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Rochester, Minnesota, USA

Breaking Down Barriers to Build a Diverse Workforce.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Finance, Health and Wellbeing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Transportation

At a Glance


Among 631 entries from around the globe, Rochester was one of only 15 cities to be awarded a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2021.


Established Equity in the Built Environment, a flagship program to increase workforce participation for women of color in built environment industries

Overall, Rochester, MN’s poverty rate is part success story, part call for action. The city’s 7.4% poverty rate is well below the national average of 11.5%. But equity is top of mind for city leaders, and when they dug deeper to examine who in their community are struggling, they found an alarming disparity. Four in ten Black Rochester residents live in poverty—far above the citywide rate and more than double the national poverty rate for Black Americans. City leaders recognized addressing such a large disparity required a new way of thinking and fundamental changes. 

In 2020 the City of Rochester named Chao Mwatela as the first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director. Instead of coming in with a laundry list of action items, she began by identifying potential priority areas using disaggregated data. Then, Mwatela focused on building relationships and listening. She spent time learning about past equity efforts and made recommendations based on what she heard from residents, City staff, and community organizations. A consensus emerged that in order to create a more equitable Rochester,  intentional engagement of the community members most impacted should take priority—this practice is a critical component of WWC Certification.

Also in 2020, the City participated in the Bloomberg Global Mayor’s Challenge which asked cities to identify new solutions for a persistent problem in their city. Rochester identified a problem and an opportunity – inequitable access for women of color to well-paying built environment careers. Nationally, women occupy about one in 10 construction jobs. In Southeast Minnesota, women of color are employed in less than 2% of built environment careers yet represent 13% of the population. As home to the renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester is undertaking a $5.6 billion public-private economic development plan to elevate the city and solidify its standing, globally, as a leader in healthcare and medical research. Community groups, City leaders, and DMC stakeholders recognized that intentional growth should prioritize equitable results, so everyone in the community benefits. One opportunity, made clear by the data, is for Rochester to recruit more women of color in built environment careers to meet these ambitious construction plans.

Together–using a co-design methodology–women of color and built environment professionals, along with representatives from Rochester Schools, Workforce Development Inc, and the City of Rochester created the Equity in the Built Environment program.

The program includes:

  • K-12 career exploration,
  • Training and mentorship for women of color,
  • Inclusive Workplace Employer (I/WE) designation for built environment employers hiring from the program, and
  • Entrepreneurship support for women of color starting a built environment business.
Photo Courtesy of the City of Rochester

Their efforts have been recognized. In 2021, Rochester was one of 15 global cities to receive a $1 million grant as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge. Their award is focused on building a system that creates access to women of color into built environment careers. This system consists of education, workforce development, trades unions, and private employer partners all working in collaboration to ensure success for women of color. As of January 2024:

  • Four commercial construction companies earning their Inclusive Workplace Employer designation.

  • Thirteen women involved in built environment training or entrepreneurship .

  • Over one hundred 11th grade students were exposed to built environment careers through experiential learning economics curriculum.

  • A built environment framework now supports women of color on their chosen career path from training to employment and beyond.

 More than anything, Rochester’s data story is about using data to see innovative ways to solve problems and create opportunities. It’s about economic growth being a benefit for all residents and a catalyst for equity. While the program is early in the implementation phase, it’s poised for success. By developing solutions with residents, the City has used data to create pathways to high-paying careers, enhancing economic mobility for historically marginalized communities.

“Aggregate data is meaningful, but does not tell us the stories and experiences of specific communities – those most impacted in our communities. It is imperative that we disaggregate data to understand impacts to specific groups and communities.”

Chao Mwatela, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director

“What Works Cities Certification shows the community that our staff are not only trained and certified in the use of data, but that we’re actually using data to make progress and being recognized for it. In a time of widespread distrust of government, having What Works Cities Certification is a chance to increase trust in government.”

Kim Norton, Mayor

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Washington, DC, USA

Washington, D.C.: Excelling in Evaluations for Better Outcomes .

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Cross-Sector, High-Performing Government, Public Safety

At a Glance


Established a team of research scientists who deliver data-driven insights and analysis to inform District policymakers.


Increased data transparency with residents by publicizing CapSTAT meetings, welcomed online public opinion on data policy, and built feedback loops monitoring solutions.


