From the County Manager Column from July 13, 2021

TST has begun its journey of shared power, community-based decision-making

From the County Manager

I'm pleased to present Danny Givens as a guest columnist this week. Danny began in January as Director of Transforming Systems Together (TST) and has this update on our shared community-based decision-making initiative. A profile of Danny in which he discussed TST was published earlier this year in the Monitor newspaper. Additional background on TST is available on our website including this presentation at a board workshop. - Ryan

When you need to go somewhere you’ve never been before, most of us Google it to see how to get there.

If you Google “shared power” you’ll get at least 1.7 billion entries, but you won't get the distance, directions, your estimated arrival or warnings of delays or hazards ahead. And that is the challenge and opportunity of TST, our collective work to understand community viewpoints, and work together to improve, rethink and reverse engineer our investments so that they are equitable for all Ramsey County residents.

There is no road map to this work, because it is transformational change on a scale never attempted and going to a place we’ve never gone before as a county. That means we have to lean into this space and spend time to figure out basic questions such as how will TST organize itself, share power and reach decisions as a collective? All that takes time, but it is time well-spent as it’s fundamental to the long-term integrity and effectiveness of this initiative.

The opportunity side of the groundwork we’re doing now with TST is it holds us accountable to power sharing by community and county system leaders to work out the norms, structure and processes to ensure the issues and solutions we focus on later are the right ones. Integrated into this effort are relationship- and trust-building that I believe are the real gold in this work. Healthy and holistic working relationships among TST members are essential to forward the kind of transformational change we seek inside our county systems, within our communities and among our residents. I’m hopeful that with the work we’ve started to understand and include the community’s viewpoints and share power, we will see these relationships continue to grow and blossom in some amazing ways.

At our convenings this spring, the collective finalized our norms and values and agreed we want to strive for unanimous consensus in decision-making. We had a lengthy discussion on how we arrive at those decisions, and what we do if there isn’t unanimous consensus. We are using the “Fist to Five” consensus method, and the Circle Process which brings together people as equals to have open exchanges about difficult issues or painful experiences in an atmosphere of respect and concern, and so all voices are heard.

Earlier this year, the group identified 133 things that are broken within our county systems. This is key to our work in the next phase, as we move out of the structure and process decisions, and into identifying ideas that will lead to transformational change of systems. We are now in the process of synthesizing these dysfunctions into nine to 10 issues that cut across county systems. Developing goals to address these system issues that are currently the biggest barriers to equitable and effective investments in community will become TST’s North Star, guiding us to where we focus our time and talents for the rest of 2021. We will be sharing more about our North Star goals and other progress by TST at an upcoming workshop with county commissioners. Information from that workshop as well as other updates and background on our work will be posted on our TST webpage.

As I enter the second half of my first year as TST Director, I remain humbled to be part of this transformative effort and grateful for the amazing and dynamic support I’ve received from community members and county staff. I am thankful folks have been open to what is a very unique collective in power-sharing, it's felt empowering, medicinal almost. We’re still just beginning on our journey, finding our way not by pre-established methods along a well-traveled route, but guided by the wisdom, insights and experiences of community.