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What do dog sniffers, electronic records, and ‘saying it simply’ have in common?

Dog Sniffers, electronic records, and “saying it simply” are all innovations of Minnesota state government — and winners in the first Minnesota Innovation Awards Program.

Dogs have helped improve the DNR inspection processes and have increased public awareness to fight zebra mussels.

Dog Sniffers, electronic records, and “saying it simply” are all innovations of Minnesota state government. These innovations were winners in the first Minnesota Innovation Awards Program sponsored by the Bush Foundation and administered by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

kiedrowski portrait
Jay Kiedrowski

For the past seven years, the Humphrey School has administered the Minnesota local government innovation awards for cities, counties, and schools. Most recently these have also been sponsored by the Bush Foundation. Last year’s local winners were acclaimed for restoring sewer holding ponds for hunting habitat in Madelia; for TXT4 Life suicide prevention in Carlton County; and for Getting Excellent Academic Results for all Students (GEARS) at Monroe Elementary School in Brooklyn Park.

It was going to be hard for Minnesota state government to equal the innovation observed in local government, but the recent state awards prove that they were equal to the task. There were 10 state winners in all out of 38 applications covering such programs as a veteran’s education transfer system for military expertise; a move to fully electronic court records; a nursing facility incentive payment system; regional education centers of excellence; and the geospatial information system (GIS) for metropolitan planning.

Among the 10 winners, three will receive special recognition. They are:

  • Zebra Mussel Detection Dogs. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had a problem of stopping zebra mussel proliferation. Detection of zebra mussels on boats prior to launch in new waters was particularly difficult. Two specially trained zebra mussel detection dogs were deployed prior to the 2013 fishing opener. The dogs have helped improve the DNR inspection processes and have increased public awareness to fight zebra mussels. In 2013, DNR officers undertook 322 inspections for aquatic invasive species with approximately 20 percent resulting in violations. This approach has proved to be a low cost way of improving inspections. The DNR is working to expand the program.
  • Minnesota E-Health Initiative. This is a public-private partnership established in 2004 to utilize electronic health records and other health information technology across all health providers in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health started the initiative to advance the use of “e-health” to improve health care provision by ensuring that healthcare providers had access to the relevant health information when needed. Today, 93 percent of Minnesota’s health clinics and 99 percent of Minnesota’s hospitals have adopted electronic health records compared to 17 percent of clinics and 9 percent of hospitals in 2004 before the initiative. Minnesota is a national leader in e-health as a result of the Health Department efforts.
  • Saying It Simply. The Minnesota Department of Revenue launched a plain language initiative to provide information to all taxpayers that is easy to find, understand, and use. Begun in 2013, implementing plain language required a culture shift in the department. Employees were accustomed to using technical or legal language which was difficult to understand. When citizens don’t understand, they call, complain, and possibly fail to comply with the law. One plain language initiative rewrote the call center prompts in plain language which reduced the number of prompts callers had to listen to from six to two. Now 94 percent of the 740,000 people who call are able to have their needs met on the first call. The Department of Revenue is now training other state agency employees in plain language use. More than 500 employees have been trained so far.
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We are fortunate in Minnesota that we have dedicated state employees who are trying to find better ways to serve Minnesotans. Through Republican and Democratic administrations, state employees have been searching for innovations that either save costs or improve services so that our tax dollars can be used for critical services. The next time you interact with a state employee, say, “Thanks for your innovations and keep up the good work.”

Jay Kiedrowski is a Senior Fellow at the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

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