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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Sean Kershaw, Executive Director, Citizens League
November 6, 2015

Minnesota must develop new model for collectively solving public problems


The role a strong civic infrastructure has played in Minnesota is vital to our past and future success, according to Citizens League Executive Director Sean Kershaw. Our ability to collectively solve problems has mattered. But he points out that the world has changed dramatically since the heyday of public-policy organizations like the Citizens League more than a generation ago. That was a unique time of post-war stability and economic growth, without a lot of inequality or political polarization.


Now, he says, we have a proliferation of interest groups; issues with global implications and connections; unprecedented changes in technology; greater time competition; and substantial changes in economic activity and competition. Problems are more complex than they were in the past; it's not as simple as going to the Legislature or any one institution to resolve them.


Given these changes, policy approaches and solutions that worked in the old model don't necessarily work anymore, Kershaw concludes. We need to rebuild a new civic imagination and capacity to address the problems we currently face and that fit well with how the world is working now. We aren't doing well today in resolving public problems, he asserts, in part because we haven't let go of the past paradigm.


Kershaw says there is no lack of interesting ideas out there about dealing with public problems, but we seem to be unable to implement the good ideas that do come up. To change that, he believes we must recognize that every person and every institution have a role in policymaking, including both generalists and formal stakeholders. People who are affected by a public problem must be involved in the whole process of defining the problem, designing solutions to it and advancing the proposed solutions.


While new groups looking for long-term solutions to public problems are just beginning to emerge through the efforts of Millennials, Kershaw says these groups are not yet moving the needle. He calls on groups like the Civic Caucus to help support the development of a public mindset in this younger generation, while cautioning that Millennials might express that mindset very differently from the way people expressed it 30 years ago.


For the complete interview summary see:  Kershaw interview


Response Summary: Readers rated these statements about the topic and about points discussed during the meeting, on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 


1. Topic is of value. The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.


2. Further study warranted. It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.


3. Solutions fail when stakeholders uninvolved. Solutions to public problems are less likely to be successful when people directly affected by those problems are not involved in advancing proposed solutions.


4. Unwillingness to compromise an obstacle. Interest groups that favor intransigence over compromise are obstacles to effective public problem solving.


5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes. Systems such as education reward the careerism of the people in them instead of the outcomes those people are expected to produce.


6. Generalists, stakeholders must participate. Interested parties, both generalists and stakeholders, need to work together to devise and advance effective solutions to public problems.


7. Younger adults may abandon politics. If narrow interests continually prevail in our political system, an entire generation of younger people might become so disaffected that they abandon politics.


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Usefulness of today's topic.







2. Need for further inquiry.







3. Solutions fail when stakeholders uninvolved.







4. Unwillingness to compromise an obstacle.







5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes.







6. Generalists, stakeholders must participate.







7. Younger adults may abandon politics.








Individual Responses:

Bright Dornblaser  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)


John P. James  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)

 1. Usefulness of today's topic. Sean's comments are right on target.  I think he is right that there is no silver bullet.  I think you should take a look at big systemic issues, including process concerns as well as substantive issues in how to deal with them.  I'll send my own thoughts on what some of those are.


2. Need for further inquiry. The cost is, or at least used to be, huge.  Good example of an issue that might shed some light on broader systemic process problem.


4. Unwillingness to compromise an obstacle. The respective narratives may each be out of synch with reality.  In some instances, measurement and reporting of results could help.


5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes. Unfortunately, this is the human condition and it affects organizations of every kind and nature.  Education, however, is often unfairly attacked. The underlying bigger problem there is with what goes on in kids' lives outside of school.


6. Generalists, stakeholders must participate. I'd say this is probably a case-by-case thing.

I don't think you should spend too much time looking generally at civic process.  I suspect you can take the thinking you have already developed and from that develop an approach you can and should consider with respect to each issue you tackle.  Sean Kershaw hit the nail on the head. There is no silver bullet, so you should not spend a lot of energy looking for one. You should, however, consider actively the process challenges on every substantive issue you tackle.


Here is one generic approach you might consider. First, identify Minnesota's and the Twin Cities City Region's major challenges.  In my opinion they are:

1)      Global competition as a place to build businesses, work and live;

2)      Human capital development - I would look first outside the educational systems and strive toward a no person left behind approach - demography, with boomer retirements, a future of greater diversity, miserable performance on the achievement gap, and now the rising threat of mass murder by nuts and fanatics makes this hugely important, so you are right to continue your focus on it;

3)      Natural capital preservation - this is huge for Minnesota - the climate change challenges, but especially the importance of water as a competitive strength and the terrible job we are doing

4)      Lack of a vision for meeting these challenges; and

5)      Lack of attention to the results we are actually getting and how to move off the tired political narratives of the right and left.  What is the value for dollars linkage?  On much of what we do, especially in the human capital realm, we have no clue.

Second, identify and assess our strengths and weaknesses, first in deciding what to look at and then in each chosen area.

Third, identify goals and strategies and/or a need for efforts to identify goals and strategies for capitalizing on our strengths and mitigating our weaknesses.  Presumably you do this on a case-by-case basis.

