Friday, February 22, 2013

Information is Intervention

“Information is Intervention”: Those words describe how, in this Information Age of the 21st century, Minnesota Compass, the Wilder Research-led social indicators project, can produce tangible impacts on the quality of life in our communities, on the health and well-being of every one of us, and on the lives of future generations in our state.

About 130 community and foundation leaders, managers of nonprofit organizations, and others participated in the 2013 annual meeting of Minnesota Compass. The meeting built upon the premise that, in light of the social and economic opportunities and challenges for our state, we need to identify creative, innovative solutions – other than simply “more money” – in order to maintain strong communities and to protect vulnerable populations.

Craig Helmstetter, from Wilder Research, shined a light on our aging population, growing diversity, and large racial disparities in poverty, high school graduation, proportion of adults working, and homeownership.    

The number of people over age 65, many with significant health and social needs, will increase dramatically over the next 15 years. At the same time, there will be fewer working-age people to support older adults, lowering the dependency ratio from 5 working-age adults for every older adult, to 3 working-age adults for every older adult.  However, the older generation will include a lot of people interested in, and fit enough, to continue contributing productively to their communities, if suitable opportunities emerge. That prospect – an increase in needs on the one hand, but an increased potential for older paid and unpaid workers to meet those needs – should motivate us to think innovatively how we harness the constructive energy of the “silver tsunami”.

As for the young people in Minnesota, most of you working to improve the lives of youth already have developed great familiarity with the achievement gap. (Some of you even advised us on the measures we use to track that gap. We thanked our advisors at the meeting; and I thank you again!) The negative implications of the achievement gap lie just a generation away, unless we do something now. As Dr. Helmstetter showed, children of color constitute the fastest growing part of our population. They will become the workforce of Minnesota’s future, the community leaders of the future, and the parents of the future. If children of color cannot achieve in math and reading – if they cannot complete post-secondary education, or even complete high school, at a time when, as The New York Times reports, businesses increasingly demand college degrees for all positions, then we face a serious obstacle to sustaining this state’s economic productivity and its quality of life.

We cannot expect money to help us meet the challenges our communities face in the coming decades. With the federal debt in the teens of trillions of dollars, and with the state budget problem at about $1.1 billion, no new big bucks will begin to flow. Even if we do witness some increase in funding to address the demographic and social challenges which I just noted, it would not suffice to produce the impacts we require.

So, our annual meeting keynote speaker, Alex Cirillo, illustrated how people working to build strong communities can adapt the 3M model of innovation as an effective tool. He explained the importance of including people "not like us" in collaboration and defined key roles: specialists; scouts; architects; adapters. He also explained the potential payoff of looking for ideas that work in one realm, to apply them to another – success factors in agriculture that might work in human services, models in education that could apply in health care, principles of transportation logistics that could assist in channeling volunteers to productive opportunities for service. Some of these thoughts might seem bizarre, but idea links like these can stimulate worthwhile change (and, in the for-profit world, often garner a lot of money!).

Information is intervention. We plan to continue using Compass to change thinking, policies, systems, and behavior – with the ultimate result, a better Minnesota!

You can see more about all of the annual meeting presentations on our Event Spotlight page. Please take a look!