Friday, July 29, 2016

Award Winning Innovations of Minnesota State Government

In reading a daily news service of government stories nationwide, I was struck by the preponderance of negative stories. Why do we focus so much on what government does wrong when government does so many things right?

On July 21st, the State of Minnesota is going to celebrate ten examples of state government innovation. As the chair of the judging committee for the awards, I can report that MN state government is making great progress. Nearly 70 applications were received from 18 different state agencies demonstrating that our government officials are trying new ways to deliver government services more efficiently and effectively, which made are judging difficult.

We chose three innovations to receive the highest commendation:

· Department of Transportation: Government-to-Government Tribal-State Relations Training
State agencies have long grappled with how to properly communicate, interact and consult with Minnesota’s Tribal Sovereign Nations. Employees of state agencies are mandated by the Governor’s Executive Order 13-10 to consult with the tribes on matters of mutual interest, yet they have not been equipped with the knowledge or skills they need to properly consult. Some agencies hired tribal liaisons to coordinate the work between their agencies and tribal nations. Due to the high demands, many tribal liaisons are overloaded. Alternatively, training for state officials was developed that included content needed to incorporate both the concerns of Minnesota’s Tribal Sovereign Nations and the needs and the requirements of state agencies. The University of Minnesota Duluth partnered with the state to develop the training.

· Department of Labor and Industry : PIPELINE Project
The Department of Labor and Industry is integrating and expanding the dual-training and registered apprenticeship system in Minnesota through the industry-based, employer-driven PIPELINE Project. Leveraging Minnesota’s success in registered apprenticeship programs, dual-training programs offer employment, education, and training to deliver industry required skills today for the high-demand, high-wage occupations of tomorrow. Industries included are advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care services, and information technology. While housed at the Department of Labor and Industry, the PIPELINE Project is directed by employers and their industry representatives.

· Department of Transportation: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Bridge Inspection Project
The Minnesota Department of Transportation found that Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for bridge inspection improve safety, provide less disruption to traffic, and reduce work time per bridge from eight to five days. Traditionally, bridge inspections are accomplished by a "snooper truck" that sits on the bridge deck and extends a bucket underneath the bridge. UAS provide inspection detail that replicate the information gleaned through traditional measures, and costs significantly less in equipment and traffic control needs. 

The following seven innovations were also commended for their creativity, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness:

· An interactive online tool called ParkFinder that helps Minnesotans find a park that has just what they are looking for (e.g. beaches, bike trail, cabins, etc.);

· Design, construction, and restoration of aquatic habitat in the St. Louis River feeding Lake Superior to achieve Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement goals;

· A program for U. S. military Veterans in adult day care that uses songwriting, photography, and performance to entertain audiences, while giving purpose to the veterans;

· A first in the nation Army Compatible Land Use Buffer for Camp Ripley;

· A voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program to help Minnesota cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals;

· An outreach effort for state employees and their adult dependents who are at risk for type 2 diabetes that provides access to a digital program designed to lower participants’ risk for obesity-related chronic disease; and,

· An innovative community engagement process to update the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan and the 20-Year State Highway Investment Plan.

Each of these state innovations had a significant positive payback for the dollars invested while improving services for Minnesotans. The next time you are troubled by something government doesn’t do right, think about all the services like water quality, meat inspections, road design, public parks and forests, and universities that are done well. And know that Minnesota state public servants are continuing to innovate and improve what they do.

By: Jay Kiedrowski 

Jay is a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and directs the Minnesota State Government Innovation Awards, which are co-sponsored by the Humphrey School and the Bush Foundation.

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