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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Jeff Zlonis, director of the Re: DESIGN project at the Center for Policy Design
October 21
, 2016

Minnesota foundations could support serious, long-term study of public issues


Foundations tend to move towards treating symptoms, not causes, says Jeff Zlonis of the Center for Policy Design. But, he says, there are examples of Minnesota foundations looking deeper than symptoms and making long-term commitments to doing something. He notes the Bush Foundation's efforts to develop leadership in Minnesota and support from several foundations for two long-term studies on budget and other major issues facing the state.

He believes there is below-the-surface potential for foundations to take on the leadership role in fostering and supporting serious, long-term inquiry into public issues that the Civic Caucus is recommending in its draft report on Minnesota's public-policy process. He says, though, that the report's recommendations should not be prescriptive, but should clarify the potential for leadership from the foundation community. He asserts that foundations aren't interested in being told specifically what to do, but they do like ideas.

In its draft report, the Civic Caucus lays out a history of the process used in Minnesota to study community problems and make proposals for public-policy change. This includes a look at the past Citizens League study committee approach, which resulted in generalist citizens making specific, actionable proposals for change, a number of which were implemented. The Caucus report looks at the process used in the state currently and recommends what it should be in the future to improve the quality of proposals for change. Zlonis lays out his vision for the role of special interests and advocacy groups in that process.

Zlonis discusses several points in the Caucus's draft report with which he agrees and several places he believes need strengthening.

For the complete interview summary see: link to interview

Individual Responses:

Ann Berget--One of the best interviews CC has done in a very long time.

Judy Healey--Zlonis' comments were very interesting. I can't say I disagree with anything he said, and a couple of things he noted were very important.

1) Foundations do like ideas

2) Foundations don't like to fund 'research'

3) Don't target any particular foundation.

But here is something to think about:  While foundations don't like to fund research, they do like to mess around in 'community change'. One of the reasons  the Citizens League approach was so solid and drew so much support for years is that funders weren't funding some academic sitting in an office; they were fund people in the community to listen and learn and make change.

As you may remember, I was on the Board of CL (and chair of its Program Committee) for some time. I still remember the briefings and discussion that brought varied community members together on topics of the future Health Care, the Commitment to Focus at the U and other topics.

So, while you want to look to the future and things (esp communication) have changed, maybe involving the community in learning and recommending is not an approach that should be totally jettisoned.

Wayne Jennings--Zlonis has had many experiences in various venues. I would have liked to hear more about the results of those interventions and the many redesign contracts and positions. His suggestions about foundations was valuable; that is, foundations have their own agendas and strategic plans of action. They may not welcome our prescription.

Our position must be strong on actions versus study of problems. That will distinguish us from other policy groups, so frequent with their sage analyses. Example: Minneapolis schools has had numerous, numerous studies by universities and others, reorganizations, consultants, conferences, many big grants, leadership changes and new programs. They’ve made little progress over decades and have lost many students. I don’t see much change for the next decade either.

We must take advantage of the challenge and the opportunity.


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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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