Developed a command center within the Metropolitan Police Department that uses real-time data to analyze similar crimes, trends, and background for detectives in the field, which helped decrease all crime by 11% and violent crimes by 22%.


Analyzed data from resident interactions with the 311 system to eliminate inefficiencies, allowing the District to implement measures that have achieved a 90-second response time for 85% of calls made to 311.

More Than the Nation’s Capital

Whether it’s enabling residents to send text messages to 911, establishing a leading “open by default” policy for all District government data, or establishing a unique, in-house team of data scientists, Washington, DC, is using technology and data to improve its delivery of services and outcomes for residents.

“In the District, we expect our agencies to engage in fact-based decision-making. We understand that our decisions affect the lives of our nearly 700,000 residents, and we always want to know how well our policies and programs are working so that we have the opportunity to learn and adjust while we act. As we continue building a safer, stronger, and more resilient DC, we will continue to use data and scientific thinking to improve our day-to-day operations and deliver good government.”

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser

As part of her commitment to data, Mayor Bowser charged City Administrator Rashad Young to stand up The Lab @ DC, a team of applied research scientists who use data and scientific insights and methods to provide timely, relevant, and high-quality analysis to inform the District’s most important decisions. The Lab completed the District’s high-profile study of the impact of body-worn cameras on policing, and it is now studying the effectiveness of the District’s rat abatement program. While these two subjects are very different, they demonstrate the capacity of data to inform a range of decisions.

The District’s in-house team of data scientists, The Lab @ DC, recently tested the effects of police body-worn cameras.

Monitoring how agencies collect and use data is part of quarterly cluster performance meetings hosted by the Office of Budget and Performance Management. As part of these sessions, City Administrator Young reviews progress toward milestones and mayoral priorities along with the agencies’ implementation of data-based decision-making as part of their internal processes. The sessions also provide agencies with an opportunity to showcase successes and lift up obstacles.

“Managing a $13 billion, 35,000-person government is nearly impossible without accurate metrics to lead our decisions. These quarterly sessions ensure we are being good stewards of District resources, that we are keeping our commitments, and that we are evaluating and redirecting if our approaches are not rendering quality results.”

City Administrator Rashad Young

During a quarterly cluster meeting last year, reviews of the 311 system revealed that there were no standard definitions of open and closed cases across city agencies, no standard response times, and in certain instances, it was taking more than four minutes for calls to be answered. The agency was charged with developing a plan to address the significant lag times. After hiring additional staffing and providing extensive training as well as additional outlets for contacting 311 (via text and a smartphone application), the agency was able to achieve a 90-second response time, 85 percent of the time.

“Mayor Bowser and City Administrator Young embrace the use of data across our government agencies. This expectation motivates agencies to be on the ready with sound, reliable data to support program recommendations and initiatives. Agencies also understand that much of their data is now publicly accessible through our open data laws.”

Director of the Office of Budget and Performance Management Jennifer Reed

In April 2017, Mayor Bowser announced the signing of an executive order, creating a new policy that set an “open by default” standard for all District government data, including a directive to treat the City’s data as a valuable resource. The policy was based on recommendations made by What Works Cities partner the Sunlight Foundation, and provides a framework to make government more transparent and open while improving the quality and lowering the cost of operations.

The District has extended its commitment to data transparency by inviting residents to view the budgeting process, welcoming public opinion on its data policy, and building in feedback loops so that residents know when their problems have been addressed. The Mayor’s CapSTAT meetings — data-driven management tools designed to tackle timely policy issues and processes with analysis, mapping, business process reviews, and best practices — are also videotaped and shared with the public.

The Metropolitan Police Department embraced the use of data in past years as a tool for improving public safety. The Joint Strategic and Tactical Analysis Command Center pulls together real-time, robust analyses of similar crimes, trends, and background for detectives in the field. The department recently reported an 11% decrease in all crime, which includes a 22% decline in violent crimes.

“We’re delivering people the services they want and improving service delivery.”

City Administrator Rashad Young

City Administrator Young says, attributing the City’s use of data for much of that progress. Agencies ask for help unraveling particular challenges, and data and performance management experts are assigned to assist. For multifaceted challenges, resources from The Lab may be assigned to analyze the challenge and the path forward. Recently, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs experienced such a challenge when working to make the permitting process more efficient.

While data may not tell the full story, it gives agencies and decision-makers valuable insight into the District’s toughest challenges. City Administrator Young noted, “Fully utilizing data and evidence is the only way to really manage and have a rational sense of what you’re doing. Anything less feels random, and without context.”

