Sunday, December 31, 2006

Keillor on Nostalgia

In 1996, Garrison Keillor wrote an essay, "The Future of Nostalgia." Subtitle: "Yesterday never looked better than it will tomorrow." He conjectured about how people of the future might look back at "today." His essay appeared about 5 years before September 11; we are currently about 5 years past that date. A few excerpts:

People will "miss handwritten messages. E-greetings will have dancing graphics and sound effects and be incredibly creative and multilayered and dense, but it was nice when people used to put a pen to the paper and scribble something."

"People will look back fondly on the day when you could race to the airport, check your baggage at the curb and get on a plane, before security required that bags be shipped ahead as freight and every carry-on be unpacked..."

"People will feel nostalgia for celebrities, real ones, like there used to be back when there were three networks and Americans watched the same shows at the same time and talked about them the next day at work."

"Old American institutions fade away, like the family doctor. Patients wending their way through the labyrinths of factory health care will think back fondly on that legendary man with the stethoscope who knew who you were and knew your family."

"People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern."

"I think that people will be powerfully nostalgic for the mid-century...the era of Middle America, when the earnings of skilled workers and the earnings of executives were within view of each other, not in two different worlds...and everybody believed in a kind of social progress and achieving peace through better understanding and working together to make a better world."

He concludes his essay with the advice not to wallow in nostalgia: "Just get over it. There's the future out there. Go live it."

With that last sentiment, I concur. The world is different; it will become even more different from what it was in the past. The pace of change during this century will perhaps be faster than at any time in the past. The demographics we've discussed before, the aging of the Baby Boom, the emergence of regions as social and economic entities typically more important than cities, the diversification of our communities, changes in the type and supply of energy resources available to us - we could go on and on with a listing of significant trends that currently shape our lives and offer new issues and new opportunities that we have not encountered before.

As we conclude 2006, let's all commit ourselves to move ahead and "go live it" - together with our local brothers and sisters and with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Peace - Different Words, Common Goal

At this time of year, when so many people throughout the world celebrate many different holidays, and all of us hope for peace among nations and among individuals, I searched the web for translations of the word, "peace". The number of online translators is amazing (although I could not find a translator for Malinke, a language I learned to speak at a very basic level while visiting residents of Mali). A few of the translations that I discovered appear below. Searching for these, and for others which I did not find, taught me something not only about linguistics, but about different cultural worldviews.

Paix (French)
Paz (Spanish)
Frieden (German)
ειρήνη (Greek)
和平 (Chinese)
Vrede (Dutch)
Vrede (Afrikaans)
Pace (Italian)
平和 (Japanese)
평화 (Korean)
Paz (Portuguese)
мир (Russian)
أمان (طمأنينة) (Arabic)
Mir (Croatian)
ukuthula (Zulu)
àlàáfíà (Yoruba)
kev sib haum xeeb (Hmong)

I had hoped to find a Somali translation; but the online translator that I consulted did not enable me to find the Somali word for peace.

An Ojibwe translator increased my understanding of the importance of context. It would not translate individual words; it only translated sentences. It emphasized that words derive meaning with reference to relationships and the larger setting in which they are spoken.

In looking for an English to Hmong translator, the directory of online translators directed me to a web page developed by the Saint Paul Schools - with dictionaries for translating back and forth between the two languages. That web site also includes special educational resources. Congratulations to the Saint Paul School District!

If you have the opportunity to surf the web and explore different languages and cultures, I hope you find it enjoyable and rewarding. Although the existence of multiple languages might seem to create barriers among people, our efforts to understand one another's languages can bring us closer together.

So, as the year comes to a conclusion, I wish you "peace"!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Troubled Children - Therapies

Good article on first page of today's New York Times: "Parenting as Therapy for Child's Mental Disorders". It reflects the fact that the causes of mental disorders in children differ from child to child. Both biology and social factors have effects. Therapies, therefore, should tailor themselves to the needs and preferences of individual children, their parents, and family situations.

In recent decades, the article contends that psychiatry moved from blaming parents and family factors for children's mental disorders toward seeing such disorders as rooted in biology. This led to more use of drugs for treatment. However, the article notes that the science behind nondrug treatments is getting stronger. In fact, it stated that: "In a comprehensive review, the American Psychological Association urged in August that for childhood mental disorders, 'in most cases,' nondrug treatment 'be considered first,' including techniques that focus on parents' skills, as well as enlisting teachers' help."

Studies increasingly suggest that "a combination of medication and talk therapy is significantly more effective, and safer, than either alone." At the Hamm Clinic, where I serve on the Board, we adopted, many years ago, a similar perspective regarding mental health treatment for adults: Let's not over-rely on medications; let's use drugs along with psychosocial interventions only as necessary.

The article pointedly illustrates how science continually evolves. Nothing is static. The "evidence-base" for a therapy changes over time. Our pre-conceptions influence how we look for evidence and what evidence we accept. We must remain as open-minded as possible. New research on how to treat attention deficit problems, for example, helps us to understand how drugs and behavior therapy can both be helpful in different ways and in different phases of the treatment process. Research on cognitive behavior therapy will help us to understand its effectiveness in treating depression. If we rigidly limit ourselves to one way of thinking about effective treatment, we will eliminate opportunities to improve the ways we can help troubled children, and we will reduce the number of children whom we help.

