A decade ago, I held a position in government responsible for overseeing 17 different grant programs. I asked each program director for a list of every grant in our $50 million portfolio. What I got in return was a mix – some leaders shared data in a spreadsheet, some in a database, and some in a Word document – but some had only pieces of paper with lists written out by hand.
At that point, few U.S. cities were using advanced data analytics – few even had it on their radar. That has changed dramatically since. In April 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies rolled out its What Works Cities program to advance data-driven approaches to municipal government in 100 cities over three years. Within the first six weeks, 40% of eligible cities had applied. Cities are increasingly appointing Chief Data Officers, Chief Analytics Officers, and Chief Performance Officers to unlock the power of data to deliver better services to the public. And yet, there remains a wide variation in data maturity across government, with inconsistent progress over the last decade.
Where does data-driven government begin? With timely, reliable, consistent, high-quality data. Somerville, MA Mayor Joe Curtatone says that governing without data is like “driving a car blindfolded.” Improving the quality of data collected, and the ease of accessing and analyzing the data, takes the blindfolds off. With interest growing in applying analytics to government operations, it is worth reflecting on lessons from the leading cities. Examination on these successes may help demystify the path, and serve as inspiration to others.
The purpose of this paper is to describe why a public leader should move his or her organization from data disarray to data excellence, and to suggest some incremental means of achieving that goal.
What does data-driven government look like? Some of the leading cities offer excellent examples.
No city has achieved excellence overnight. New York City, among the most accomplished and ambitious data-driven cities, has a long history of commitment to data beginning in the 1990s with the application of statistical analysis to the deployment of police resources, an approach called CompStat (for computer statistics). Today, data feeds the performance management system for city departments, and advanced data analytics improve resource allocation across many policy areas. But it has taken time to achieve such success – in 2018, when the city is set to achieve its deadline to have all city data public, it will have been nearly a decade since the 2009 push of data to the open data portal.
This success reflects investment that spans mayoral administrations. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Stephen Goldsmith as Deputy Mayor in 2010, his charge was to innovate city operations. Goldsmith used data to drive key decisions for city operations. He used analytics to unlock the power of existing data to reveal previously unidentified needs for services. He opened data to the public, increasing transparency. And for the first time, the city plotted requests for city services on neighborhood maps, and worked with community groups to understand how the city was marshalling resources to help. This significantly improved credibility of and community support for city government.
Each leading data-driven city has taken a unique path. What is common at the highest level of data-driven government is a culture that values data and uses it to set priorities and allocate resources via stat programs, performance measurement, and advanced analytics. The framework below describes a generalized path showing that as cities mature in their capability to produce and share quality data, they provide the opportunity for both internal and external users to analyze and use the data, which in turn enables improved government performance.