Learn more about Washington D.C.’s journey with data here.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

Tulsa Scales Up Data-First Innovation.

Project Type:
Communications, Cross-Sector, Economic Development, Education, Energy, Equity, Finance, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Housing, Public Safety

At a Glance


Created a cross-departmental team that identifies the most effective methods for achieving the city’s top goals and leads the city’s data-driven transformation.


Found patterns in 911 repeat call data that signaled the need for a new referral program to deliver specialized healthcare and social services for residents. Within the first three months of launching the program, there was a 70% reduction in calls from its top 911 utilizers.


Partnered city agencies and civic tech nonprofits to develop a text reminder system that reduced missed fines and warrants that have helped the City’s Court see an annual 187,000 increase in revenue.

Using Data to Power Innovation

G.T. Bynum has leadership in his veins. One of the youngest people ever elected mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he’s the fourth person in his extended family to serve in the role since the turn of the last century. But he is the city’s first mayor to place data-driven decision making at the top of a change agenda. Since becoming mayor in December 2016, his administration has marked a turning point in how Tulsa uses data to power innovation and improve the quality of life in Tulsa.

Mayor Bynum didn’t waste any time after being elected. The idea of improving city services and using data to make key decisions was at the core of his mayoral campaign. One of his first moves as Mayor was the creation of the Office of Performance Strategy and Innovation (OPSI). The office works to align the city’s top goals with effective strategies. It quickly became key to the city’s data-driven transformation, says James Wagner, who led OPSI at its inception and is now the city’s director of finance and CFO.

Ben Harris, OPSI’s Data Analytics Manager, convened a team of employees from 16 departments to lead the city’s data governance and strategic planning efforts. The Data Governance Committee, which sets the standard and strategy for data quality, integrity, and use for the city government, has helped integrate the use of data citywide through the creation of a Central Data Repository where any employee or resident can request data.

“Through this cross-departmental team, we encourage transparency, access to data, and a feedback loop; ultimately it creates a trust relationship between departments,” Harris said.

“In addition to teamwork, technology played a huge role in orchestrating communication, automating data movement, securing data, and making it accessible.”

Data Analytics Manager Ben Harris

OPSI and the Committee also facilitate regular sessions with department leaders to focus on the value of performance metrics. These meetings aren’t just about tracking progress reviewing data — they’ve created a new space within the city to cultivate innovation.

“Mayor Bynum and other city leaders have consistently looked to OPSI to drive data-driven innovation work in Tulsa. This matters because we’re making real changes that improve city services and save taxpayers money.”

Chief Financial Officer James Wagner

A Caring Fire Department

For years, the number of calls to the Tulsa Fire Department was increasing, putting stress on their resources and capacity. By analyzing the data, the fire department discovered the source of the increased calls was not an increase in fires, but instead an increasing aging population who needed lift assists. Lift assists are calls to the 911 system for a non-emergency fall — the help the resident is requesting is to literally be picked up off of the ground. The city discovered a repeat lift assist pattern, with some residents requesting a lift assist as many as nine times a day.

Under the direction of Chief Michael Baker, the Fire Department developed and launched the Tulsa Community Assistance Referral and Educational Services (CARES) program, which was designed to connect high-utilizers of the emergency system to healthcare and social service providers. Visits to the highest utilizers became proactive, with the CARES team working on simple fixes such as installing low-cost solutions like handrails and opening up a dialogue with the resident’s primary care doctor. Within the first three months of the pilot, the fire department saw a 70 percent reduction in calls from its top 911 utilizers.

With preliminary results in hand, Baker presented his findings through the TulStat forum.

“TulStat,” based on the successful “LouieStat” program out of Louisville, Kentucky, has created a forum for change in Tulsa. City leaders gather to discuss priority problems, define success, innovate solutions, and develop methods for measuring progress. They identify specific, quantifiable goals, such as average time for reviewing building permit applications (previously 5 weeks, now 92 percent completed in 5 days) or responding to a 911 call, and troubleshoot obstacles to achieving them.

While CARES was developed before Bynum’s administration founded TulStat, having a space to build off of the pilot’s success was critical in connecting more residents to much-needed services. The program has served 204 clients; in 2020, four Tulsans have “graduated” the program and have the needed support services in place for them to live safely in their homes.

