UH professor offers advice for tackling Hawaii’s problems

By James Kim

University of Hawaii at Manoa professor Neil Milner said that the state needs to overcome a political culture that is change resistant and “in the business of stopping things,” in order to solve its unique problems. Milner suggested this advice while participating in a conference discussion panel in downtown Honolulu on Wednesday, August 25th.

Milner listed several problems: an inadequate homeless policy, the failed SuperFerry, the lack of effective oversight for Act 221, and the mismanagement of public schools. These issues, which he referred to as the “hard stuff,” represented problems that lacked adequate solutions. It was after this statement that he then proceeded to offer advice for solving such problems.

Milner also proposed several other suggestions. He stressed the importance of better understanding the local cultural context surrounding a problem and that leaders should take more personal initiative and responsibility in devising and implementing solutions. He also advocated that leaders avoid approaching problems with “grand plans,” and that, selection criteria for leadership positions shift toward an increased emphasis on “relationship management” skills.

Milner gave his advice as part of a discussion panel titled Building Best Practices for Hawaii, which was one of four such discussions comprising the Recovery and Transformation conference. Panelists included 30 prominent figures representing private businesses, the public sector, academia and the general community discussing Hawaii’s economic future. Milner described the event as the “beginning of a conversation and a way to get a group of people fairly influential in their communities to talk.”

The conference was held at the Plaza Club in the heart of downtown Honolulu’s financial district. The Conference was well attended with approximately 50 to 100 people filling the ballroom where it took place. Milner voiced his approval of the day’s proceedings by saying, “a lot of interesting things were said… (by) a lot of people that don’t normally hang together.” Videos relating to the conference can be seen at the following website:

Milner is a political science professor at UH-Manoa, where he has taught since 1972. He helped found the UH Program on Conflict Resolution.