This is the last in a series of New York Times articles about "troubled children." Previous articles appear at:

The articles are worth a look, both for better understanding the needs and treatment issues related to troubled children, as well as for understanding how "evidence-based practice" evolves over time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Housing, Transportation, and Regional Success

On Wednesday morning, seven of us (from the Itasca Project, foundations, and other organizations) started the day with Douglas Foy, former head of the Office for Commonwealth Development - a position created by Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts to attempt to promote "smart growth". Romney sought to consolidate a number of state government "silos" and develop more rational, integrated plans for housing, transportation, environment, community development. Foy spent time this week with public officials, business leaders, and others, to discuss new approaches we might take in Minnesota regarding housing, energy, and transporation policies.

A few of the interesting facts and opinions that Mr. Foy presented:

a. About half of Americans do not drive a car; they depend on other means of transportation. These people include children too young to drive, people with certain disabilities, people who cannot afford to drive or who do not own a car, etc. Foy asserted that the notion of the automobile as a "democratizer", enabling people to get where they want to go independently, is an erroneous notion. Policies that we enact related to automobiles will directly affect only half of the population; those policies will only indirectly relate to the transportation needs of the other half of the population.

b. Car costs are part of housing costs. That is, where you live determines whether you routinely need a car to get around for work, social activities, shopping, and so on. So, if you pay $5,000 - $10,000 in expenses for your car each year, that costs you as much as adding another $100,000 or so to your home mortgage. Therefore, someone could purchase a more expensive house, in a more convenient location, and could get by with one less car. (As energy pricess increase, this principle becomes even more important.)

c. Cities can have much higher energy efficiencies than other places. In fact, New York City, by any objective standards, may be the "greenest" (that is, most energy efficient) city in the country. Cities can also efficiently nurture social networks that provide care. Foy suggested that "senior care" best occurs in an urban area, where neighbors can look out for one another and services are close by. He criticized arrangements that "cluster" older people in remote locations.

d. Preservation of open space requires "smart growth" urban policies. He suggests that, if we want to save open space in northern Minnesota, the answer lies in increasing the density of land use in the municipalities within the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.

As we move ahead, regardless of whether we agree with all of Mr. Foy's perspective, a key message for us is the importance of regional interdependence. To solve the issues of this century, and to maintain a vibrant, competitive, prosperous Twin Cities region, we need to understand our common social and economic interdependence. We need to build this understanding among both leaders and the general population, so that we wisely use our resources to provide housing, transportation and other necessities to all the residents of the Twin Cities, as well as the state. At Wilder, we are working on that. I'll keep you posted; and I hope you'll partner with us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Who Really Cares? (An Economist Asks)

In a new book, an economist takes a scholarly look at charitable giving - perhaps a topic of interest during this season when many people make end-of-year contributions to charities and exchange gifts with one another. He’s begun to stir up some controversy about both his conclusions and his methods.

Arthur C. Brooks wrote: Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. A long article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (11/23/06) discusses the key points of the book, and it offers opinions from experts - some who agree with, and others who disagree with, Brooks' conclusions. (So far, I have only read the Chronicle's article, not the book itself.)

Professor Brooks sought to discover whether differences exist in the charitable giving patterns of liberals and conservatives. In the course of his research, he discovered that one’s liberal/conservative orientation does relate to giving, but being religious or non-religious has an even stronger effect. Overall, he asserts that religious people tend to donate more money, and to donate more of their time to community organizations, than do non-religious people. (Again, I have not read the book and have not seen his original findings. However, it appears that, even after accounting for the fact that most personal charity goes to religious institutions, religious people still tend to give more to secular organizations than do non-religious people.)

The article in the Chronicle emphasizes some key conclusions that Brooks made concerning “religiousness” and “liberalism/conservatism”, based on his analysis of 15 sets of data: "Religious conservatives are far more charitable than secular liberals." "Those that support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others." "Religious people gave three and a half times as much as secular people." "Giving makes one happier and healthier." He sounds like a person with some opinions!

What fascinates me, as a researcher, is the statement from Mr. Brooks concerning how the data transformed his pre-conceived notions: "When I started doing research, I expected to find that political liberals - who I believed genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did - would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views..."

Professor Brooks' book includes maps of the United States. One map shows states that voted to elect George Bush in 2004; another shows states where charitable giving was above the national average in 2001. The two sets of states are almost identical.

I do NOT yet have an opinion about this. Brooks' study examines charitable giving in a creative way. Some conclusions of his study will likely be validated by other research; other conclusions will likely not. A single study is rarely definitive; and even if it is, circumstances can change over time. I agree with Alan Abramson, of the Aspen Institute, that we need to examine the data more closely. Apparently, some of his critics accuse him of writing a book that uses the disguise of scholarly, dispassionate economics research to cover an attack on liberals. One way we get around this issue of "credibility" at Wilder Research is to design studies of sensitive topics with the involvement of people who hold different perspectives.

Nonetheless, his work can educate all of us about the questions that we need to raise if we want to understand what motivates people to donate money, to become engaged in civic initiatives and community organizations, and to strive to improve the future for everyone. What better things to ponder as we enter a new year!

