP's YouTube channel. After the meeting, he said, PSP's
online platform would go live and a user would sign in with her or
his name, physical address and e-mail address.
(An online, or digital, platform is any
web-based platform for presenting content, e.g., Facebook, Twitter
or websites. This is in contrast to analog platforms like
billboards, direct mail, telemarketing, events, word-of-mouth, etc.)
"With that information, we can geo-plot
where you live and know who your city council member is," he said.
"With that we can aggregate and disaggregate data." The platform
would show the main topic and have a paragraph or two explaining it.
There would be links to the panel discussion and to readings for
further information. He said the platform could break the topic down
into subcategories that people care about.
Then people can share their ideas. Other
people can "like" or "love" an idea, meaning they really care
about it. If people love certain ideas, PSP will reach out to them
and try to activate them as citizens by suggesting further steps
they could take on their own. People can comment on other people's
ideas or flag them if they think they're inappropriate.
PSP can aggregate and disaggregate data to
show which participants are from which wards and which ideas people
care about in which ward. Pauly said the organization could
disperse this information to city council members, other
organizations and to the public. MinnPost has agreed to
partner with PSP for the first year, he said, and will be sharing
information the platform gathers.
The platform currently includes mapping
only for Minneapolis, but he said it would eventually include the
entire state. Pauly said people outside of Minneapolis can
participate, though; the platform will designate them as living in
City council members can look at the PSP
data to see a snapshot of how their constituents think. The council
members and other organizations can also share their ideas on the
platform. "This is a platform for the whole community," Pauly said.
"We think it's easier for people to participate in this." PSP wants
to have meetings in each ward at the beginning of exploring a new
topic, as well as at the end.
PSP is looking at aging in Minnesota as
its first topic. Pauly said the first step will be to have a
panel discussion with Susan Brower, state demographer; a
representative from the Minnesota Board on Aging; Sean Kershaw,
executive director of the Citizens League; Mark Brinda, who provides
workforce and training assistance at the Minneapolis Department of
Community Planning & Economic Development; Andrea Brennan, director
of Housing Policy and Development for the City of Minneapolis; and
Christina Kendrick, senior community specialist with the City of
In addition to live-streaming the panel
discussion on Facebook and putting the meeting on YouTube, PSP will
provide links to resources for people who want more information.
Many people have not had a platform to
share their opinions on specific topics. An interviewer
commented that PSP is trying to gather information from a variety of
people, many of whom have not had a platform to share their
opinions. "You provide basic information on a topic, but you also
get information back from people on how they feel about it and what
they'd like to see," he said. The interviewer asked how Pauly
proposes to drive people to the PSP site.
Pauly responded that PSP is partnering
with MinnPost and he is planning to talk with the Star
Tribune, the Pioneer Press, City Pages and neighborhood
newspapers in Minneapolis. On July 14, 2017, Pauly was on Twin
Cities Public Television's Almanac program discussing his
plans to "gamify" public policy. "The national organization Strong
Towns is going to write a piece about PSP this fall," Pauly said.
"Our sister organization, Glasshouse Policy, in Austin, Texas, is
sending out a newsletter e-mail to announce our presence. We have
been and will continue to reach out to community-based
organizations. We're looking at partnering with the Hennepin County
Library System. And we're creating a promotional video--a visual
pitch--to send out on the Internet."
The same interviewer noted that he's on
the board of a nonprofit organization that has a computer lab where
people can come in and search for a job or a variety of other
things. "These are people whose opinions we never get," he said. "No
one ever asks them. And they are some of the people most impacted by
these issues." Perhaps, he said, Pauly could walk them through a
brief introduction into what PSP is trying to do.
PSP could have smaller panels in wards or
neighborhoods. In addition to having a large panel discussion,
Pauly is looking at having smaller panels in wards or neighborhoods.
Then people can share their voices in small community meetings, he
said. PSP can distill down what the top three ideas and policy
recommendations are for a community and then invite the community in
and ask if the ideas are functional. City Council members and other
policymakers can take the ideas and make them into functional
public-policy ideas that can be put into an ordinance or policy.
The PSP approach might work with local,
retail policy questions, like fixing potholes, but it might not
provide deep analysis of complicated topics. An interviewer made
that remark and said there is a difference between sharing views and
getting deep into policy analysis. "Just sharing views on whether
something is a good or bad idea doesn't really, on some complicated
issues, help people truly understand the implications of things," he
said. "It seems that the process you're proposing has some limits in
terms of the challenges it can address."
