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 Response Page - McClure  Interview -      

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

The Questions:

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 McClure. Average response ratings are shown below.  Note:  these average ratings are simply the mean of all readersí zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Resistance. (9.8 average response) Large public systems such as education and health care are very adept at resisting outside suggestions for change.

2. Incentives. (7.3 average response) But don't blame these large systems because of moral failings or corruption or incompetence. They operate the way they do because of incentives built in to their underlying structures.

3. Responsiveness. (7.0 average response) These systems can become more responsive--even without outside pressure--if their underlying structures are changed. That's where redesign efforts should be concentrated.


Response Distribution:

Agree Strongly

Agree Moderately


Disagree Moderately

Disagree Strongly

Total Responses

1. Resistance







2. Incentives







3. Responsiveness







Individual Responses:

Joe Nathan  (10)  (7.5)  (0)

1. Resistance.  The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and a number of parents and community groups promoted site-governed schools - and the district received more than $100,000 to implement.  Two years later, no site-governed schools.  Post Secondary Enrollment Options (allowing MN high school students to attend college, full- or part-time)Öeducation groups have battled this for the 25 years of its existence.

2. Incentives.  Corruption and incompetence play some role.  Incentives also play a role.

3. Responsiveness.  Outside pressure is critical.  Hundreds of new Advanced Placement, College in the Schools, International Baccalaureate courses are being offered in Minnesota high schools in part because high schools could not block students from participating in Post Secondary Options.  The Minneapolis and St. Paul Federation of Teachers are promoting site-governed schools in part because both districts have lost thousands of students to charters. 

Dennis L. Johnson    (10)  (7.5)  (5)

General comments about Mr. McClure's talk:   I read the summary of his talk and his paper. Then I re-read it, and after a third reading, I concluded that there is a great deal less in this paper than meets the eye. Dressed up in a great deal of academic verbosity is the familiar progressive notion that by redesigning the public system, we can make it more effective and/or less expensive. This flows from the presumption that these large systems for education, health care, etc. need to be redesigned in a major way to provide better incentives. Yet I see no example of where this has been successfully done, either by McClure or others.    McClure completely misses the point of his own example, that is, the comparison between the auto industry and the systems he singles out as subjects of redesign.  The point is that the auto industry is a private enterprise and must respond to its customer directly with a product that will sell, or it will fail. And if the product is poor or unsuitable, the company does in fact fail! Remember Nash, Studebaker, Hudson, American Motors, etc. If large public systems begin to fail, they can just go back to the government for more money, and have enough political influence to get it.    This is due to the disconnect in public systems between the provider and the consumer. Standing in the middle is government regulation, union rigidities and work rules, conventional practices, and many other built-in factors.  Any redesign or reform to be suitable must re-connect the consumer of the services with the provider in the way that the auto industry does; the customer pays the bill, or at least a significant enough part to cause the buyer to carefully choose the provider. When a third party pays the bill, this essential link is lost.    This does not mean going back to totally private systems, but steps in that direction must be taken to reconnect the provider with the consumer more directly. Examples are charter schools, banning of unions for all public employees, cutting costly regulatory measures, delivery of health care through private providers (Target, etc.) and so on.    McClure's proposals would put a team of designers headed by a "Czar" in charge of reorganizing the system along different lines, substituting a new set of rigidities for those now in place, and at great expense. This Kremlin-like approach has been proven to fail every time it has been tried.    You will note that I have avoided McClure's use of the word Architect, and Architecture. This is just an effort to class up his recommended solution, which is no more than old wine in a new bottle.

David Dillon  (10)  (10)  (10)

3. Responsiveness.  Systems-thinking is powerful and so often unrecognized by the voting population, so thanks for doing this work.  Unfortunately, groups with an interest in the failed status quo, such as the teachers unions, do understand very well how to protect their system by steering the conversation away from your dangerous subject.

W.D.(Bill) Hamm  (10)  (0)  (10)

1. Resistance.  The answer to both is decentralization of decision-making and control. I suspect your speaker favors some different version of the Central control model. Both of these monsters are too big for Central Control and they are breaking the bank. Push control back to those who we have more control over.