If you have an interest in research on charitable giving (even if filled with nuances and ambiguities), you might want to take a look at the article in the Chronicle, and/or take a look at the book itself.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Aging: Past; Present; Future (Part 2)

Some facts appear below for our consideration. The last fact has implications that perhaps deserve most attention.

1. Life expectancy has increased, and will continue to do so, under present conditions. "60 is the new 30", according to our State Demographer. As I mentioned previously, this will result in "more of everything" - more people who can participate longer in community and family life, more people who will need assistance later in their lives. Elderly people living alone and "empty nesters" will be the most rapidly growing households in Ramsey (one of Minnesota's most urbanized counties). We can plan for this change, or we can let it happen to us.

2. A small percentage of Baby Boomers possess a large amount of the wealth held by that generation. In the United States, the top 25% of Boomers have 86% of the wealth. What implications does this have for those Boomers who are not among the wealthy? What does it mean in terms of the need/demand for services as the Boomer cohorts age?

3. Younger age groups are diverse racially; older age groups are almost entirely white.

4. The Baby Boom - people who are now roughly in their forties and fifties - is a huge generation. Being huge is not necessarily noteworthy, according to the State Demographer. What is unique is that the Baby Boom generation is preceded and followed by much smaller generations.

Item 4 should concern us: Who will fill the vacancies when Baby Boomers leave their current employment in business, nonprofit organizations, and government? Business of all types will look long and hard to find replacements; in some cases, they might not find them. A recent article on the trucking industry indicated that trucking companies predict a shortage of literally thousands of drivers. One of their creative responses is to encourage more couples, including retirees, to consider truck driving together as a new lifestyle.

What will we do in the nonprofit sector, and specifically the caregiving sector, to creatively develop the capacity to provide care to large numbers of aged folks? Who will be available to care for the aging Boomers, given the substantial decline that will occur in the number of people in the generation following the Boomers? Projections indicate that, in the next 10 years, Minnesota will need 46% more healthcare practitioners and technicians to cover growth in demand and replacements. From where will they come, and at what expense?

Can we expect to handle the challenge of caring the for an increasing elderly population by tinkering in small ways with the current system of formal and informal care, or by hoping that some new source of funds will make everything work? I don't think so. We will need new approaches to bring in the personnel needed for caregiving; we will need to use technology in highly productive ways.

More thoughts on this in a future blog.

If you have an interest in the study presented at the mini-conference, or in the presentation by the State Demographer, please have a look!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Aging: Past; Present; Future (Part 1)

"Aging ain't what it used to be." Not a complicated statement, but its simplicity belies its importance.

Speaking yesterday at a Wilder Research "mini-conference" on aging, I offered welcoming remarks to the audience. As a member of the Baby-Boom generation and as a research professional, I added in a few observations related to aging, services for people who are aging, and the funding of those services. I would like to share them.

"Aging ain't what is used to be." Getting old in the 21st century will differ from the process of getting old at any time in the past. Compare yourself to your grandparents or great-grandparents. When I do that, I see that my brothers, sisters, cousins - the descendents of my four grandparents - have far more formal education, along with a much longer life expectancy, than did those four people who lived just two generations ago. Greater longevity is not just a characteristic of my extended family; it's something that all groups are experiencing.

"For many societies worldwide, aging will bring more of everything." A significant implication of the changing demographics is that we will see more of everything, good and bad, among older generations.

On the positive side, more people will live longer, healthier lives. Some may want to remain in the workforce until a later age, which in certain markets will be beneficial because not enough younger talent exists to take over their jobs. Many will have the wealth to assist the economy as consumers; many will have wealth they will share through charitable contributions. The potential supply of volunteers will increase - people in good health, with time and skills.

On the negative side, we will see more people who live longer with disabilities; we'll see more in their 80s, 90s, and 100s who need care and assistance. There will be more poor elderly, more living alone, more isolated older people.

One thing is clear: We will need new, creative ways of working together as communities to address the needs of the aging population of the 21st century. I encouraged the group not just to think about how we provide services now, but about how new service arrangments might be created to meet new needs. I also encouraged them not to think in the categories of current funding. Those funding sources could change or disappear in an instant. Rather, we must identify what our population will look like in the future, along with how we want people to live and how we want our communities to function. Then, we can work to identify the best means for assembling the resources to achieve our vision. Trying to move ahead while force-fitting the generations of the future into the categories of the past will absolutely not work for us.

Within the next few days, I'll continue on this issue, in parts 2 and 3 - discussing challenges and options. I'll also mention how you can access some of the information from the mini-conference. If you have thoughts, please let me know.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: Appreciation & Obligation

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! And thanks to those of you who have mentioned, over the past few months, that you have read this blog!

At this Thanksgiving, most of us have much to appreciate in our lives, but I would ask that we all take some time to reflect on our obligation to share what we have and to make the world a better place for every one of its inhabitants.

We in the United States comprise only a few percent of the world's population. However, we consume a large portion of the world's resources. Thus, the obligation - whether you consider it moral, practical, or both - for us to take the lead in stewardship and caring. Some of us can do this only in small ways; others can do it in large ways. But we all have the obligation.

The Wilder Family, along with many others who have established foundations, demonstrated one way to leave a legacy of caring. Few of us will have the financial fortune of the Wilders, but we can all ask in our own ways, as we give thanks for the past and the present, what we can do to create a better future.