Pauly responded that just because
something is complicated doesn't mean people shouldn't get to share
their ideas. "I think you have to give people a little more credit,"
he said. "It's on me to find people to serve on panels who really
understand the topic. I'm not expecting people who participate on
PSP's platform to create a fully functional policy."
While Pauly decided on PSP's first topic,
aging in Minnesota, in the future he'd like to crowd-source ideas
for the topics. He plans to ask people what they want to talk
about and ask policymakers on what issues they'd like community
Don't people who participate in PSP need a
basic commitment to civil conversation and disagreements? An
interviewer asked that question and said we're assuming that
everyone is acting in good faith. "But how do you police that?" he
Pauly responded that PSP is not Facebook.
"We'll have moderators who keep everything cordial and civil," he
said. "There are different ways to police it. There will be a basic
understanding that this is not a place for personal attacks; it's a
place to share ideas."
Another interviewer suggested that Pauly's
work with PSP bears some relationship to the work of Trygve
Throntveit on the Minnesota Civic Studies Initiative at the
University of Minnesota. The project is aimed at reclaiming
democracy as the work of citizens. (See
We as a public are very ignorant about the
civic process. An interviewer made that remark, adding, "We
don't know how government works." He said we no longer focus on
teaching it in our schools. "We used to have civics classes and kids
understood how a bill becomes a law."
He commented that, in addition to
gathering information from citizens, PSP could help people better
understand how the system works, where it might be going off track
and how they can participate as citizens in the process to get it
back on track.
The political parties are very interested
in the PSP platform. Pauly said he has met with members of both
major political parties, as well as the Independents and Greens. One
person wanted to buy the platform to use it to get ideas from
constituents. He said the parties have offered ideas on topics
they'd like PSP to explore. "If I were a politician, I would want
something like this for people to go on and share their ideas with
me," Pauly said. "But PSP is not about helping an individual
politician. It's about giving people a platform where their voice
can be heard."
He said the
Pirate Party in Iceland,
which promotes direct democracy, is using a similar type of platform
to get ideas from people. And Glasshouse Policy in
has been doing what PSP is trying to do since 2014 and is effective
at it, Pauly said. PSP and Glasshouse Policy have formed a
partnership to share ideas.
Many years ago, in Minneapolis and Saint
Paul, there was a feeling that citizens' voices were not being heard
in local government, so the cities created neighborhood councils.
An interviewer made that remark and asked how PSP fits in with
what neighborhood councils are trying to do. Pauly responded that
he's met with neighborhood organizations, which like the idea of the
PSP platform. He said their role with PSP would be to help organize
Another interviewer said Pauly's approach
has the potential to be very local in its impact. "This is a really
good idea in a certain context," the interviewer said. "Maybe when
people get truly engaged through this vehicle, they could elevate
the conversation to something larger and broader. There are tiers of
complexity and policy here that put limits on what might be
accomplished. It's important to establish boundaries within which
this can really help and engage people."
Pauly agreed there are things that are
very complex. "Our goal is not to take someone and throw them into
the stratosphere," he said. "But everyone can connect to the topic
of aging in Minnesota." People have parents or children or they're
getting older themselves and wonder what they're going to need from
"I think that's the launching point," he
said. "Hopefully, we can activate citizens, so they can go on and do
bigger and better and greater things. But we need to somehow take a
He said it took him talking to 39 friends
before he found someone who had heard of the Citizens League. "And
nobody knows what the Civic Caucus is," he said. "We hope to connect
with people and tell them that these and other organizations are
institutions they can go to and get information. I think that's a
PSP would like to have game nights,
focusing on different elements of public policy. "We want people
to get involved in policy in general," Pauly said. "Policy is a
higher order, stressful thing. We're going to try to make it easier
by 'gamifying' public policy. We want to create some games out of
more traditional policy matters." He gave the example of having
teams of people design their ideal streets for different kinds of
transportation and then having judges pick the winning team. PSP has
a low-tech, land-development game and a game around city planning
ready to go.
The organization has a game night planned
around transit policy at the University of Minnesota-Duluth this
fall. Pauly said a goal this year is to create two new games:
One of those is an open-sourced application that allows people
to make a budget for the state, based on the real amount of money
in the state's budget. They'd have to decide, for example, how
much to allocate to schools or to health and human services. At a
meeting, they'd then explain to other citizens and elected
officials why they made those choices.
