CSI is re-engineering how government works


A CSI role for the Executive Director of Wilder Research? That’s correct. Something more important, though, than a mere role in one of the most popular television dramas of all time. Rather, an opportunity to shape the future of our state.

The Commission on Service Innovation launched its efforts last month, to provide the Minnesota legislature with a plan to re-engineer how government does its work. Over the coming months, we will ask: What quality of life do we want to create for our state over the next 20 years or so? How can we best shape government to support the creation of this quality of life?

Responding to these questions has more challenges than immediately meet the eye. State and local governments operate mostly in ways that fit the 20th century. Until recently, they have usually benefitted from reasonably adequate sources of revenue to do so.. The 21st century presents a different landscape. National and international environments have changed. The state’s residents have a different social makeup; they hold different preferences and expectations.

Economic and demographic trends, at state, national, and world-wide levels, have created a situation unlike anything that Minnesota and its regions have experienced before. For instance, globalization has established a new playing field for business. Economic forces and competitive trends throughout the world have as much relevance as the trends and competition locally. (Competitors that Minneapolis business people need to watch don’t live in Saint Paul, or even in Wisconsin. They live in places far away.)

The aging of our population will present challenges and opportunities unlike anything ever seen anywhere in the world. For some counties and regions of the state, the “old-age dependency ratio” has begun an upward trend that will result in one person over 65 for every two persons “of working age.” What does the change in this ratio mean? It means that, for every person who is likely to be retired, we used to have four or five people in the labor force, receiving paychecks and paying taxes. Now, we will only have two or three. You can see very quickly how the burden on those workers will increase.

The state faces severe revenue shortfalls in the foreseeable future. Government must work smarter and more productively, as one of several steps to compensate for those shortfalls.

At the same time that these social and economic challenges have arisen, we have changed in other ways. Technology has created opportunities to organize work more creatively and efficiently than in the past. Communication with, and engagement of, the population can occur in new and powerful ways. Younger generations especially (but not exclusively) have come to rely on online access to resources, services, and information; for them, the use of social media has become second nature, whereas it might have seemed like science fiction even just 25 years ago. People of all ages expect 24/7 access for retail purchasing, banking, travel reservations, and other functions that previously could occur only in-person or by phone during much more limited times of day.

These changes in our circumstances and needs make it imperative to produce innovation in the ways that we serve ourselves through government. I look forward to creating a small but hopefully significant product that will help to shape the future of our state; and I look forward to doing so with colleagues on the Commission from business, from foundations, from employees’ unions, from education, from government, and elsewhere. It’s a rare opportunity to bring great collective expertise into the same group to move ahead boldly and creatively for the benefit of our state’s residents.