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 Response Page - Kolderie  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Ted Kolderie Interview of



Today's discussion covers a Civic Caucus meeting with Ted Kolderie, a highly respected writer and public policy consultant with 50-plus years' experience in Minnesota and founder and managing partner, Education|Evolving.

Kolderie says that while helpful, better management and leadership in the public sector aren't enough. Nothing fundamental ever changes with only that approach.  However, comprehensive transformation, "blowing up the system" and starting from scratch won't work either. Kolderie advocates what he calls a "split-screen" approach: continuous improvement along with continuous innovation.

Traditionalists should continue to work on improvement in the way things are done now, without real change. But traditionalists should not be able to suppress innovation. Moreover, he says, innovation means being open to trying several new things. There's not one "best way".

State government should require counties, cities, and schools to develop innovative models, without restrictions on what those models should look like, Kolderie says. Trying several things will help us understand more quickly what works best.

Given today's economic realities, the need "is less to find alternative forms of service and more to find alternatives to service." Kolderie offers two approaches: prevention (so a service doesn't need to be offered in the first place), and supported self-help (where people can do things for themselves, without turning to paid professionals).

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 Kolderie. 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. Improvement is Insufficient.  Changing the public sector means much more than simply doing the same things better.
(9.2 average response)

2. Total Replacement is Impractical.  However, comprehensive reform, replacing a system with something totally different, is impractical.
(6.3 average response)

3. Disallow Impediments.  Traditionalists can continue to concentrate on better leadership and management, but they should not be able to stifle innovation. (8.5 average response)

4. Improve and Innovate.  To accomplish major change, continuous improvement and continuous innovation must occur side by side.
(8.0 average response)

5. Modify Behaviors.  Changing the way people behave, to prevent the need for service in the first place, offers great potential.
(7.8 average response)

6. Substitute Self-Help. Substituting one's own personal labor for hired professionals offers great potential.
(6.9 average response)

Response Distribution:

Disagree Strongly

Disagree Moderately


Agree Moderately

Agree Strongly

Total Responses

1. Improvement Insufficient.







2. Total Replacement Impractical.







3. Disallow Impediments.







4. Improve and Innovate.







5. Modify Behaviors.







6. Substitute Self-Help.  







Individual Responses:

Anonymous  (10)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)

W. D. (Bill) Hamm  (10)  (10)  (0)  (0)  (5)

1. Improvement Insufficient. While I strongly agree with the above statement, I absolutely disagree with the herein suggested approaches.

2. Total Replacement Impractical. If we are talking about education, ending this top down control model and returning control to the local level is the beginning of any reform movement. Give us back our competitive locally controlled student-based education system and we will fix it. Leave it in the hands of these arrogant “educrats” and we will never have a quality education system.

3. Disallow Impediments. This is an attempt to frame this argument in favor of the “educrats” who have undermined our education system and in favor of leaving them in control under the guise of change.

4. Improve and Innovate. While this needs to be part of any self-improvement program this is the same kind of (nonsense) used to bring about the change to the … education structure we have now.

5. Modify Behaviors. Encouraging yes, mandating … no.

6. Substitute Self-Help.   While I strongly agree with the statement I don't necessarily agree with direction here.

Bob White  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

1. Improvement Insufficient. Here and in questions 2-5 the importance of this approach can't be overstated.  Calls for more efficient or less government are futile.  Much of government works very well.  Procedures can be improved, provided improvement doesn't hijack experiments in innovation.  This means promoting the split-screen idea that Ted describes so well.

6. Substitute Self-Help.   True in some cases, not in others.  I'm pretty good at home maintenance, and I've mixed concrete and added a few electrical circuits.  But I turned to professionals for replacing steep front steps and upgrading the wiring system.

Don Anderson  (10)  (5)  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)

Peter Hennessey  (2.5)  (2.5)  (2.5)  (2.5)  (2.5)

1. Improvement Insufficient. Before you impose any changes, you have to ask and answer:  (1) What is the problem, why change?  (2) What is the proposed solution?  (3) What is the proof that the proposed solution will work?  (4) What is the proof that you have put in safeguards against unintended consequences?  (5) What is the proof that you can manage the changes so they will achieve your goals?  (6) What is the proof that others will not use your changes to take us down a different path?