Fourth, use existing and/or design and create new civic processes for developing, achieving and executing the goals and strategies.  Sean Kershaw's interview is full of the right questions to ask, case by case.


Scott Halstead  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)  (10)  (10)

 3. Solutions fail when stakeholders uninvolved. A large portion of the population has disengaged from public policy and governance.  


6. Generalists, stakeholders must participate. The generalists must be the leaders and they need to be the determiners.  All of the stakeholders need to be heard.  Many of the stakeholders will not have a well-balanced position.  Unfortunately, in the political arena, they have the purse strings.  We need a preponderance of generalists that carry the message and that are in the middle politically.  


7. Younger adults may abandon politics. We already have several generations that have abandoned politics and are allowing the powerful few to make the decisions. The Citizens League, Civic Caucus and others in the public policy arena needs to identify other organizations that are respected for their unbiased work and prepare a work plan to dramatically increase the number of people throughout the state involved in public policy.  Perhaps Civic Caucus could work with public radio/television on bringing their studies to all corners in Minnesota.  Perhaps we need to be involved with community education programs.  Public Policy involvement needs to be a statewide program.


Vici Oshiro  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

 2. Need for further inquiry. Go beyond interviews to bull sessions.  You have the people who were "present at creation."  I challenge you to expand on Kershaw's challenges.


3. Solutions fail when stakeholders uninvolved. Would be interested to know how Citizens League is involving a broader range of stakeholders.


4. Unwillingness to compromise an obstacle. But they do get us out of our comfort zone and force creative thinking.


5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes. Too much of a generalization?  Kershaw bemoans lack of teacher involvement.  In the case of K-12 education, I'm not sure careerism is a big part of the problem. Careerism is part of our "I want mine" culture vs. vision of common good.  


7. Younger adults may abandon politics. I know little about this.


Dennis Carlson  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

 5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes. Teachers and their unions must compromise to get the best teachers in front of the most challenging students - however, we can't kill their spirit and work ethic in the process.  So they must be part of the solution as it evolves. It cannot be an “us vs. them” mentality. 


7. Younger adults may abandon politics. I think it swings back and forth; at least, it has in my lifetime.  We do lack inspirational leaders though.


Bob Brown  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

 3. Solutions fail when stakeholders uninvolved. People affected by policies don't necessarily have to be involved in proposing solutions, but they should have the opportunity to consider alternative solutions before final decisions are made. The reality is that for each public problem there is a small number of people who have the background and insights to craft possible solutions, but everyone should have the opportunity to be heard on the alternatives.  


4. Unwillingness to compromise an obstacle. A major problem is that single-issue groups backed by big money have replaced broad based political parties in selecting candidates and proposing and developing policy initiatives.


5. Careerism rewarded, not outcomes. Academic tenure rules and laws have undermined the free discussion of ideas in educational institutions so that those institutions in many cases are no longer are marketplaces of ideas, but are institutions of indoctrination. The careerism in elective office has rewarded those who play political games to keep their jobs for the prestige and benefits they get. Many office holders make more money in salary, expenses, benefits, and pensions than they could in other jobs. Term limits could help cut down the number of career politicians. Having an independent group determine the reapportionment of the legislature and the redistricting of Congressional districts to eliminate gerrymandering and make compact and contiguous districts so there would be more competitive districts which could encourage more legitimate competition for public office. 


7. Younger adults may abandon politics. Having observed public policy for over 70 years I am not too sure about that. In the past, most young people were not interested in public policymaking unless they had the rare teachers who did an excellent job of teaching history and government. Over the years only a modest percentage of young people was engaged in the political system because of those exceptional teachers or because their families were deeply involved in the process. Larger numbers became involved either because they were excited by a candidate (e.g., Kennedy, Reagan, Jesse Ventura) regardless of politics or philosophy (heaven help us if this year it is The Donald) or when they realized how much money they were paying in taxes. We knew in 1969 when we passed the law to lower the voting age that the percentage of 18-21 year old voters would be lower than average and I believe that has been the case in most, if not all,  elections since. For a variety of reasons it takes some time for people to mature as voting citizens.


Wayne Jennings  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

 Kershaw points his finger on a critical issue, that of stakeholder involvement. Without that participation, little fundamental change occurs and creative thinking and action is lost. He is in the mode of Harry Boyte who calls for citizen involvement. It should start in schools so learners grow up participating in decisions and knowing that working collaboratively produces greater results. We’ve had the idea of many helping agencies in one-stop shopping center of human services but it’s been almost impossible to have people give up some of their independence for the greater good.


Carol Woehrer  (na)  (na)  (10)  (8)  (8)  (9)  (7)


Mark Ritchie  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)

Great interview.


Chuck Lutz  (9)  (9)  (8)  (10)  (9)  (9)  (8)


Paul Hauge  (8)  (8)  (7)  (9)  (6)  (9)  (10)


Lyall Schwarzkopf  (8)  (7)  (8)  (10)  (9)  (8)  (7)


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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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