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We have recently witnessed Minnesota become the state champion of Citizen Centered Solutions, with organizations and initiatives emerging all over the state, dedicated to using the online challenge to help Minnesotans determine solutions to their own problems and become their own force for good.
We had a chance to sit down with Jennifer Ford Reedy, Vice President of Strategy and Knowledge Management for the Minnesota Community Foundation, about the Minnesota Idea Open, an online challenge which asks citizens to think about the most pressing issues in their state and develop creative new solutions for addressing them..
Michael: Of all of the different tactics you could have employed, why did you choose public participation and voting?
Jen: As a community foundation, we’ve always aspired to be collaborative, open, transparent and inclusive. Web 2.0 technology has completely redefined the possibility of all these aspirations. We don’t want to make philanthropy a popularity contest but we think we can combine our expertise with new, technology-enabled public engagement strategies and get powerful results.
Michael: How are you ensuring you’re getting new ideas and participation from diverse groups with fresh thinking?
Jen: We hired a firm that specializes in grassroots organizing to build a network of organizations around the state promoting the challenge with their stakeholders. Early results suggest the strategy is working. For example, we got an e-mail from a woman on a reservation in rural Minnesota who learned about the challenge at her public library. I met a pediatrician from the north shore of Minnesota who had an idea from her experience working with families in her medical practice. These are people we have never been able to effectively engage in our work before.
Michael: Why not just have experts help develop ideas and directly fund them?
Jen: For some issues that might be a terrific strategy. There are some issues, however, where experts can only get us so far. Our first challenge is on obesity. Any expert can tell you that we should all eat better and exercise more. Success, however, depends on figuring out what changes are needed in people’s lives to provide the right incentives and support for them to actually do it. That’s a perfect question for the public. We will focus our challenges on issues for which individual action and/or local community action is critical for success.
Michael: How much control does the public have over final funding?
Jen: We have a panel of experts – of various backgrounds – who will narrow the pool of entries to three finalists. Then everyone in the state will be able to vote on the winner. We hope this will ensure that we have really solid ideas while also giving everyone a say.
Michael: What have you done to make your competition stand out above the rest?
Jen: What we are doing is unique in our realm. The Minnesota Idea Open is by and for Minnesotans and addresses issues that are critical to the state. This is a very different approach than other competitions that may be vying for folks’ attention here. Within Minnesota, we are making the platform available to any public or nonprofit organization that wants to run a similar type of idea challenge. This means that all our local idea challenges can build on each other rather than fragment our participant pool. We hope every competition will engage new folks and grow a network of engaged Minnesotans that we can tap for future competitions.