This spring I had the opportunity to serve as a facilitator for Redesigning MN – a series of events focused on exploring the challenges presented by the "new normal" and the potential of redesign to meet those challenges. These events, sponsored by the Bush Foundation with InCommons, and anchored by a Twin Cities Public Television documentary of the same name, were held in Brainerd, Worthington and Apple Valley. I found the experience inspiring.
Through this project, I helped to lead lively conversations among more than 75 Minnesotans from diverse perspectives: a career government innovator and a lively union organizer; a retired engineer and an inquisitive immigrant college student.
Each conversation revolved around the central question of redesign: how can we, as citizens and leaders, help our state and local governments imagine new ways to deliver public services that produce the outcomes we expect, but at a lower cost? This is not an easy question to contemplate.
Demographic shifts, led by the “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers, are placing unprecedented pressures on our public services, while leaving fewer working adults to shoulder these growing public needs. Redesigning how we deliver public services is the best strategy for meeting these challenges head-on. It’s a concept that resonates with Minnesotans, too, once they have an opportunity to learn about the challenges we face and explore how traditional approaches may no longer produce the results we need.
The ideas generated at these events affirmed approaches being discussed in state-level conversations. For example, several people noted the importance of freeing city and county governments to focus on the results Minnesotans expect from their public services, rather than continuing the age-old practice of state agencies focusing on how services are managed and inputs are accounted for.
Others noted the outstanding local redesigns that can serve as an example for our state leaders. For instance, in southwest Minnesota several county public health and human service departments recently merged to provide more and better services to their constituents at a lower cost. Likewise, in Dakota County, local government leaders recently evaluated their juvenile corrections spending and, based on those results, have undertaken new approaches to keep youth out of juvenile hall, improve outcomes for area youth and slash their juvenile corrections budget in the process.
These local-level redesigns already underway offered an inspiring jump-start to our conversations. For me, the greatest take-away was the enthusiasm I witnessed in each community. Seeing such diverse cross-sections of equally diverse communities come together, engage in thoughtful dialogues and share dynamic ideas for re-thinking how government does its work energized my passion for the possibility of citizen leadership. And I believe it energized the citizens who participated in the events, too.
I want to applaud the Bush Foundation and InCommons for igniting conversations and inspiring leadership on redesign across Minnesota. The seeds of possibility sewn through these events promise to bear fruit. I am excited to have been a part of these first conversations.
Tim Reardon, a 2001 Bush Fellow, is an entrepreneurial leader who brings people from diverse disciplines together to solve intractable social problems. He currently serves as the executive director of Open Arms, a nonprofit organization that delivers nutritious meals to people living with potentially life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities.
Twin Cities Public Television will begin re-airing the first episode of the Redesigning MN documentary on August 12. The second episode airs on August 17. For a complete schedule listing, please visit tpt.org.
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