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Next steps, now: Civic policymaking in practice among the millennials

Diane Tran
Diane Tran

In May 2009, inspired in part by my engagement with a Citizens League Action Group focused on connecting young people with opportunities for meaningful community engagement and volunteerism, I began blogging about active citizenship, emerging leadership and issues of relevance to the millennial generation in Minnesota.

What can we emerging leaders do now to build relationships, trust and a shared vision for Minnesota so that we, today and in 20 years’ time, can be more successful in implementing it? This question pushed me to seek out others’ insights. During the year and a half that followed, I completed nearly 50 one-on-one conversations, sharing my ideas and vision for a network of emerging leaders — which became Minnesota Rising — and listening for how it might be applicable to the efforts of local emerging leaders and their organizations.

I attended numerous young professionals’ events, met with leadership from a range of emerging-leader organizations and was invited to speak about Minnesota Rising at the Minnesota Jaycees 2010 Annual Convention. After some initial conversations and a year of online interaction via Twitter, Facebook and blogging, I developed enough followers and friends to begin engaging in large-group conversations with emerging leaders across the Twin Cities.

We convened the first meeting in May 2010, with 20 people in attendance on a Saturday morning, including representatives from many of the key emerging-leader organizations. The opportunity to map the myriad existing young-professionals groups and the potential to develop some type of generational agenda with other emerging leaders excited those in the room. At the close of the gathering, we agreed that we should continue to meet in this manner and determined that one way to move forward would be to jointly plan a large event that each of our groups could benefit from as well as help carry out.

Hybrid of traditional and innovative activities

A 10-person planning committee began working to develop content, logistics and outreach for the first Minnesota Rising Un/Conference, so named for its hybrid of traditional and innovative activities for facilitating conversation and interaction. We enlisted 16 Network Partners to help promote and execute the event, brought on four event sponsors, and despite a surprise snowstorm, had 70+ attendees present out of the more than 100 registered. The Un/Conference, focused on the potential the rising generation has to contribute to Minnesota, energized the attendees, many of whom have since engaged more deeply with Minnesota Rising as it seeks to build the network for what’s next.

With massive numbers of baby boomers retiring, Minnesota's work force and demographics will look dramatically different in just a few years. One oft-noted issue of concern is the leadership gap that will deepen as many seasoned, longstanding executives and leaders retire. While some succession planning has taken place, the sheer number of the baby boomers means their departure will have a profound impact on how business and society function in coming years.

Need conversations beyond election cycles

The challenge of a successful transition of power is heightened by the lack of an emerging or middle talent pool that has been cultivated with skills, institutional knowledge and relationships, and a shared vision for how to proceed. Without a sustained group of leaders and citizens committed to the betterment of Minnesota, policymaking and critical decisions are subject to the vagaries of political cycles and partisan campaign promises. Policy decisions and conversations have to be broader than election cycles; otherwise, they are subject to progress within the confines of two-, four- or six-year terms. The tough problems we face as a state will not be solved with shortsightedness and polarization.

The Citizens League’s new method of civic policymaking not only allows for a more expansive understanding of who can be policymakers (emerging leaders as well as established), but also invites new ways to participate in public dialogue and engagement.

As we’ve learned with Minnesota Rising, we need to forge a new civic discourse, built on trust and relationships cultivated over time. This culture shift won't take place easily or overnight. It may, in fact, take an entire generation to change the conversation. That's why we need to begin the work now. Emerging leaders are poised to be the next Greatest Generation. Unlike previous generations' brick and mortar legacies, the very manner in which today's emerging leaders conduct their work may ultimately be the most powerful contribution we make to our society.

Upward and onward

The work of developing a shared vision for our generation is being co-created, and while we have some general principles and parameters, the end remains to be seen. For the time being, it seems that the work is an attempt to shift society from back-room dealings to relationship-based politics and a culture of collaboration. The intent is for emerging leaders to learn a new way of being before arriving in positions of leadership to repopulate the old systems. This new way is achieved through collaborative leadership.

Over the coming years, we hope to create a powerful, idealistic, vivid vision of the future in Minnesota through engaging emerging leaders, high-schoolers, college students and more across the state. Through the Minnesota Rising Cascading Conversations Tour, we’ll seek to discover our shared visions and values and to leverage expansive leadership to build our Minnesota. Working collectively, we will be able to identify, nurture and take with us the best of our generation as we move up and on in life. Together.

Diane Tran is a Citizens League board member and blogger/coordinator for Minnesota Rising. She is also a project manager at Grassroots Solutions.

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Comments (2)

Minnesota Rising and Shared Governance

Diane - very nice article on the emerging field of governance. Five years ago I was hired by an agriculture organization to address their need to engage in environmental issues in a more productive manner. The short story is that over a period of a couple of years we migrated to a "shared governance" model. I was compelled to write, EcoCommerce 101, a book explaining how ecologic and economic goals can be integrated in this new space. I have since consulted with several national level groups seeking for similar solutions.
Best,
Tim Gieseke

I don't see many leaders.

Ms. Tran: I like reading articles of this nature, but I see it as a two-edged sword making deep cuts both ways.

The first cut is into the hierarchy of leadership, questioning of a leader, governance, being elected. All great things.

But the second cut follows this line... "This new way is achieved through collaborative leadership."... I don't see that happening. "Collaborative leadership", to me, is a buzzword for "someone else will do it". As a Millennial with powerful knowledge and a 21st Century survival instinct, I want to see a leader.

I want a face and a name, and I am one of few people I know willing to take on that responsibility and challenge. Online conversations and groups and meetings, boards, surveys are all fine... but I want to see a person doing something.

~Bob