I plan to enjoy some turkey. Hope you will too! All the best on this holiday!

Friday, November 10, 2006

From Voting to Creative Community Action

Now that we've voted, we need to turn attention to the future. All of the winning candidates proposed that we "move forward." How will we know that? Whose definition will we use? We need a nonpartisan, credible "yardstick" to know what's happening in our region and our state.

Wilder Research is now in the process of developing this "yardstick" - something for both public officials and the public at large to measure our progress, and hopefully, to inspire creative community action. We began this work in partnership with eight other foundations, the Itasca Project, the Citizen's League, the United Way, and others. We collaborated with the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio to kick off several months of meetings with other individuals and organizations who have an interest in joining us in this effort. Over the next few months, we plan to communicate directly with more than a thousand community leaders, public officials, nonprofit leaders, and business leaders to get their input into shaping our work. Through the media and a new website, we will request suggestions from anyone who wants to assist us.

Now, immediately after the election - when all the rhetoric has subsided - is an excellent time to think about how we want to measure progress in this region. It's a great time to decide how to keep ourselves informed about education, employment, health. It's a good time to think about standards to which we will hold public officials accountable. It's a time to imagine the possibilities for collaboration and nonpartisan action to address significant issues in our communities.

We are working on this! If you have thoughts, please let me know.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Vote Wisely in Every Election

Voting. We take it for granted in the United States, where we can vote safely, efficiently, and usually quickly.

Residents of many other countries of the world, whose situations I have observed first-hand and through reports from family members, often treat the right to vote - if they have it - as something much more precious than we do. In Northern Ireland, elections are often suspended; when they are not, a resident should vote early, or he/she risks arriving at the polls to find that someone else has already voted under his or her name. In Thailand, military coups take "corrective action" if elections do not produce leaders considered honest and competent. In numerous countries, voting can only occur under the visible protection of heavily armed troops, to fend off serious threats of violence intended to prevent people from casting their ballots. Travel to polls, and waits in line, that might consume half a day or more, are not uncommon in developing countries attempting to implement democratic processes. In some countries, people literally die to vote.

We have it much easier. Perhaps the strongest laments that most of us hear are questions like: "Why doesn't anyone inspiring run for office?" "All the candidates are the same." "What difference will my vote really make?"

We have the privilege and obligation to vote. I'm nonpartisan; I proudly vote for Republicans, Democrats, and independents because competent leadership exists within many different political circles. And we need competent political leaders - who can join with business, nonprofit, and community leaders to address the trends in our communities that will improve the quality of life for all of us. The demographic forecast for the next 50 years indicates that we need to nurture new, young, diverse leaders to fill the shoes of the current generation of leaders, as they leave public life.

We've all heard the admonition that the true test of a country is how it cares for its least fortunate residents. The disparities work of The Itasca Project, the Minneapolis Foundation, and others has demonstrated both the moral and economic rationales for this. We need leaders who can rise above short-term challenges and confront educational and employment disparities for the good of all of us in the long run.

When you vote - whether with primary allegience to one party, or as a "mix and match" voter like me - I encourage you to take a "research-based perspective" and look for candidates who are most likely to implement what research suggests are critical ingredients for future community and regional success:
Which candidates will join with other leaders to focus our attention on a strong common vision for our region and our state?
Which candidates will foster connections and understanding that we need to promote among communities in our region, so that they do not become isolated enclaves which cannot work together for the common good?
Which candidates will promote policies based on solid information and on close rapport with the full array of their constituents?
Which candidates have the motivational ability to get us all involved in nurturing new generations of competent employees, parents, and community leaders, and to strengthen our region within a global economy?

Hope to see you wearing an "I Voted" sticker on Election Day!!

(By the way, if you want to see something fun on how just one vote can make a difference, take a look at The Democracy Project, at PBS - intended for kids, but very informative for adults as well.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Funding to Improve Student Achievement

In an Op-Ed column in today's Pioneer Press, I noted that the activities proposed by the Saint Paul School District, as justification for the levy on the ballot in November, make sense. If implemented, they have the potential to increase student achievement. At the same time, I pointed out that, if the District obtains the funds they seek through the levy, the superintendent and other administrators must be held accountable for installing the educational features that research shows can be effective. Increased funding does not automatically translate into better results, without enhanced curriculum, classroom features, and instructional techniques that research shows can influence learning. Funds can’t just stabilize the budget and preserve the status quo.

Both all-day kindergarten and early kindergarten for 4 year olds have support from the research. While not yet definitive, studies give good reason to believe that these two measures will improve academic achievement, especially for children most at risk of failure. Reduced class sizes do not have as strong an effect, unless the numbers go below 20 and unless teachers with average and less-than-average skills improve their instructional performance.

What about alternative sources of funding? Should school funding be completely a state responsibility, for example? (While I have not come to a final opinion, I tend to think so. We need all of the state's children to become competent community members, parents, and members of the workforce. Whether they happen to spend their young years within one jurisdiction or another should not affect their educational opportunities.) Or, more specifically, should state income taxes, or a state sales tax, pay for education, rather than local property taxes? (That would perhaps move more responsibility to the state. However, I have not thought through all the pros and cons of these options.)