In the future, CARES hopes to work with OPSI to expand their data capacity to learn how to predict who is at risk for becoming a repeat caller to the 911 system and intervening early to distribute tools and services. Aligning community resources to provide innovative, proactive care will not only save the city’s Medicare and Medicaid partners money, it could save a resident’s life.

Breaking the Cycle

Working with What Works Cities and the Behavioural Insights Team, OPSI also helped the Tulsa Municipal Court solve a problem that had burdened the court and vulnerable residents for years.

Previously, when the court issued a resident a fine in a criminal case, but that resident wasn’t able to pay that fine on time, the court would offer an extension in the form of a “Time to Pay Order.” Some found themselves with a fine due more than 12 months in the future — enough time for them to save money for the payment, but also plenty of time to forget when it was due. As of early 2018, more than 70 percent of those orders resulted in a failure-to-pay warrant. For many, a warrant can exacerbate the cycle of poverty: a driver’s license might be suspended and additional fines can accrue, pulling someone further into the criminal justice system.

To combat the problem, OPSI partnered with the Court and Code for Tulsa to figure out how to reduce the number of warrants issued. Within a month, a text message pilot project was underway, designed around a simple hypothesis: Many people missed their Time to Pay Order deadline because they forgot the due date or lost paperwork. Together, OPSI, the Court, and Code for Tulsa developed a system to text simple, personalized reminders to a randomly selected pool of Time to Pay Order recipients. The test group received a text message reminder once a month leading up to their deadline.

Image Courtesy of the City of Tulsa.

The results were remarkable. During the six-month pilot, 63 percent of those who received a reminder paid all of their outstanding fees, compared to 48 percent of residents who did not receive reminders. Armed with data showing this 15 percent point increase, the Court system adopted the new reminder system. It now estimates an additional 320 people are paying their fees on time each year, avoiding warrants and additional problems because of the system. The Court benefited as well, seeing an annual $187,000 increase in revenue and a morale boost among employees who helped implement the solution.

“I’ve never been so excited about a job,” said Jamie King, a cost administrator at the court.

At the City’s Core

OPSI’s successful partnerships with city departments go beyond the fire department and courts. Three years in, OPSI has implemented practices and programs that have positioned Tulsa as a leader in data and innovation. In 2017, the office launched Urban Data Pioneers, an award-winning program consisting of teams of residents and city employees who analyze data to help the city solve key challenges and present policy recommendations.

With OPSI’s clear-cut ability to drive innovation, Mayor Bynum decided to integrate the office into the city’s key funding decisions. When Wagner became Director of Finance and CFO in early 2019, he brought OPSI with him to the Finance Department. This has changed the way Tulsa funds innovation. In essence, a data-driven approach has been institutionalized and scaled. Today, the city bases funding on data that proves programs work. OPSI vets data.

“We had the opportunity to take the approach and plug it into the finance department,” Mayor Bynum said. “It helps make it have much more of a citywide cultural impact.”

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Tempe, Arizona, USA

 

Project Type:
Communications, Cross-Sector, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure

2023 Platinum Certification

  • Launched Vision Zero, a data-driven traffic safety initiative with a goal to achieve zerofatal and serious injury crashes. The Vision Zero task force is composed of over 50 stakeholders including city departments (police, transportation, fire) and community stakeholders (Arizona State University, school districts, public health agencies) that conducted an analysis of crash data for the years 2012 through 2017. Using that data, the task-force created 37 transportation safety strategies, including the creation of four safety corridors based on statistical analysis of a higher propensity for collisions, plans for new road infrastructure, and community outreach plans.
  • Uses a performance-led budget process based on metrics, and resident and business satisfaction surveys. For example, following an increase in emergency service calls in the Salt River Bottom, an area with significant natural hazards and a large homeless population, an Incident Management Team was launched. In 2023, the City achieved several of its goals, including 66% of people engaged accepting shelter services and 52 tons of debris and over 3,200 tons of vegetation were removed. Based on these initial results, new, recurring funding has been allocated to support the City’s high priority “community health & safety” metrics.

2020 and 2021 Gold Certification

“I am enormously proud that our city has achieved Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities Platinum status. This award shows our community that we are leaders in using data to guide our community’s future and make informed decisions. We can show people that our city has saved time and money and has been able to benchmark progress to our goals because of our commitment to data.”