The other game focuses on redistricting. State Demographer
Susan Brower has already promised to give PSP data from the last
round of redistricting, Pauly said. The goal is to give people the
power to draw the lines and then compare them to how they have
been drawn in the past.
Because of his teaching background, Pauly
also plans to release these "game nights" as STEM curriculum for
K-12 schools. An urban middle school and a suburban high school have
already signed up to use them.
It's important to teach people in the next
generation how to run for public office. Pauly made that remark
and said it's important to get people to mentor millennials who
might want to run for office. He mentioned the Millennial PAC, which
is run by Jon Tollefson, a candidate for Minnesota State Auditor.
An interviewer said that, as he left
public office, he had the idea of having "governmentors," who would
mentor and establish those people who are running for office out of
pragmatic thinking about how we can make government and policy work.
"It seems that the farm team for elective office is almost
exclusively coming from the base of each party," the interviewer
said. "We don't have the kinds of people who are civic-minded and
willing to look at all sides of issues."
"I think it's important that people do
mentor younger people," Pauly responded. "I have a lot of ideas and
a lot of energy, but I don't have any wisdom or experience."
Another interviewer commented, "We must
raise up a group of people like Josh to understand what public
policy is all about. This is a good beginning and we'd like to do
whatever we can to help."
PSP must make sure its network is broad
and inclusive. An interviewer made that remark and said it's
important to include people who might have different viewpoints, so
you can run your views against them and learn how to defend those
views. "It needs to be a multi-racial, multi-ethnic network," the
interviewer said. "I'm glad you're open to a broad network."
There is a complex world of policy
surrounding topics like aging in Minnesota. An interviewer made
that comment and said the problem of policy design is very different
from asking people what they think about aging. "I can't see how a
conversation among people who don't know about policy and policy
design can be informed helpfully by what you're talking about
doing," he said to Pauly. "What happens after you bring people
together to talk about aging in Minnesota?"
The interviewer said in many areas, there
are faulty systems that need to be modified by policy design. "What
you're doing seems to address existing systems and tries to help
people get engaged," he said. "I still don't see where the knowledge
of the systems that need to be redesigned is going to come from." He
said it's good Pauly's work is attempting to get people engaged and
to teach them how the world works. "But," the interviewer asked,
"how does your work connect with policy design?"
"Our goal is not to craft new systems and
change all the infrastructure," Pauly responded. "Our goal is to get
people involved and to understand the system. That's going to come
from the experts who are on our panels to curate these subtopics.
But I don't think there's anything wrong with community engagement.
We're not trying to replace policymakers or people at the Humphrey
School [of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota], who are
doing great work. We're just trying to create an outlet for people
to share their voices, have their concerns heard and try to
understand a little bit more about what's going on."
Pauly said if there are 1,000 people on
the PSP platform, maybe 100 people will take a next step and maybe
10 of them will try to be on the neighborhood association or apply
for a fellowship. "Then we go to another issue and get another 100
people who care," he said. "I think that's how we chip away at it."
"I don't think this is the be-all and
end-all," Pauly said. "I haven't solved anything. I'm just trying to
do my part. I'm 30 and I need to be the person to solve problems. At
some point you have to do something; hopefully it leads to something
Exchanging ideas electronically appears to
have enabled the most passionate political extremes to be heard.
An interviewer made that remark and said that has had an enormous
impact on the political world at the national, state and local
levels. "People who feel intensely on the right or intensely on the
left are very engaged," he said. "How does this approach deal with
that behavior and do anything to minimize the balkanization going on
in the political world these days?"
Pauly responded that it's incumbent on him
to reach out to people in all different walks of life and with
different political views. He said polarization hasn't been an issue
with a similar digital platform developed in Austin, Texas. Instead,
people share about things that impact them individually.
Pauly said it's important also to get
institutions to share on the PSP platform. "If we're doing something
on aging, the State Board on Aging and other nonpartisan
organizations should be sharing their data and things they're
looking at," he said.
If nonpartisanship is key to the long-term
credibility of PSP, what safeguards are being built in at the
beginning to assure nonpartisanship? An interviewer asked that
question and Pauly responded that PSP's advisory board will include
people on the left, the right and the middle. He said PSP would pick
topics that are not "owned" by the left or the right. "Picking the
topic is important," he said. PSP will use the advisory board and
neighborhood associations to provide input on the topic choices.
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 (executive director), Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje, Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,