Statewide brainstorm: Minnesota Idea Open searches for the next big idea.
By Jennifer Ford Reedy, Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation
It was easy to pick obesity as the focus of our very first Minnesota Idea Open challenge. This is in spite of the fact that obesity is not a pet issue for us (Minnesota Community Foundation) or any of our core partners.
We chose obesity because:
1) It is really hard to find an issue on which we have gotten so much worse so fast.
The facts are staggering. In 1990, one in ten Minnesotans was obese. Today, one in four of us is obese. If you watch a slide show of how obesity rates have changed across the country it truly looks like an epidemic.
2) It is really hard to find an issue on which individual action matters more.
Yes, there are policy actions we could take, but the choices we make every day as individuals can also make an enormous impact.
3) It matters for all of us.
While 25 percent of Minnesotans are categorized as obese, an additional 35 percent of us are considered overweight. For our individual well-being, this means increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions. For our collective well-being, this means growing costs for our health care system. A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota projects that 31percent of increased health care costs between 2005 and 2020 will be due to projected increases in obesity and overweight.
Minnesota Idea Open is designed to work on exactly this type of issue. We want to address those critical issues for the state that we as individual citizens can meaningfully impact. There are a number of significant issues for which this is true. Water quality is a good example. Even though we may feel helpless watching oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, here in Minnesota we have pretty much fixed all the pipes spewing horrible things into our rivers. The problem now is us. It is our boating habits, our gardening practices. It is our actions that will make the difference.
For these types of issues, we need a new way of thinking about civic action. How can we work together to create new supports and incentives for us to do the small things that lead to big change? How do we bring our networks of friends and neighbors and faith groups and colleagues to work on these issues?
In launching the Idea Open, we had extraordinary response from individuals and organizations all around the state, willing to partner with us on this effort. Where there was skepticism, it was usually questioning the ability for the general population to come up with any new ideas that the experts didn’t already know. While I am a big fan of experts and even like to consider myself an expert in a few areas, I believe that our over-reliance on experts isn’t cutting the mustard.
We have never in the history of mankind known more about what we should eat to be healthy or the importance of exercise. And yet, we’ve never been fatter. With the trends we are seeing, I just don’t think you can argue compellingly that we already have the answer. And given the nature of the issue, the answer will likely be different for every individual and community. Therefore, I think that our best approach is cultivating solutions rather than imposing them.
We’re excited about the promise of idea challenges to inspire Minnesotans to come up with new ideas for addressing vexing problems. We were delighted to receive more than 400 proposals for our inaugural challenge and hope to continue to grow the number of people connected to this community problem-solving platform. We’ve built the technology with partners to create a strong and flexible web site. The site can host challenges for any organization in the state that wants to engage stakeholders in answering important civic questions.
We hope this will serve as new civic infrastructure for us to support this new way of civic action. We’re not naïve about the huge gulf between coming up with ideas and finding the will and resources to act. We do believe, however, that asking all of us to be problem solvers is an essential strategy for tackling many of the toughest challenges we face as a state.
Opinions in the For Discussion columns are the authors' alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minnesota Compass. Compass welcomes a range of views about issues pertaining to quality of life in Minnesota.