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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus discussion:

Civic Caucus Interview Group – Internal Discussion
April 22, 2016, 2016

A recap of findings to date yields ideas for future direction


From interviews held over the past several weeks we might infer the following challenges to those who wish to bring about solutions to major public policy problems: Assist, don't just complain about, media coverage. Recognize that leaders might be hindered by the structures within which they function. Consider the benefit of setting up teams explicitly to propose major change. Look for system change, rather than simply respond to symptoms. To ensure effective change, see that change is owned at the operational level, not just the policy level. Consider whether too many of us are more concerned about "me" than about the "community." Engage in less protectionism and more voluntary sharing of information. Consider whether recreating something akin to a state planning agency would help. Emphasize that non-insider organizations are very much needed for developing creative proposals.

For the complete interview summary see: April 22 Internal Discussion

Individual Responses:

Scott Halstead
Very good work as usual.

I would disagree with business being classified as a "general purpose organization." They make the financial donations, hire the lobbyists and have the Chamber of Commerce running interference.

Media: Journalists far too often publish the information that the PR Department provides without looking any deeper.

The Citizens League including a former Met. Council Director on their team [working on] providing the legislature with another method of selecting council members appears to be a poor decision, but may be fine depending upon the role played.

As a leader of an organization that is active at the State Legislature and wishing to make legislative reforms I often see organizations that focus on only what is good for them. I try to make a broader appeal on our issues and utilize a Advocacy Plan that is in the best interests of all Minnesotan's

Todd Otis
I thought your "summary" session was exceptionally wise and put wonderfully succinctly. Good job! Now we all have to go out and "just do it".

Tom Spitznagle
Please consider the following observations along with all of the great points raised in your email below:

One of the lessons I learned from my involvement in major systems implementations at various Minnesota corporations was that the participation of people all of the way down to the lowest levels was critical to the success of any new system (I.e., a significant change in how affected people work and live).

Simply getting together a group of management leaders to design and implement change in the form of a new system that affects all employees down the line can result in a failed implementation. I learned that ignoring even the lowest level employee in such an endeavor can result in that employee almost single-handedly obstructing the new system's success.

Translating this into the public domain: today there seem to be an ever-increasing number of top-down government laws, administrative rules, executive orders, etc., that are causing considerable resistance at the citizen level. Many of these top-down mandates affect citizen rights and/or culture. If conflict and turmoil are the ultimate objectives, then this is a good way to achieve it.

The polarized political environment is a significant factor. Government does not seem to be working on our behalf. Instead, pushing a party's particular ideology seems to be taking precedence. Polls support this citizen concern about government's effectiveness. In this type of environment, citizens would prefer that nothing get accomplished instead of risking one-sided change.

So maybe a primary initiative for the Civic Caucus is to somehow work with the state's political leadership to get them to realize that their behavior is holding back progress on many important issues—sort of like a mediator might do.

Party leaders and bureaucrats can't just wait until they have the political power to ram their preferred ideological programs down onto citizens. This just does not work and is very destructive, pitting citizens against citizens in a win/lose environment.

Until the top-down, ideological political environment changes, it will be much more difficult for outside civic groups to make a positive impact with ideas for improvement.

I suspect that this destructive political environment is also discouraging many citizens from becoming involved. Most well intentioned folks just don't need the grief associated with trying to promote positive change in a dysfunctional environment.

Dennis Carlson
Clarification of definitions is needed. Definitely, a good idea. I would suggest narrowing your focus too. I think you would have a greater impact.

Assist, don't just complain about, media coverage. I have real mixed feelings on this one. As a superintendent I received regular pressure to respond to all media requests by our Communication Department and regular pressure from our legal counsel to talk to no one. Your job as superintendent is to navigate those waters and choose when and who you talk to. I would be very careful to seek references, analyze previous articles, and do some real research on media types before I would offer any of them assistance. I would be much more supportive of working with local community media. Too many times I have found the media to be acting in their own self-interest rather than trying to serve the best interests of the community.

Look at helping leaders bring about system change. It would be interesting to offer help with existing leadership and see how they respond. When we were going through such tough times in 2010, I welcomed help from the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, to come and offer their community mediation services in the area of LGBT rights and their safety in a large school system. Once the legal side of DOJ/OCR got involved they took over and dropped the supportive mediation offer. I have always felt that we could have used outside legal support and mediation strategies to help us during that very controversial and polarized time.

I would also add that the two federal judges we worked with were terrific. They looked at the whole situation, considered the legal implications and the community impact, and strategized with several parties to build a consensus and agreement. Offering your services to mediators, judges, legal representatives, or others, may be worth considering.