Corey Woods, Mayor

Compiled data from the city’s sewage system monthly to track community drug use patterns and understand the depth of opioid use.


Using this data, monitored areas with high opioid use and deployed emergency response resources and abuse prevention interventions to hotspots accordingly.


Utilized similar wastewater testing data and tracking methods to monitor COVID-19 levels and identify outbreaks.

The Desert City’s Approach to Data

Like so many other cities in the country, Tempe, Arizona has been deeply affected by the opioid abuse crisis. The desert city of nearly 200,000 is part of Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous area. This county also has the highest number of opioid-related deaths in the state.

As this public health emergency became more devastating in Tempe and around the country, Tempe’s leaders realized they needed to step up in two ways. First, they needed to be transparent about the severity of the problem facing the community. Second, they needed to create innovative solutions to help stem the opioid epidemic.

In 2018, the Strategic Management and Diversity Office, in partnership with ASU’s Biodesign Institute, submitted a proposal to the Tempe City Council Innovation Fund. The proposal focused on using wastewater to track the presence of opioid metabolites at the community level. City leaders supported the idea with innovation funds and began a partnership with ASU to tap this unlikely resource for data and to better inform decisions. Today, Tempe is on the cutting-edge of opioid abuse prevention work in the United States and has expanded this partnership to gather data on the presence of COVID-19 in the community.

“Cities may not want to call attention to opioid overdoses or abuse in their community,” said Wydale Holmes, a strategic management analyst in the city’s Strategic Management & Diversity Office.

“In Tempe, we’re courageously saying, ‘Yes, we have that, but we’re also doing something about it.’

It turns out that sewage offers an abundance of public health-related data — including a community’s drug consumption patterns. Tempe leverages its wastewater to identify areas of the city with elevated levels of opioid compounds — and then deploys emergency response resources and abuse prevention interventions to hotspots accordingly. All of this aligns to one of Tempe’s performance measures: ending opioid-related abuse and misuse by 2025, as measured by the percentage of 911 calls likely related to the drugs.

“Tempe is committed to data-informed community solutions. This first of its kind city model using wastewater-based epidemiology data informs strategic policy and operational decisions to advance community health.”

Director of the Strategic Management and Diversity Office Rosa Inchausti

It’s great to have data, but if you’re not doing anything with it or connecting it to resources and strategies for change, then it’s just information.”

Strategic Management Analyst Wydale Holmes

A New Diagnostic Matrix

Testing wastewater for real-time information about key markers of public health — everything from viruses to food contaminants to drug compounds — has been around for decades. But the approach is relatively uncommon in the United States. And no other city is trying to map the needs of residents around the opioid abuse epidemic in this way, said Dr. Rolf Halden, a professor at ASU’s Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering.

“The United States is behind Europe. Every community that has done this work has not abandoned it, which is a testament to how well it works and how successful it is,” said Dr. Halden, who leads the wastewater data collection project in partnership with the City of Tempe.

Dr. Rolf Halden and his team analyzing the wastewater samples.
Image courtesy of the City of Tempe.

Here’s how the wastewater analytics project helps the city identify opioid abuse hotspots and deploy resources strategically. Dr. Halden’s team takes raw sewage samples directly from five collection areas of the city for seven consecutive days each month. The scientists then test for four different types of opioids: fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, and codeine.

After processing the samples, the ASU team hands off data to Tempe’s Enterprise GIS and Analytics team. The city can see where elevated levels of the four opioids are, and whether the opioids were metabolized or improperly disposed of. But the data contain no personally identifiable information — there is no way to tie data to specific addresses, neighborhoods or businesses.

Created by William Mancini for Fighting Opioid Misuse by Monitoring Community Health and provided courtesy of the City of Tempe.

All data are then published on the public Tempe Opioid Wastewater Collection Dashboard, created and maintained by Dr. Stephanie Deitrick, Tempe’s Enterprise GIS Manager. Through this dashboard and the Opioid Abuse Probable EMS Calls Dashboard, the information is analyzed by a multidisciplinary team, including Tempe’s Fire Medical and Rescue Department, to determine needed interventions. For example, if the data show a rise in opioid use among people under 18 in one area, the city might ramp up in-school outreach efforts. If one area suddenly becomes a major hotspot, the Tempe Fire Medical and Rescue Department can decide which emergency medical services and overdose prevention resources to move or increase to that area.