 2. Total Replacement Impractical. Then how do you get rid of a totally failed system? (e.g., unfunded pensions, "entitlements")  Any proposal for change has three parts:  (1) How will it work when fully implemented (e.g., privatized retirement system)?  (2) What do you do about people stuck in the present system (e.g., current pension and Social Security beneficiaries)?  (3) How do you manage the transition from the old to the new system (e.g., people just entering the workforce, about to retire, and everybody at some stage in-between)?

3. Disallow Impediments. (1) What is wrong with tradition, better leadership, and better management?  (2) What is so good about innovation?  (3) Why do you imply the two are antagonistic or mutually exclusive?  (4) What is the scope of the innovation; is it evolutionary or radical?

 4. Improve and Innovate. (1) Sometimes you have to totally dismantle the system and rebuild it from the ground up (e.g., “Obamacare”)  (2) Simultaneous continuous improvement and innovation is possible only if they are perceived to be logically evolutionary (e.g., Social Security, Medicare / Medicaid, “Obamacare”)  (3) When the result of the continuous changes is such that the original design is unrecognizable, victims / traditionalists will revolt (e.g., the Tea Party).

5. Modify Behaviors. All social evils have been committed by people hell-bent on changing human behavior. All utopias sound great except for one thing -- they all assume people are all the same, can all be changed to act the same. Sure...   (1) You have to understand human nature. That means respecting or at least being aware of science, history, religion and tradition, and especially the solutions that have already been tried, and found to have succeeded or failed, and why.  (2) You have to demonstrate that the proposed changes can and will work, before you torture people with your changes in their behavior.  (3) Who appointed you to be God, dictator, Ruling Class elite, anyway?

6. Substitute Self-Help.   Everybody runs a cost-benefit analysis, whether they do so methodically or not.  (1) Do I have the necessary skills, resources and time to do it myself?  (2) Do I have the money to pay a professional?  (3) Will I run into regulatory problems if I do it myself?  (4) Will it cost me more or less if I do it myself or if I hire a professional?  (5) Do I care if the professional or I will get better or worse results than I expected  (6) What else would I be doing with my time, and how does that compare in terms of importance and cost/benefit if I hire a professional?

Judith Martin  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)

Pat Barnum  (10)  (5)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (2.5)

2. Total Replacement Impractical. I would like to strongly disagree with this statement, based on principle. But reality bonked me on the head; "is impractical" might not be as appropriate as "is impossible".

5. Modify Behaviors. Government programs, laws, and policies are woefully inept at changing individuals’ behavior. To think that it can, or perhaps even should, is naive. The trick would be to find the self-interest motivators for self-change.

6. Substitute Self-Help.   Absolutely, in principle. However, in a society that has grown accustomed to having government provide for most of their needs in some way, how can we realistically expect the people to take back responsibility for themselves?

Bruce Lundeen  (10)  (5)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)

Dave Christianson  (6)  (7)  (10)  (5)  (6)

My biggest frustration with constant talk of needed change is the assumption everything is broken. Public policy in the U.S. is predicated on providing for the general welfare via a democratic and representative process. Most ‘change agents’ lack both an understanding and an appreciation of history, i.e., 175 years of public education as being absolutely foundational, and the growth of a strong middle class and the widest possible distribution of wealth to support a highly self-sustaining marketplace and economy (notice that does not equate to ‘unregulated’). Workable public policy, such as public institutions of higher education, neighborhood schools without segregation, and conservative banking and financial reform proven in the catalyst of the great depression, are all hard to improve on, yet we work tirelessly to tear down what works without a logical improvement in mind.

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (8)

Change for change's sake is not necessarily true.  Change through innovation and working toward better outcomes should be the goal.

Scott and Nancy Halstead  (10)  (5)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Arvonne Fraser  (10)  (na)  (8)  (10)  (7)

Finally, someone is talking sense.  Good.

