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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the 
Sean Kershaw  Interview of

Citizens League focuses on new model for policy development and implementation

Citizens League Executive Director Sean Kershaw recognizes that Minnesota's civic infrastructure is not the same as it used to be and that many policy problems are more complex than they used to be. To address these changes, the League's new mission focuses on "building civic imagination and capacity". The Citizens League has a civic policy agenda with two tenets: (1) Every individual is a policymaker; and (2) Every issue has a role for every institution. Kershaw says the League is attempting to frame its work with a view to demographic changes that will take place by 2025: labor force growth will essentially stop and the baby boomers will begin to hit their 80s. He says the Legislature is not the only solution to policy problems. The Citizens League, he points out, now involves stakeholders in both the study and implementation phases of its policy work. Kershaw says that strategy can help to improve the framing of problems and build support for a solution from as many institutions as possible. He outlines five areas of the League's current legislative agenda: tax reform, Fiscal Disparities, Pathways to Prosperity, the Minnesota Prosperity Act (formerly the Dream Act) and long-term care financing. 

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Kershaw. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Legislature's policy influence waning. (4.8 average response)  The importance of the Legislature in making policy is diminishing.

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. (6.3 average response) Rather than directing policy recommendations primarily to the Legislature, civic organizations should instead direct their recommendations for change to citizens in general.

3. Implement rather than develop proposals. (5.9 average response) There's a greater need today for civic organizations to work on implementation of proposals already on the table and less of a need for civic organizations to develop new proposals.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. (8.0 average response) Individuals and groups that have a stake in the outcome of civic proposals should be full participants in crafting them.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Legislature's policy influence waning.







2. Address citizenry, not Legislature.







3. Implement rather than develop proposals.







4. Participate fully in crafting proposals.







Individual Responses:

Bert LeMunyon  (5)  (7.5)  (5)  (10)

3. Implement rather than develop proposals. We need both

Paul Hauge  (2.5)  (5)  (0)  (0)

Chris Brazelton  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)

1. Legislature's policy influence waning. In part because political polarization has driven legislators away from finding common ground and developing solutions that both sides can agree to support.  We don't have to accept this, but would need to work actively to change the climate.

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. If the citizens don't support it, the legislature won't.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. As long as the base is broad enough to include all key stakeholders.

Peter Fischer  (2.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (7.5)

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. I think it is important that citizens in general need more opportunities to be properly educated on the issues to help with creating the solutions.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. I think the more ownership that people take in crafting solutions the more they will be committed to educating others and building the support needed to carry out the solutions.

Joe Nathan  (0)  (2.5)  (5)  (10)

1. Legislature's policy influence waning. Many key decisions are being made at the Legislature.  Billions of dollars (literally) are at stake. Moreover, critical decisions are being made in every area that Kershaw says CL cares about.

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. Does it need to be either or?  Not sure why CL has decreased its presence at the Legislature.

3. Implement rather than develop proposals. Does it need to be either or?  Of course organizations have to decide priorities.  But powerful interest groups are active at the Legislature.  Ordinary citizens need voices at the Legislature too.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. Sure.  Powerful groups are very active at the Legislature and in other places.  CL once was a great voice for overall civic interest.  CL has many more competitors for money, attention, etc. than it once did.  This is a considerable challenge for CL.  Not sure how much impact CL has.

Don Anderson  (7.5)  (5)  (7.5)  (5)

Lyall Schwarzkopf  (2.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

Katie Simon  (5)  (7.5)  (0)  (7.5)

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. I still believe there is a huge under-reached population in almost all civic engagement.

John S. Adams  (5)  (5)  (2.5)  (7.5)

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. Both are important and both should be pursued.

3. Implement rather than develop proposals. Fresh problems arise all the time.  New challenges need to be addressed along with continuing challenges.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. Generally agree, but many--perhaps most--advocates for or against specific policy proposals are uninformed of how their proposals are linked with other challenges and systems operating to give us the outcomes that we don't like.  Everything is connected with everything else. For many years I have urged the CL to establish operational links with the colleges and universities in our metro area and state by developing a cadre of public-policy-oriented professors (and their students) who would work on current and upcoming policy problems as part of their civic education so that when they finish school and enter business, government and the professions they know more about how things work and are better prepared to participate effectively. To date, though, this proposal has not been taken seriously.  Meanwhile, we have been populating state and local governments with college and university graduates who assume their duties with little overall understanding of how things work, and public debates demonstrate their limited understandings.  The recent (shallow) debate asking the MN legislature to bankroll infrastructure investments in Rochester is only one recent example.

Scott Halstead  (7.5)  (5)  (5)  (10)

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals. The Citizens League should be a leader in assisting civic organizations in preparation of proposed legislation.

Anonymous   (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

Tim McDonald   (3)  (5)  (5)  (2)

2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. Depends who is in a position to act on them.

4. Participate fully in crafting proposals.  Not necessarily; be cautious of the tendency for process to crowd out substance.

Chuck Lutz   (7)  (7)  (8)  (10)

Mark Ritchie  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)

Another great interview - thanks!

Fred Senn   (5)  (8)  (3)  (9)

Mina Harrigan   (4)  (4)  (4)  (8)

Wayne Jennings   (4)  (6)  (7)  (10)

Thanks for having Sean in to talk of new ways of changing communities for a fairer, more just

and inclusive world.