Consider how much change is occurring. Is our current organizational framework not conducive to producing good leadership? Alignment in large institutions and in society in general is a huge issue. In the field of education I fear we are often working at cross-purposes within local, state, and federal government. Within our state, and locally, we do not often agree between administrative leadership and union groups. The extremes that each side takes—administrative position: teacher tenure must be eliminated, teacher union position: you are out to destroy the union—make it impossible to make the needed change that would lead to actual education reform. If those two entities could come to a consensus that would actually improve student learning, progress could be made.

Consider setting up different teams explicitly assigned to bring about change. An idea worth pursuing.

Efforts are hindered by failure to recognize business contribution and to throw off an attachment to the past. Identifying businesses that have a strong interest in improving community systems and structures I think could be useful. Those business leaders could be represented on the "teams" you suggest creating. I would encourage you to bring that idea up when you meet with Charlie Weaver.

Don't forget need for restructuring, not just attacking symptoms of problem. Unless there is some driving force—lack of funds, complete institutional collapse, public outrage, or a no confidence vote—I don't see this happening. Without some driving force why would anyone take this on?

Too much ill intent is presumed. I think the barriers to overcome system change are huge and strongly embedded in current leadership. As an example, look at our political parties and the positions that are taken in any controversial area. Compromise and consensus are never the goal. Staying true to your political base (essential to win the next election) seems to be the only priority.

It is difficult to ensure that change is implemented at the operational level. This is where alignment, leadership, and communication (at all levels of the organization) all play such a critical part. Unless organizational change is understood at the operational level, effectively implemented (along with professional development and training), and rooted in institutional policy, the change will last only as long as current leadership lasts.

Should we narrow the focus? Yes, I thought this was very wisely stated. "What we are really trying to talk about is effective involvement of citizens, working together, seeking agreement...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. Identifying and focusing on a specific community problem is the first order of business. What the community can do to narrow the education achievement gap would be my choice. Schools cannot do it alone in isolation.

Specific, creative recommendations can insulate themselves from undue attack. Verbal attacks are a given in the current environment. However, as retirees and wise people (without an axe to grind), you may have a real opportunity to say what needs to be said and to be honest and direct in identifying barriers and solutions.

Is there too much concern for "me" as opposed to concern for the "community"? Yes, that is the current environment as I see it.

Less selfish protectionism and more voluntary sharing of information would help. I think this happens regularly in education professional organization silos but seldom at the institutional level. Silo thinking and examples exist at every level - bargaining groups, administration, school board (elected officials), state legislature, congress, president and cabinet.

Does Minnesota need something like a state planning agency? Yes, but if it is rooted in a political party (Governor appointed) it will be opposed by the other party at every turn.

Narrow the focus to "non-insider" organizations in public policy. Still seems too broad to be effective.

Acknowledge the influence of paid lobbyists. True, but very difficult to challenge. I believe they need to be at the problem/solution table too.

If a problem doesn't get solved, don't just blame the "insiders"; the do-gooders are also to blame. This example might support your point. There has been a fight for the last several years within early education. The fight is this: one special interest group only supports additional funding that goes to support quality child care, the other special interest group only supports school readiness (for 3 and 4 year old children) with licensed teachers. The truth is, both are needed, but the continued battle between Art Rolnick and Community Education for funding hurts both groups.

There are serious problems with "omnibus" bills. This is an age old problem of late-night, last-minute, all-encompassing, political agreements made with leadership. Actual alignment only seems to be important in partisan campaigning, not in the passage of laws that positively affect communities and their institutions. That is what non-funding sessions are all about—to fix all the mistakes that were made in the last funding session where elected officials voted on bills they hadn't read and didn't understand. Please pardon my cynicism; it is, however, based on my experience.

The Metropolitan Council is an issue raiser and solution proposer. In suburbia, the Met Council is suspect and seen as overreaching without local community buy in. The Met Council is seen in Anoka County as part of the problem, not the solution.

Impact of technology. I see it as both: it can bring about positive change (better communication among diverse people) and yet can be a huge potential risk (bullying, verbal and sexual abuse, and contributing to suicides). What social media leaders have done with our youth is deplorable, while most youth would say it has been great. Social media has created a "Lord of the Flies" environment with no adults in charge.

Impact of demographic diversity. A critical issue in many, many areas and ripe for potential solutions in the economy, job and skill shortages, improving education and the achievement gap, and cultural understanding in a global society.

Impact of new media. True, but finding the credible ones I find difficult. If you could identify which are worthwhile it could be very helpful. I would propose that Civic Caucus form a working alliance with MinnPost so that both could reach wider audiences. You two could the start of a media "team."

Processes evolving. I think new processes are in order to work in an ever-changing environment. Our tried and true old processes aren't working. The earlier example of end of legislative session mistakes and missteps is a perfect example.

Lyall Schwarzkopf
This was a good review of what the Civic Caucus has heard and summarized from recent meetings. Its now important to put the new ideas to work. Yes, it is hard to propose new or different ideas because of the push-back from insiders, but it needs to happen. New ideas need to be vetted and ready to work if implemented. That is important.


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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.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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