Minnesota Community Assembly Project

Though many of the laws and policies that govern our lives are crafted in state capitals or in Washington, D.C., our local governments bear much of the responsibility for turning laws into reality. Local government, too, is often the most easily influenced by the public, but outdated administrative, electoral, and participation structures limit community members from engaging fully in the political process. As our communities grow and evolve, we believe community members themselves should guide that evolution.

That’s why the Jefferson Center, Professor David Schultz at Hamline University, and digital engagement firm ForgeWorks are leading the Minnesota Community Assembly Project (MNCAP). MNCAP will engage community members to assess potential reforms to the administrative, electoral, and participatory structures of local government in two Minnesota communities in 2017: Red Wing and Willmar.

A Community Assembly serves as a microcosm of the community, randomly selected to reflect the demographic and political breakdown of the community. Over the course of eight days, participants will learn about their local government and others around the country, discuss corresponding advantages and disadvantages, identify the values underpinning their view of good local government, and explore and recommend opportunities to ensure their local government reflects these values.

These recommendations will serve as blueprints for the participating communities and others across Minnesota and the US to update government for the 21st century.

This initiative taps into the wisdom of local residents so that municipalities reflect their needs, values, and aspirations. We are delighted to begin this vital effort to give community members a clear voice in shaping the future of municipal governance.

Our first Assembly, in Red Wing, concluded July 9, 2017. After three weekends of intensive deliberation, the 36 community participants recommended four opportunities to pursue to strengthen local government:

  • Digital Public Engagement, with 31 participants in favor of this recommendation
  • Better Public Meetings, with 29 participants in favor of this recommendation
  • Ranked Choice Voting, with 24 participants in favor of this recommendation
  • Strengthened Financial Disclosure Requirements, with 22 participants in favor of this recommendation

To read the reasons in support of each recommendation, and to learn more about the process, check out the Red Wing Citizens Assembly Event Report.

To review the full proceedings and materials from the event, visit the Red Wing Citizens Assembly Drive folder.

Our second Assembly, in Willmar, concluded October 15, 2017.  Participants voted on these four opportunities to strengthen local government in the final session:

  • Better Public Meetings, with 30 participants in favor of this recommendation
  • Digital Public Engagement, with 26 participants in favor of this recommendation
  • Ranked Choice Voting, with 12 participants in favor and 17 participants against this recommendation
  • Participants also discussed an At-Large versus Ward Election system. This vote was measured through a ranking point system, with “Keeping the Current System” receiving 92 points, “Mixed s\System” receiving 88 points, “Increasing the Number of Wards” receiving 57 points, and an “At-Large” system receiving 44 points.

To read more about the process and each recommendation, download the Willmar Citizens Assembly Event Report. The full proceedings and materials are available in the Willmar Citizens Assembly Drive Folder.

Support for this project comes from the Joyce Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.