After implementing interventions, city officials can then track their potential effectiveness by monitoring changes in wastewater data alongside the EMS calls data. It’s a data feedback loop enabling the city to target its efforts — and, hopefully, prevent abuse and deaths.

“Dashboards allow people to quickly see overall trends within the data and to understand who is being impacted and where. Providing context is key when providing data to inform decision-making.”

Enterprise GIS Manager Dr. Stephanie Deitrick

Building a Data-Driven Culture

From its outset, the wastewater analytics project was directly tied to Tempe’s performance measure of ending opioid-related abuse and misuse. The Mayor, City Council, and City Manager set the expectation that reducing calls for opioid misuse or abuse was important to the executive leadership, and that both the goal and the performance measures supporting it needed to be shared internally with the City Council and administrative staff, community partners and externally to residents.

“Whatever we do, we always approach our employees and explain it to them and take the time to have the conversations about what we’re doing and why,” Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching said. “Every job has a purpose, and that job and that purpose exist within the framework of our strategic priorities and performance measures.”

City leaders also worked to communicate their efforts around the opioid abuse epidemic to the general public. The City of Tempe held an Opioid Town Hall in February 2019 to detail the wastewater project partnership and the types of support that Tempe provides to its residents struggling with opioids, their families and caregivers.

Anyone can visit the wastewater data dashboard and the Opioid Abuse Probable EMS Call Dashboard, designed and conceptualized by Dr. Deitrick and her team. The latter dashboard, which launched in 2018, gives Tempe Fire Medical and Rescue Department and the public a window into opioid abuse in the community. It details when calls related to abuse occurred, along with patients’ ages and genders, and the number of times Narcan/Naloxone overdose reversal medication was used during opioid-abuse related emergency calls.

Together, both dashboards inform Tempe officials’ efforts to end opioid misuse and abuse in the city, and help first responders and public health agencies on the ground see the impact of the targeted outreach and other interventions. It’s too early to tell how quickly the city will advance toward its goal — it was officially set in December 2019, when the baseline percentage of opioid-related EMS calls was 3.74 — but the right approach to data is in place to drive progress.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world and in Tempe, city leaders have once again partnered with ASU wastewater researchers and are using this data in the same manner as the opioid data. The city is following the data to find areas of greatest need and is directing resources to help.

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San Antonio, Texas, USA

Innovation & Problem Solving for the People in San Antonio.

Project Type:
Cross-Sector, Education, Finance, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure

2023 Gold Certification

Concerned about an uptick in the number of older homes being demolished, the City of San Antonio and community stakeholders gathered data on the impacts of demolition and possible alternatives. They found that over the past decade, $16 million worth of salvageable building materials and 170,000 tons of waste had been sent to landfills through the demolition of homes built prior to 1960. Demolitions were also releasing airborne toxic pollutants into neighborhoods with larger numbers of Hispanic households and households with lower incomes. In 2022, the City Council adopted a deconstruction ordinance to advance the City’s health and equity goals, create jobs and preserve affordable housing.

2021 Silver Certification


Trained city staff in data analytics to develop better cross-departmental solutions that focus on improving resident outcomes.


Launched an app to streamline students’ digital access to public libraries and school library resources.


Created a Budget Equity tool that considers racial and economic equity in the budget-making process by using data and evidence to ensure services reach areas of need.

The Beginning of Data

One-hundred years ago, a hurricane hit Texas and caused severe flooding in San Antonio. To prevent future floods, architect Robert H. H. Hugman proposed connecting different portions of the City’s central storm sewer system into a loop connecting to the San Antonio River, setting the stage for pedestrian promenades, boat tours, and new businesses. It took a few decades to build, but the Riverwalk is now an iconic part of the City visited by about nine million tourists a year. It stands as a prime example of San Antonio’s tradition of problem solving that continues to drive the City forward in the 21st century.

Today, that tradition is alive and well in the City’s Office of Innovation. It was founded amidst the financial crisis of 2008, tasked with finding ways to do more with less. Over the last 10 years, however, the focus of the office has expanded beyond identifying process improvements and efficiencies. In recent years its staff has begun working with departments across the City to build a data-oriented culture, with a focus on foundational practices including performance & analytics, evaluations, and general management.