2. Incentives.  Yes, we do need to understand responsibility and moral realities before we can even begin to fix this. In education those who instigated and supported the reform movement in education must be gone to fix the system. In health care, negative incentives like the Doctor Payola our doctors get for addicting Americans, wholesale, have to end. With 47% of our adults and over 15% of our children now hooked on one addictive legal drug or another itís time to ask, are they intending to addict us all?

3. Responsiveness.  Return control of our local schools to us, and we will show you some quick change. As for Health Care, get out of the way and support a cooperative structure with a site-based control model and get both government and insurance companies out of the issue.

Bob White  (10)  (10)  (7.5)

DeWayne Townsend  (10)  (10)  (10)

Robert Freeman  (10)  (10)  (7.5)

Peter Hennessey  (10)  (0)  (2.5)

1. Resistance.  Any bureaucracy sees as its prime imperative the preservation and growth of the bureaucracy.

2. Incentives.  You can't simply dismiss moral failings, corruption and incompetence. Organizations and bureaucracies are populated by human beings, not angels. People will do bad or stupid things, they will try to hide evidence of their failings or incompetence, they will do favors to their friends, and they will accept favors or money in exchange for special services. Moreover, bureaucracies are very good hiding places for people who would otherwise be failures in other endeavors. These are very powerful negative incentives. "Incentives built into the structure" have more to do with the pathways for the flow of information and the chain of command, than with the commonly understood meaning of "incentives" such as the profit motive in business.

3. Responsiveness.  Outside pressures do indeed have great importance; a private business very much depends on its reputation and the continued good will of its clients, and even a government-funded bureaucracy can be subject to pressure from an unhappy electorate. But this entire topic is very much of an outlier in the range of topics we normally discuss in this forum. In a previous generation we'd have called it "operation research," and would have taken into account existing models such as businesses of all sizes, the military, and the Catholic and other churches, where organizational problems have been considered and solutions implemented for centuries. I am not sure what new wisdom is being imparted now by calling it "large system architecture" and implying that there are heretofore-undiscovered secrets being revealed. The key to any system, whether hardware, software or bureaucratic, is to have a simple and clear purpose, never lose sight of this purpose, limit the inputs and outputs to the minimum needed to fulfill this purpose, keep the internal data and decision-making pathways simple and direct, with just enough checks and balances to detect faults and correct mistakes. But the key is to keep everything as simple as possible, to run as mean and lean as possible, otherwise the system will collapse under the weight of its complexity. (For example, the purpose and therefore the proper function of a school is to educate, period. Not to feed, entertain, babysit or transport students, not to provide health care and coordinate other social services to them or their families.) The specific details of any one system-architecture come not from theory but from the exact particular purpose of the system. (Thus a school staff properly consists of teachers and the principal; every other function, from maintenance to busing, etc., can be outsourced.) Specific positive illustrations abound in private business constrained by the need to make a profit and therefore keep the overhead low. Negative examples are common in academic and government bureaucracies where funding depends not on satisfying a client base but on political power based in large measure on the size of their (unionized) staff; the more mouths to feed, the louder they yell, but never ever about eliminating unnecessary and duplicate functions, and reducing headcount. A new category of negative examples is "too big to fail," an egregious example of crony capitalism, which was invented in the last days of the most recent Administration, and seriously abused by the current Administration.

Carl Scheider  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)

John Sievert  (10)  (10)  (10)

Nathan Dotson  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)

3. Responsiveness.  Public systems require no market discipline; (that) leads to poor decision-making.

Wayne Jennings  (10)  (8)  (10)

Itís a brilliant paper and makes eminent sense to me in my field of education. I would add an additional strategy of system bypass (e.g. charter schools) to Waltís. I think he would concur that itís part of his overall conceptualization and incentives. He did, in fact, mention it.

Joseph Mansky  (10)  (5)  (5)

2. Incentives.  Another perspective is one of simple inertia Ė large systems have a tendency to keep doing what they are accustomed to doing.

3. Responsiveness.  Of course, this assumes that those who either run or wish to modify the actions of large systems know what the future looks like.

Norman Carpenter  (9)  (9)  (8)


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.

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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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