I focused on the effects of specific education activities. Research speaks to those effects. Research does not indicate that those effects differ if the dollars used to finance them come from different sources. We should consider, however, whether more equitable or productive ways exist to finance what we need in our schools.

No matter what, as I stated, "We all have the obligation to work together to educate our young people, to produce new generations of competent employees, parents, and community leaders, and to strengthen our region within the global economy."

If you don't have today's paper, you can read the online version at:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

World Class Schools in the Information Age

A recent conference which I attended at the University of Minnesota focused on the development of "World Class Schools". A "Call to Action" from 27 school superintendents proposed 8 traits that schools should have to prepare students for the global Information Age.

The superintendents' overall vision for education includes: raising student achievement; eliminating educational disparities; focusing on best practices; and leading the way to prepare students for the global economy in the Information Age.

In brief, the 8 traits that the superintendents encourage, to achieve this vision:

1. There are many academic roads, but all are rigorous and lead to higher education. The superintendents' report states: "...providing every student with academic rigor is the single most powerful step we can take toward closing the achievement gaps that exist..." They feel that no student should have to travel along the "low road" in education.

2. Educational investment starts early. They cite a high rate of return for every dollar spent on early childhood education; they encourage all day, every day kindergarten for five year olds.

3. Learning takes as much time as it takes. At least two important points here. One, students should have the amount of time they need to learn what they need to know to meet state standards. Two, we need to adjust our school year from one designed for the agricultural calendar to one that fits the Information Age. Minnesota averages 172 school days; England requires students to attend 190 days; Japan and Australia 210; and China 230!

4. Great educators have great support. Research shows that, of all the things in the school, the quality of a student's teacher has the strongest effect on learning. Teacher training and continued development and support are crucial.

5. Data and research inform teaching and improve learning every day. The superintendents encourage productive decisions, made by principals for schools and by teachers for classrooms, based on data and research.

6. Funding is predictable and sufficient to produce world-class performance. The United Kingdom, for example, guarantees three year budgets, in order to give principals and teachers confidence to plan for the future.

7. Services for students with special needs emphasize outcomes, not processes. The superintendents advise: Don't specify an inflexible process. Identify outcomes, and enable schools to reach those outcomes in ways that work best for their own situations.

8. Global citizenship is a core academic subject. Two important points here. One, students need to see the "increasing cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity of our state as an asset"...and schools should equip students "with the skills and sensitivity to interact with people and communities whose backgrounds are very different..." Two, students here, as in other countries, should enhance their "knowledge and understanding of international affairs, world history, geography, global economics, and foreign languages." Students should achieve basic fluency in a language other than English.

Whether we agree entirely with what the superintendents proposed, their intent is very worthwhile: They are attempting to create a vision for the future; without a vision, we won't know what we should strive to achieve.

Any thoughts??

Monday, September 18, 2006

Moving Our Region Ahead

In our changing world, facing serious, social, economic and environmental challenges,
can our Twin Cities region provide a high quality of life for everyone? Can we educate all our children? Maintain high-quality housing? Maintain high levels of health? Eliminate racial disparities in education and employment? Stand out prominently as a strong, competitive economic region?

I believe that we can do all these things, but it requires:
· Focusing our attention on significant trends and not getting sidetracked.
· Understanding key ingredients for community vitality.
· Developing a common vision and goals.
· Identifying strategies that fit diverse people and communities.
· Connecting people from all communities to attain our common goals.

A new initiative sponsored by a consortium* of foundations and United Way, and carried out by Wilder Research, is establishing a process to accomplish this. How?

First, the initiative will provide region-wide indicators about topics such as health, education, housing, and economics, so that all members of our region have access to nonpartisan, credible, and useful information.

Second, it will alert policy makers, community leaders, and the public of significant trends and motivate them to take action.

Third, the initiative will support the creation of task forces to address significant findings. If work on early education – to ensure educated citizens and workers – is what’s needed, the initiative will support that effort. If disparities have a cancerous effect on our region, it will support efforts to reduce them.

It is important to keep the focus on trends and goals. Good public policy and effective community action require credible information and analysis.

If we can achieve consensus on overall goals — e.g., all children should start school ready to learn and graduate 12 years later --- and provide sound, nonpartisan facts about how well we meet these goals, then we can discuss ways to improve. People with different backgrounds, priorities and political opinions, will differ on strategies and solutions. That makes for productive debate; arguing over facts does not. We can elevate public discourse and involve all members of our region to participate in creating a prosperous regional future.

* Bush Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, The McKnight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, 3M Foundation, St. Paul Travelers Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, and Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11 - Five years later

The day after September 11, I sent an email to colleagues and friends. On this fifth anniversary, I have reprinted it, with slight editing, because I think its key themes are still very valid. We must promote understanding and respect among people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. Otherwise, September 11 will continue to repeat itself.


The tragic events of September 11, 2001, will have an emotional toll on all of us. Some of us know people who were killed or injured by the terrorists. My family and close relatives were very fortunate. My brother stood in the street by the World Trade Center when one of the planes hit. He literally had to run for his life to avoid the falling debris. Some people near him did not make it. My nephew, who works in the WTC, was on the ground floor when the explosion occurred. A few minutes later, he would have been up in the Tower. He ran to safety as well. My cousin, a colonel at the Pentagon, was on duty when the attack occurred. He survived. Unfortunately, at least one friend of my brother was killed; and several friends and neighbors of my family (who live in the New York area) are missing and presumed dead.