The City of San Antonio, Dillard says, is a highly collaborative place where silos are being dismantled in favor of creative partnerships that tap into and cultivate talent. A notable example of this: the City’s Innovation Academy, which is a joint project of the Office of Innovation, the City’s HR department, and Alamo Community Colleges (ACC). Launched in 2020, the Academy trains creative problem-solvers across city departments who have leadership potential and a proposed innovation project toward which they want to apply new skills.

ACC offers city staff intensive courses customized to meet the needs of the City in three specific areas: process redesign, human-centered design, and data analytics. The Academy runs two cohorts a year; participants attend 14 full-day sessions spanning 10 weeks and collaborate on projects. The Innovation Academy’s current cohort comprises senior leaders from across departments and members of the IT department. The idea is that mixing staff from different parts of government helps break down silos, and Academy graduates will pass on their knowledge to colleagues and the staff they manage.

“The structure of Innovation Academy operates like a virtuous cycle, with each cohort helping to build the ecosystem for innovation. It’s a force multiplier.”

Senior Innovation Specialist

Data plays a foundational role in the Academy — and increasingly, in the City itself. “We believe that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This idea is core to the academy and it’s helping us report on the value of graduates’ projects,” Reat says. Those projects are already having a positive impact on the lives of residents across San Antonio.

“We know that in so many ways, the future of city governance lies in data-driven innovation. I like to think of the Office of Innovation as the engine moving us forward.”

Chief Innovation Officer Brian Dillard

Big Life for Digital Readership

A project backed by the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) last year offers a prime example. Academy graduate David Cooksey, formerly SAPL’s performance and innovation manager, recognized that digital readership among local schools could be improved if students had a more streamlined way of accessing public libraries and school library resources.

Using techniques learned last year in academy courses, Cooksey worked with OverDrive, a digital distributor of ebooks and audiobooks, to launch an app called Sora. It gathers more than 250,000 digital reading resources offered by city schools and SAPL into one place — no library card required. The initiative helped exponentially increase digital readership among San Antonio school children during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 1,300 digital books were read by children per month in fall 2019, before Sora; 18,000 books were read per month in fall 2020.

After a successful pilot in San Antonio — where Sora is now used by nearly all 17 public school districts — OverDrive began partnering with other city governments to offer Sora through libraries and schools across the country.

An R&D League cross-sector team work session. Image courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

Along with the Academy, the Office of Innovation operates the R&D League, which creates cross-sector teams to evaluate new ideas using the scientific method. The basic idea is to make sure proposed policies and programs are evidence-based before being implemented citywide. “The R&D League really explores the frontier of innovation and evaluation,” says Kate Kinnison, R&D administrator in the Office of Innovation. “I like to think of us as scientists who run experiments.”

In fact, the League does source scientists from partner organizations. Experts from Southwest Research Institute, NASA’s biggest contractor; the University of Texas at San Antonio, the largest research university in the City; and USAA, a San Antonio-based Fortune 500 financial services company, all provide experts to help city departments realize their visions.

Since launching last year, the League has developed four “experiments,” each of which states a hypothesis and research questions. One project is equipping city waste management vehicles with sensors to identify and collect reliable data on infrastructure needs such as potholes.

A data-collecting sensor installed on the roof of a City waste management vehicle. Image courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

Another effort involves three randomized control trials supported by The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), a What Works Cities expert partner. The aim is to better understand how residents prefer to receive information from the City and how they engage with it, so departments can better coordinate and deliver services. Results from two trials will inform strategies for engaging and communicating with residents; the third trial involves a survey aiming to surface resident needs so the City can better support communities.

“Ultimately, we hope to leverage experiment results to more effectively provide the services residents want. It’s all about responsive, evidence-based policymaking — that’s the goal.”

Research & Development Specialist Rhia Pape

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Salinas, California, USA

Salinas Data-Driven Youth Violence Prevention Strategy.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Health and Wellness, Public Safety. Youth Development

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance


Implemented a strategic, data-driven plan that directed increased funding to a street outreach program that decreased the youth assault victim rate from 22% in 2007 to less than 10% in 2019. That success came from implementing a comprehensive approach to violence reduction.


Conducted a three-year data-driven effort that helped provide a clearer picture of how the city’s police department could better match calls for service with staffing and police officer beats.


Used online capacity assessments to help City staff concentrate outreach efforts efficiently and boost the effectiveness of external partnerships.

Making Safe Choices

In 2010, the Obama administration kicked off a pilot program to address violence in some of America’s toughest places. On the shortlist, alongside large urban centers like Chicago, Detroit, and Boston, was the midsize Central California city of Salinas.

