Making change

Silos are not good for public policy

I’m a fan of enlightenment and The Enlightenment, so any title like Social Change’s Age of Enlightenment is bound to get my attention.  It was enlightening, appropriately enough, and  reflects what we’ve been seeing emerge in Northfield: address social (as well as what I’d call institutional) issues by supporting the innovators and entrepreneurs who are working for social change, looking for fund programs which have successful outcomes over the long term, and collaborating with groups and individuals across the usual division lines.

In Northfield, recent discussions between the City Council and Northfield Hospital about leading efforts to improve public health by coordinating City, hospital, education, and non-profits fit here – we’ve talked about what health status indicators tell us about Northfield’s health right now and how we can harness the power of the community for improvement.  Perhaps (I’m speculating at this point) obesity or diabetes will become the focus – how can we (the big plural we) help increase physical activity, education, healthy food, etc. through coordinated decision-making and incremental change rather than throwing money at a single project?

In the arts, community leaders (I’m thinking of you, Dean Kjerland, Ann Mosey, Philip Spensely, Barbara Burke, Christie Clark and more) have brought attention to arts and culture (defined broadly from “high art” to popular music to community events like the Riverwalk Market FairLow Brow High Octane and the DJJD) in Northfield and lead collaboration with the Arts and Culture Commission, Northfield Arts Guild, Colleges, etc. and enlisted the City as one player.

In infrastructure planning, the city and school district jointly developed the Safe Routes to School Plan which provides support for incremental improvements in bike/ped safety around schools, then projects like the TIGER trail project, Complete Streets, etc. looked to other community groups (Grassroots Transit, HCI, Milltowns Trail, Colleges and more) to build support and create tools to work with MnDOT, County, developers for better long-term planning for street corridors which serve all users, address stormwater, and are inviting places to walk, bicycle and drive.  We’re trying to figure out how to benchmark these efforts, too, so we can document successes, adjust programs, and ensure money is spent well.

Long term, big picture stuff – not big dollar stuff – where your passion can help make a big difference in the community and we’ll be able to measure it, too.