It comes naturally to feel anger now, but that should not interfere with our reason and compassion. Certainly, the perpetrators should come to justice. We must pursue the terrorists and those who support them. However, we need to be forgiving of the people who get caught up in a vicious cycle of hatred, without ever hearing the truth, and without ever coming into contact with the people they have been trained to hate. Violent retribution will not cure this hatred; it will only contain it in the short run. If there is a long term cure, it lies in the promotion of communication among conflicted groups, the promotion of justice, and the promotion of peaceful coexistence.

These events should make us all the more committed to the work of the Wilder Foundation. Our work promotes justice. Our work attempts to reduce prejudice. Our work seeks to remedy social problems and reduce inequalities. Our work brings people together to see their common human interests and to build communities that meet everyone's needs. We might think that this effort just makes a difference on a small scale. However, in reality, the problems of the world will not be solved through high level diplomatic meetings. Nor will they be solved through wars. They will be solved when ordinary people work on a local level to understand one another and to get along with one another. That's what we promote when we serve the needy in one community, when we strengthen neighborhoods and organizations to enable them to serve others, and when we promote policies that enhance the lives of all. If enough of this work occurs in localities throughout the world - that's when the hatred that breeds terrorism will diminish and hopefully disappear.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poverty: The Numbers; The Disparities

New estimates of poverty in the United States came from the Census Bureau yesterday.

Some good news. Overall, the percent of people living in poverty did not increase. (A decrease would be even better news.) Real median household income (meaning income adjusted for inflation) rose slightly.

However, some groups suffer more than others. African-Americans, for example, are 2-3 times more likely than Whites to live in poverty. And, the new data suggest that disparities among different groups, and disparities between the richest and the poorest in this country, have grown. Different states have experienced different trends in household income. Some have seen a decrease, rather than a rise.

Increased disparities are bad news for all of us. The young populations, on whom our communities depend for the next generation of consumers and producers, are the populations most affected by poverty. Their health, education, and quality of life suffer; as a result, the quality of life for all of us suffers, no matter what our income or our status.

These numbers come from just a sample; and they reflect one way of measuring income and poverty. They obviously have some error. Art Rolnick, of the Federal Reserve, suggests that they don't correspond with Commerce Department figures which show economic growth. It's important to look at different indicators, over time, to come to valid conclusions.

Nonetheless, even if the economy overall has improved, enough information from enough sources leads to the reasonable conclusion that the fruits of the economy are not flowing equally to all regions and to all types of people. We need to pay attention to this.

Interested in the Census Bureau report? It's on their web site:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

City Rankings

News articles often report "rankings" of cities.

Morgan Quinto Press, for example, does many different rankings. You can find the Safest City (Newton MA), the Most Dangerous City (Camden NJ), the Best Place to Live (Charlottesville NM, followed in second place by Sante Fe NM), the Most Stressful City (Tacoma WA), the Least Stressful (Albany-Schenectady-Troy NY, tied with Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle PA). (Maybe regions defined by three city names promote composure??) recently drew attention to itself with its ratings of cities by alcohol consumption; it also creates ranks on items like "pro-business."

Someday, maybe, I'll work with some others to identify guidelines for using these rankings. Certainly, it's "let the reader beware" because all rankings are not necessarily valid. Off the top of my head, some tips for assessing the value/validity of city rankings are:

1. Understand what information the creator of the rankings uses to construct the rankings.

2. Do you find that information credible/reliable? Information from a standard source, e.g., Census data, public health statistics, is typically more reliable than small, one-time surveys.

3. Is the information relevant? For example, a city ranking index that includes the percapita number of boats is relevant to your quality of life if you like boating, but probably a weak measure if you do not.

4. What cities are included? All medium and large cities, for example, or did the index creator just start with a few? (If a specific city is not ranked, then you can't assume anything about its place in the "top 10".)

Used wisely, well-designed city rankings can provide valuable insight for thinking about what can improve quality of life. However, poorly designed rankings can mislead.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nonprofit Organizations and the Economy

"Nonprofits produce profits." That could serve as a catchy title for an interesting essay. In fact, all organizations - whether "nonprofit" or "for profit" - must have income equal to or greater than expenses. Otherwise, they cannot survive. The term, "nonprofit organization" simply indicates that, if revenues are greater than expenses, the extra money will stay in the bank for later good uses. It will not be distributed to shareholders as "profit." Many people are not aware of that.

In addition, many of us do not think about the economic impacts of nonprofit organizations within the communities that they serve. We tend to think only about the humanitarian goals and social impacts that nonprofit organizations have on people and communities. However, nonprofit organizations comprise part of the economy. They pay wages; they purchase goods and services. The amount of our economy occupied by nonprofits is the topic of several articles in fedgazette, a publication of the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis.

The article estimates that nonprofit receipts are 2.4 trillion per year. (That's perhaps 15% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product??) The numbers can help us to appreciate the impacts of nonprofit organizations that go far beyond their charitable missions and goals.

