The Hennepin County Board voted Tuesday to renew a partnership with the University of Minnesota that is hoped to simplify collaboration between the two entities.
The vote extends the Master Cooperative Agreement which began in 2007 and was set to expire at the end of this month, through 2015. The agreement allows the county to spend up to $7.5 million on collaborative projects.
While the agreement doesn’t detail any specific projects, it will make it easier for the county and University to enter into contracts and work together on initiatives, Hennepin-University Partnership Director Kathie Doty said.
Past and ongoing projects generated from the partnership include research to improve experiences for children in foster homes, reducing homelessness in the county and reducing truancy in area high schools.
The county also recruited University College of Design students to help create plans for the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center.
The biggest benefit of the partnership is that it allows the county to make more evidence-based decisions and collect data before finalizing policies and projects, Doty said.
It also allows the University to work more closely with the community while giving students and staff the opportunity to apply their research to real-world problems, she said.
The Hennepin-University Partnership was created in 2004 to promote collaboration between the two groups, but they quickly discovered the complicated contracting process made it difficult to work together even on simple projects, Doty said.
This led to the creation of the first legal agreement between the county and the University in 2007.
“In order to streamline the collaborative process, we have all the legal terms associated with an agreement negotiated ahead of time,” Doty said.
County and University officials meet periodically to determine shared priorities and specific projects they want to collaborate on, Doty said, but communication is ongoing and new projects can come up at any time. Either the county or the University can initiate a project.
University staff and students have been working with the county and in the community for many years, but this formal partnership encourages them to maximize the opportunities, Tom Scott, former director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, said. “This program connecting the county and University is just one of the ways the University is engaging with the community, but it’s an important one,” Scott said. “This is a unique relationship.”
The board didn’t expect any dissent over the new agreement’s approval, Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison said. It includes updated, fine-tuned language, but it’s basically the same as the 2007 version, she said.
“This agreement has gotten two big institutions talking about how they can help each other, and you never know where that’s going to go,” Callison said. “We can’t predict where those conversations will take us, but this gives the framework for collaboration to happen.”