Redesigning our lives for the new economy
One participant at a recent gathering of Dakota County residents said he had to quit school and his job because there wasn’t a reliable transit option from Rosemount to Mendota Heights after he couldn’t afford to keep his car.
Another resident lamented the fact that the social fabric of her Burnsville neighborhoods seemed to be fraying.
Yet another feared that a wave of people retiring would not only saddle the economy with unforeseen costs but drain the workforce of experienced leaders.
The solution to all of these problems may rest in innovation spurred by the Bush Foundation’s Redesigning MN project.
Earlier this month about 30 people gathered at the Apple Valley Hayes Community and Senior Center to talk about how the framework of Redesigning MN could work in their communities.
Here’s the crux of it:
Minnesota’s 1.3 million Baby Boomers started to retire in January 2008, a “silver tsunami” that will keep crashing on our shores for the next 20 years. From a government delivery perspective, the silver set will demand more expenses (medical assistance, long-term care), while generating a lot less tax revenue.
With fewer people entering the workforce to feed tax revenues, government agencies will have to increase productivity to meet the new demands, according to state demographer Tom Gillaspy.
Redesigning MN is a process through which government can innovate public services to become more efficient in such areas as transportation, housing, health programs and natural resource conservation with a focus on outcomes expected rather than how they are delivered.
As the Apple Valley session proved, Redesigning MN is about so much more than government agencies adapting to the New Normal.
It pertains to private businesses, nonprofits, families and, yes, each and every one of us.
As a participant in the session, I was impressed with the open and free exchange of ideas and opinions – that were in many cases in direct opposition to each other. There was a diversity in the room that went beyond its typical racial definition. There were young and old, longtime residents and those new to the area, there were some political leaders, but they were far outnumbered by regular Jacks and Jills.
The session, which will become part of a documentary to air this fall in an eight-part Twin Cities Public Television series, seemed to capture the attention of those involved.
After viewing a short video that set the stage for the need to “redesign,” participants discussed what could inhibit and incite redesign.
They were asked to talk about why it is important, what could be some results and how could its concepts spread.
The session turned its attention to transportation for a portion of the evening, which included a panel discussion involving some of the leaders of the estimated 36 organizations in Dakota County that offer transportation services. (Look for more about this in a future edition.)
As the conversation carried on, I was impressed with the responses to the questions.
The body public is often scorned for its lack of community engagement, but that may be because they rarely are asked to share their opinions in such a forum.
If Dakota County is going to meet the challenges of the future, it is going to need all the ideas it can get in all levels of government – county, city, school district, township and beyond.
Businesses, which may be ahead of the curve on redesign, will be required to go even further to reassess how they can deliver their services. Nonprofits must innovate in the face of declining contributions. Families will be asked to continue to tighten their budgets.
Even with all the negative overtones, I can’t help but see a tremendous opportunity in all of this.
There will be millions of seniors leaving Minnesota jobs in the next 20 years.
Their departure can set innovation in motion not unlike what happened in Dakota County government when it redesigned by attrition as a wave of retirees hit in recent years and many of those positions went unfilled.
In such instances, people ask: How can we do things differently? Can duties be reassigned to others? Can one person do the work of two people through innovation, like putting technology to its highest and best use?
Retirements mean in many cases these workers will need replacements in search of greater responsibility and leadership roles. We need to identify areas in which there is a concentration of silver workers and train those currently working or the unemployed in those fields.
We need to learn all that we can from these experienced workers now, so that knowledge can be applied in redesign efforts. We need to encourage them not to go to Florida or Arizona and to continue to use their talents in a volunteer capacity for Minnesota agencies that sorely need volunteers.
Redesigning MN will not happen overnight or in one evening with a two-hour meeting of a few citizens.
It will take a comprehensive approach that involves as much mobilization of ideas and energy as possible.
So, what are your ideas?