Disparities: Local Lessons from the Middle East Conflict

The Middle East dominates the news. Events there affect all of us worldwide, whether we acknowledge so or not. If we consider the Middle East conflict a regional issue, we deceive ourselves. Similarly, if we think that its implications for the world are limited to energy and oil, we lack perspective. It's another instance of how racial/ethnic hatred manifests itself, and as such, it has lessons for us locally, nationally, globally.

I've spoken with many Israelis and many Palestinians over the past 5 years. I honestly can't say what opinions I would have held in the 1940s regarding exactly what should happen in Palestine after the British withdrawal in 1948. However, I do know that now, in 2006, the children of Israel/Palestine deserve the opportunity to grow in a nurturing environment, to build their lives, and to contribute productively to a stable society.

The explanations from this side and that side of the conflict remind me of what I saw while living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Someone can always go back 5 years, 50 years, or 500 years to explain the "rationale" for a killing, a bombing, or other acts of terror. In reality, it's nothing but hatred of "the other". It's inhumanity to others who are not like oneself. It represents a failure to accept people in the here and now and to find ways to move on together to live in an imperfect world that we can make better if we honestly attempt to do so.

Locally, that's what motivates me to address racial disparities. Here and now, we have children of many different backgrounds - all of whom deserve the opportunity to move forward, and all of whom can contribute to the future - if barriers and conflict don't stop us. The initiative of The Minneapolis Foundation, the Itasca Project, and other initiatives similar to these, represent hopful signs that we can address those things that divide us in a region and bring everyone together in search of a better future. It won't be easy to undo what the past has created. Some of today's disparities result from conscious individual choices of a few people to deprive people from another group of opportunities they deserve. Other disparities result from community structures and cultural practices that have existed for centuries. Nonetheless, we can reverse the past; we can eliminate the disparities.

In future blogs, I'll update you more on how we support and collaborate with the active efforts that address this issue.

In the meanwhile, I hope that you reflect on the importance of eliminating racial disparities: What, in your own small or large way, can you do? How can you join with others to shape the future?

(Sorry it's been so long since my last blog. The spring workload was somewhat overwhelming. I'll try to return to offering more frequent thoughts and information.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Replacing Current Nonprofit and Government Leadership

Massive turnover of leadership in nonprofit organizations and in government constitutes another aspect of the current demographics of aging - as the baby boom makes its way "through the python."

Very soon, Baby Boomers will begin to retire in large numbers. These are the people who now serve in leadership positions and other critical positions within important institutions of our communities. These people possess knowledge and wisdom important for the effectiveness of these institutions. In addition, with respect to nonprofits, a recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy identifies some research that suggests that the length of time that nonprofit CEOs remain in their positions may become shorter on average due to stress and burnout.

Adding all that together seems to point to a crucial need to identify how we will develop the future talent necessary to keep nonprofit organizations successful, along with developing a means for recruiting and sustaining capable leaders in nonprofit organizations and government.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Staying Engaged Keeps You Healthy

Consumer Reports on Health had an article related to my last blog's topic. CR pointed out that retirement has greatly changed, because so many people live longer lives.

CR cites research that good health and meaningful lives go hand in hand. The most satisfied retirees in one study were 1.5 times more likely than others to be doing things like volunteering and working. This engagement seems to improve emotional and physical health, according to another study. It even keeps the mind sharper - improving cognitive functioning.

Many opportunities exist for productive use of time in the "retirement years," including including continuing education, paid work, and community service. CR lists 18 web sites as sources of information, such as Civic Ventures, Retired Brains, Habitat for Humanity, National Retiree Volunteer Coalition, and Senior Corps. And, don't forget that the Peace Corps is not just for people in their twenties. Older volunteers make up a sizeable proportion of that important organization!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Aging Issues & "More of Everything"

Sorry. It's been almost two months since my last posting. Too much work, plus too much travel.

I'll try to return to a schedule of a few times a week, even if some entries are short!

Census Bureau issued a report of importance for us - concerning aging. I've frequently mentioned in talks during the past few years that, as the Baby Boomers age, we can expect "more of everything".

That is, we can expect more people who are healthy and active, in reasonable financial shape, participating in their communities, well into their seventies, eighties, and even nineties. On the other hand, we can expect more centenarians who will experience the usual problems of old age. In addition, there will simply be more people who are isolated and of poor financial means.

The Census Bureau picked up on the positive side of this. A recent report noted that current older Americans are showing much less disability than older Americans of 20 years ago. Persons over 65 are better educated, healthier, and generally in much better shape than during the last century; and this trend will continue as the Boomers begin retiring.

So, as we think about all that we need to do in our communities, one source of vital talent (knowledge, plus the ability to get things done) will be our older residents.

(You can find the Census Bureau's report at:

Friday, January 20, 2006

Getting to the truth

Imagine that, after an exam, your doctor gives you a surprising, perhaps alarming, report - but then adds: "Much of what I told you is true; but I made up some of it, to make the report more interesting."

Recently, the authors of at least two prominent books have admitted that they embellished the facts in their memoirs with some additional stories that never happened. They justify this for various reasons, essentially contending that such writing enhances the truth, rather than detracting from it. Some people, including Oprah apparently, think that adding some fiction to a nonfiction work is acceptable; others are appalled.

Wearing the hat of someone for whom credibility is an absolutely critical ingredient of high quality work - I feel these authors are way off base. For them, monetary greed has trumped honesty.