Bruce Lundeen  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)

I think the split-screen view has merit.
Sadly, I believe the diminishing of services (by prevention or self-help) concomitantly infers/ refers to a decrease in the government payroll - the loss of jobs.
While necessary, (it would be) painful for and cruel to those who become unemployed.
Calculate the total cost of a career government employee from hire to death, and that is overhead in terms of productivity contributed to the gross national product, I believe.
Furthermore, the architects of the innovation are the very people who have to decide on the reductions in staffing - maybe an impossible task for them.

John Milton  (5)  (10)  (6)  (na)  (7)

P. Jay Kiedrowski  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)  (na)

I thought your group might like to see the new Local Government Innovation and Redesign Guide that was just released at

Robert J. Brown  (10)  (5)  (10)  (5)  (10)

6. Volunteers can do much of what professionals do. We have a nation with a great tradition of volunteering, and yet there have been well meaning, but misguided efforts to replace all volunteers with paid staff. At one time I was in charge of promoting school volunteer programs around the country and it became obvious that volunteers made major contributions to systems that recruited and trained them and allowed them to do things such as tutoring, record keeping, serving as oral historians, conducting some student activities. With adequate training, supervision, and recognition volunteers can make major contributions to many public services.

There was no mention of training people to lead in the future. Having been involved with training educational leaders and having worked with leaders in the public, nonprofit, and for-profit private sectors it seems that we need to change the way we prepare people to lead and to work across sectors.

Bert Press  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

Tom Swain  (10)  (5)  (10)  (8)  (6)

Ray Cox  (10)  (7)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Changing personal behavior is the most important aspect of this discussion. People need to take responsibility for their care in old age…and the care of those in their family---not turn to the state for care. People need to take care of their own child-care needs---not turn to the state for care. Etc, etc. The state, by implementing so many support programs over the years, has created a monster that threatens to consume us all.

John Adams  (10)  (4)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Ted is one of Minnesota's greatest natural resources!

Joseph Mansky  (10)  (0)  (10)  (0)  (10)

4. Improve and Innovate.  For many public sector activities, the only way to get any meaningful change on a large scale is to have a game-changing event. In my experience (29 years in the public sector) a lot (of) good things tend to happen as a consequence of cataclysmic events.
6. Substitute Self-Help.  In my experience, the hired gun approach is the wrong way to go. As a public sector manager or staff person, self-reliance is really important and beneficial. You are way better off learning how to do things yourself.

Wayne Jennings  (10)  (3)  (10)  (10)  (10)

I like that Civic Caucus spends more effort on the redesign topic. People need that push and examples of where it’s being done or could be done. We, policy makers, and the public are still at a primitive level of understanding the concept.
In education, the charter school statute could be tweaked so that applicants for a school would be required to show how they will be different from conventional schools, not just size but fundamentally different. Then we might not have 80% of charter schools as more of the same.

William Kuisle  (10)  (4)  (9)  (9)  (10)

Hans Sandbo  (10)  (0)  (10)  (10)  (10)

The "HOW" is the toughest part of the above points - but that does not mean our leaders and each of us as individuals should not begin the process and stumble our way forward.  The world is changing and the whole human race needs to adapt to those changes by any means possible - some will take the lead and others will follow and many will do both.

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (8)  (8)  (9)  (8)  (6)

Larry Schluter  (10)  (8)  (10)  (8)  (7)

Very good discussion and a different way of getting changes done. 

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (7)  (10)  (10)

I did not give a 10 to number 3 because I wish 475 people in the Minneapolis central office would be let go, leaving about 25 and see how well the schools can do without them using their own initiative and innovation. Giving teachers and parents more responsibility would cause them to rise to the occasion. We can't blow up the whole system but a good bit of it ought to be. It was tough bringing the public school system from the agricultural age to the industrial age. They surely are not very responsive in bringing the system into the technology age. The children and the nation are hurting.

Clarence Shallbetter  (8)  (9)  (7)  (8)  (5)

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

Good goals and CQI has been demonstrative as effective in business and the hospital industry.   But to do so requires comprehensive changes in culture, systems and process, policies, enormous effort to do it well, and leadership from the top.  The winners of the Malcolm Baldridge Award have provided years of effort, top leadership commitment and in-depth training and monitoring of performance to attain it.  But the performance results in their organizations have been worth the effort.  How will a similar, sustained commitment be developed in the public sector?


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.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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