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Innovation in state government? In Minnesota, you betcha

From creating more jobs for people with disabilities to better serving people at state parks, state agencies value and practice innovation.

This year, the PCA expanded its air quality forecasting capability from 2 to 17 locations, now covering all of Minnesota.
Minnesota PCA

In the most recent Gallup Poll, only 19 percent of Americans trusted in their government “just about always/most of the time.” We are more fortunate in Minnesota because we have a state government in which we can have more confidence.

kiedrowski portrait
Jay Kiedrowski

For the fourth year, I had the pleasure of chairing a committee to review applications for the Minnesota State Government Innovation Awards. Innovation is prospering in Minnesota’s state government. There were over 50 applications for the innovation awards; most were really great examples of innovation. To apply, a state government department had to undertake something innovative, show measurable positive results, and be able to transfer the innovation to other agencies or other states.

Here are the four best examples of the innovation occurring in our state government:

  • Way to Work (Department of Employment and Economic Development) – The Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division worked with Dakota County to employ individuals with significant disabilities who previously were assumed to be too disabled to work. Since 2015, more than 80 individuals found jobs or developed job-search plans. This effort is now being expanded to all 87 counties.
  • Statewide Air Quality Index Forecasting (Pollution Control Agency) – This year, the PCA expanded its air quality forecasting capability from 2 to 17 locations, now covering all of Minnesota. Meteorologists can now readily issue alerts so Minnesotans can reduce their exposure to poor air quality conditions.
  • Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative (Metropolitan Council) – This initiative involves 31 government partners who together solicited proposals from vendors who offered solar energy participation via subscription as an alternative to installing solar panels on their own property. This new arrangement will result in $5 million in cost savings, as well as emission reductions over 25 years.
  • Self-Service Action (Department of Natural Resources) – The department redesigned services for visitors to the state’s 75 parks and recreation areas. Same-day reservations can now be made online or at self-service kiosks in the parks without a reservation fee; daily and annual state park permits are now available for purchase online; and, hundreds of previously “first-come, first-serve” campsites are now available for reservation.
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There were six other winners of the awards this year for developing eSearch warrants, for developing a hydraulic inspection vehicle for pipes and culverts, for equitable access to state contracts, for system wide office recycling, for a web-based tool enabling easy food license acquisition, and for people with disabilities to save money without jeopardizing their public program eligibility.

The next time you encounter a state employee tell them thanks for being great public servants and know that they are innovating to make Minnesota government tops in the nation.

Jay Kiedrowski is a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.


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