Nonfiction is nonfiction. Adding even a little bit of fiction to an account of otherwise accurate facts resembles adding just a few viruses to an otherwise pure glass of water. The water-drinker, or the book-reader, receives a contaminated product.

Defining nonfiction as something that includes only "facts" (as well as we can determine them), with no fantasy - that's not just an academic definition. It has practical importance, because readers interpret and use written products to make decisions and take action.

For example, suppose an author writes an autobiography which refers to an incident of abuse or violence, and perhaps mentions feelings of depression, followed by the author's decision to quit a job or give up a career. Readers might reasonably interpret this as a case study in which abuse/violence produced mental illness and set the author on an unfortunate path away from a promising career.

However, what if the abusive/violent incident never really happened? What if the author felt justified adding this fictional event because in his or her mind many people in similar situations did have depression caused by abuse, so it made the "story" more interesting? In this situation, readers no longer have a true case study. Rather, they have a fictional representation of what the author feels might represent the composite experience of "many people." There is certainly a place for composite views and fictional representations. However, when presented as true autobiographical case studies, the authors are lying to us. We may draw conclusions, or take action, in the "real" world, based on the faulty assumptions we have developed because of the authors' deceit.

Research regarding social issues and programs, human services and education, faces credibility tests all of the time. Standards must remain high. How do we set and meet standards for credibility, when we all know that even the "truth" is a product of values? I'll describe some of what we do in a future blog.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Not a Day - An Ongoing Journey for Justice

Today, we formally remember Martin Luther King and the principles for which he gave his life. When I think of Dr. King, social justice, nonviolence, and peace come immediately to mind. I feel inspired - my eyes opened by the wisdom he communicated. He spoke to all of us, offering insight, vision, hope.

I see a world where everyone takes on responsibility to improve the world, to improve the lives of others, to serve others. I see a world where respect for one another means appreciating diversity while at the same time engaging with others in the search for new understanding, recognizing that none of us frail creatures can yet supply all the answers for everything that humanity needs to know.

Dr. King destroyed social and legal barriers, and he raised the consciousness of all of us - Black, White, and others - enabling us to know that long-term traditions could change, that centuries old injustices could be righted. Change has certainly happened; but much remains to be done. Legalized segregation and exclusion in the United States disappeared decades ago, because of the advocacy of Martin Luther King and others who followed his lead; but disparities persist. Access to education, health care, housing, employment has not become equal for people of all races. Racial differences in test scores and graduation rates, for example, show clearly that we have a long way to go to transform our school systems into places that can meet the needs we have as a diverse society. Effective education that eliminates disparities is a moral imperative. It's also a practical reality that our increasingly diverse cities and regions cannot thrive unless we nurture the abilities of all of our residents.

This day has become a "holiday". Holiday status - alongside days like Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving - conveys the importance of the work of Dr. King. Unfortunately, the "three day weekend" mentality can let us lapse into forgetfulness. Let's encourage one another to do at least one thing on this day to learn about democracy, freedom, equality. Even if we plan a day of recreation or shopping, let's all first watch an MLK Day event, listen to a lecture, watch one of the many special news features on TV today. Let's try to learn at least one thing that we didn't know before, and think about how we might use this new knowledge during the year.

We must pay attention to the future, not just to the day. This is not simply a holiday to celebrate, then move on. Rather, we need to focus on how to turn King's dream into real life experiences for all of us everyday.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's Cosmopolitan Philosophy

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve and Day bring on the opportunity to think about the future of this world. I was very happy to read a proposal for "Cosmopolitanism" by the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah, in today's New York Times Magazine.

His essay reflects values that I have held for almost as long as I've been thinking about what it means to be an ethical human being in an increasingly interdependent world. I hope you share these values too; and I hope you have a chance to read his article.

Some of what he discusses points to the importance of forging connections - something I've written about elsewhere. A few quotes appear below.

"We should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement but because it will help us get used to one another - something we have a powerful need to do in this globalized era."

Again, the importance of connections, of associating with one another, seeing the differences and similarities among us a human beings - differences and similarities that may not be immediately identifiable due to the barriers and lenses of language, for example, but which we will recognize over time if we "get used to" one another.

"One distinctively cosmopolitan commitment is to pluralism. Cosmopolitans think that there are many values worth living by and that you cannot live by all of them. So we hope and expect that different people and different societies will embody different values. Another aspect of cosmopolitanism is what philosophers call fallibilism - the sense that our knowledge is imperfect, provisional, subject to revision in the face of new evidence."

Scientists know very well that all knowledge is tentative - ready to be revised by the next set of scientific findings. All of us need to develop this understanding.

"A tenable global ethics has to temper a respect for difference with a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices. That's why cosmopolitans don't insist that everyone become cosmopolitan. They know they don't have all the answers. They're humble enough to think that they might learn from strangers; not too humble to think that strangers can't learn from them."

This can be a tough one. We absolutely must remain open to the possibility that the other person's way may be the right way (at least at this point in time). In many cases, we will modify our thinking and behavior. Yet, we must also be ready to open others' eyes, gently teach, and lead them to new ways, when we've sincerely considered all the available cultural perspectives and yet remain convinced that our insight offers the best option.

Peace and best wishes for 2006!