Marina Lyon  (0)  (4)  (6)  (5)

1. Legislature's policy influence waning. While the legislature doesn’t work like it used to, it remains the only avenue to make public policy.  The policies that can be implemented by individuals and businesses and social orgs can only impact what they control – not others.  I’d love to believe that we could line up people and institutions on the same side, and am willing to give that idea a chance, but I don’t see how that will impact the public in any reasonable period of time.                                                                                                            
2. Address citizenry, not Legislature. I don’t disagree with this, but it cannot be exclusive of those with authority to make changes.  Depending on the issue, a governing body that implements is still a hurdle to cross for change.
3. Implement rather than develop proposals. In some areas this is true (federal fiscal/tax reform) – in others (e.g., reforming entitlement programs), not.
4. Participate fully in crafting proposals.  In theory, yes, of course.  In practice we only have to look at the enormous cost on lobbying to understand how things will be different when the outcome affects everyone, including future generations that are not currently living (e.g., environment.)

Carolyn Ring   (6)  (8)  (5)  (8)

The Legislature is still the one to make the final decisions.  There is a need to develop strong, electable candidates who carry the message of civic organizations through the legislature. 

Tom Swain   (5)  (2)  (5)  (9)

Gene Franchett   (9)  (6)  (9)  (8)

Jack Evert   (5)  (6)  (8)  (9)

Al Quie   (0)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Tom Spitznagle   (9)  (8)  (5)  (9)

Minnesota’s current form of representative government, specifically the governor and the legislature, is not very well suited for operating the “state enterprise” in the best interests of citizens.  Significant opportunities exist but they are too often approached in a piecemeal, disjointed manner that lacks continuity (as control changes) if they are recognized and addressed at all.  A good example is Minnesota’s property tax system.  It has numerous significant deficiencies, as documented in the November 2012 final report of the bipartisan Property Tax Working Group.  Yet, the old approach of attempting to “twiddle” with the property tax system continues by both the governor and the legislature – apparently ignoring the documented evidence that the system itself is seriously flawed at its core.

Roger A Wacek   (5)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Stephen Bosacker   (2)  (6)  (5)  (8)

I believe the challenge we face to increasing the role and benefits of civic cooperation is that the Legislature has more power than civic organizations – it can trump anything we try to do together. In the face of this it is easy to become passive and let the legislature do the job. However, if civic organizations and citizens learn how to work well together and discover effective ways to develop relevant and effective plans and alliances I believe the legislature will pay attention to these developments. I would love to see our cities and metropolitan area develop a tradition of collaboration and cooperation. If this included the legislature that would be incredibly good for our people and state. I believe the legislature as it is designed and run is not capable of solving our problems, especially for the 2025 ‘hit the wall’ dilemma. Jim Abeler pointed out to me that our legislature (reps and senators) operates with a 2-year perspective (or close to 2 years) – when their term is done, [then] get elected. Furthermore the budget cycle only focuses on 2-year cycles. There is very little incentive to plan for and build a longer-term strategy for the state. Who knows what the future sessions will undo or redo or avoid

A second challenge is that when different groups try to come together and make sense of their problems, needs and desires it can easily devolve into a competition for who can win their position. This implies the ones who win create losers. As we see in the legislature, patience and perseverance to build win-win solutions is hard to gain or maintain. The same applies to our civic organizations and groups. Complexity and significant gaps in people’s understanding of what is, what works and what others need can be overcome by using some masterful methods and tools to build shared understanding. There are two significant and effective practices available to use in Minnesota: Appreciative Inquiry, with a great example in the City of St. Louis Park. The benefit of appreciative inquiry is that it avoids problem focus (which naturally leads to defensiveness and emotional frustration) but when completed solves problems. The second practice is evident in some initiatives developed by InsightFormation in Golden Valley. The InsightFormation practice provides tools and techniques that enable potentially hundreds of organizations to cooperate and coordinate the fulfillment of community goals that reach beyond the individual organizations’ missions and goals. Each practice uses some different approaches and it is also possible to integrate the two for a wider and larger audience. Both these approaches are designed to help people discover how their system works and build understanding of the constraints and learn how so share their dreams together. A third approach that sometimes uses similar techniques but is not in use in Minnesota (limited experts available) is system dynamics modeling. System dynamics modeling would enable people to simplify some of the complexity into a testable model that (when completed) simulates the real situation and allows experimentation with changes in policies or system design for very little cost. Seemingly intractable problems have been solved using this approach. This approach requires much more expert information and historical data and produces good results when there is a strong (durable) system in operation and a problem is sufficiently important to invest time and resources to solve. Examples: solving a national housing controversy and problem in Holland, identifying why a utility company kept on losing money and reducing service to its community, predicting what it would take to eliminate polio, discovering effective ways to contain the emerald ash borer, explaining (in court) why cost overruns in building a large military ship were so great.

In my opinion the greatest challenge is how to converse and work with people in ways that result in more openness to hear and learn from one another, and therefore build common understandings of shared aspirations, of how our systems work, how to honor and encourage others (and be honored and encouraged) and achieve win-win-win-win… solutions. Perhaps this is the point where our infrastructure has declined so severely.

Keep up the good work!

Ray Ayotte  (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   David Broden,  Janis Clay,  Bill Frenzel,  Paul Gilje,   Jan Hively,  Dan Loritz (Chair),  Marina Lyon,  Joe Mansky, 
Tim McDonald,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and Bob White

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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