The problems Salinas faced were not well known on the national stage, but residents were all too familiar with the gang violence plaguing their city. In just the first three months of the year prior, Salinas had seen a dozen homicides — and victims of violence were largely people under the age of 25. The inclusion of Salinas in the federal pilot highlighted both the severity of the problem and the potential to solve it.

“The others were bigger cities with bigger problems, but our crime rate was just as high,” says Jose Arreola, community safety administrator for the City of Salinas and director of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP). Led by the City’s community safety division, CASP launched in 2008 to convene public and private stakeholders around the problem of youth violence. The program caught the eye of Justice Department officials who saw its potential.

As a result of the federal support, CASP was able to implement a strategic, data-driven plan that resulted in the rate of youth assault victims dropping from 22% in 2007 to less than 10% in 2019. That success came from implementing a comprehensive approach to violence reduction that involved increased funding to a street outreach program based on an assessment of gaps in current services provided by the City and nonprofits. The youth victim rate continued to drop in 2020, but increased slightly in 2021. Arreola attributes the increase to disruption of in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed schools and paused street outreach efforts.

The successful violence prevention strategy is a major example of how Salinas’ commitment to foundational data-driven practices — especially performance & analytics and evaluations — has translated into meaningful results.

“The data has shown us that we’re moving in the right direction in terms of strategy and tactics.”

Community Safety Administrator Jose Arreola

‘Relationships Are Key’

What worked in Salinas is two-fold. Externally, CASP deploys a street outreach team that takes time to build trust and relationships with gang-affiliated youth. The aim is to reach individuals who are at risk before they become a victim of violence. Internally, the program convenes agencies and nonprofits and engages with them regularly, so that CASP staff can fast-track youth to the right types of services.

Four years ago, high school administrators identified the need to have on-site mental health services for students. Through CASP, the school district was able to connect with the City’s behavioral health department to place counselors at each school. They are still there today, a testament to the lasting effects of the program’s connections.

“The whole strategy of CASP is that relationships are key,” Arreola says.

CASP staff and partners at a 2016 meeting. Image courtesy of the City of Salinas.

His team relies on data to track the program’s progress. They work in partnership with the Monterey County Health Department to process data (from the police department and other agencies) and determine what is statistically significant. Homicide data, for example, is not useful in determining what drives violence, since it tends to be erratic. Heat maps that identify areas where violent assaults happen have been more helpful in guiding where the program directs its efforts, and in showing that it works. Arreola says his team is particularly proud of how the maps show hotspots diminishing over time.

“That represented thousands of youth not victimized by violence and thousands of families not living in fear,” he said.

CASP also uses data in the form of capacity assessments to gauge the engagement levels of existing partners, which helps City staff concentrate outreach efforts efficiently and boost the effectiveness of CASP’s external partners. Assessments have also helped identify new partners. For example, mindful that hospital-based violence intervention programs have proven to be valuable parts of other cities’ comprehensive strategies, the City launched a pilot out of the Natividad Medical Center’s Level II Trauma Center. The program, which offers trauma-informed care to violently injured patients, is now permanent.

Another reason CASP has been so effective is that it bridges a common gap among cities with gang violence: It’s not easy to connect young people who have dropped out of school with services. They often do not get any help until they make contact with the justice system after being arrested.

Having the data to show that CASP works helps sustain the effort. The initiative is now supported by a variety of funders including foundations and government grants.

“Funding for something like this can be a tough sell. Ideologically, a lot of people believe kids involved in this lifestyle are making a negative choice and don’t deserve help. That’s a hard narrative to push back against.”

Community Safety Administrator Jose Arreola

An Evolving Police Department

The progress Salinas has made in reducing gang and youth violence has coincided with a period of transformation within the City’s police department. One goal was to make the department’s officer corps look more like the people they interact with.

As the city’s population shifted from 47% Hispanic in 2016 to 73% Hispanic in 2021, the police department shifted its hiring practices to prioritize adding Spanish-speaking staff. Over that period, it has hired an additional 26 officers who are Hispanic, for a total of 73. The department also more than doubled the number of female officers over that period.

A Salinas police officer at work. Image courtesy of the City of Salinas.

“We can truly say that we are the community and the community is the police department,” Police Chief Roberto Filice says.

The department also embarked on an efficiency study in 2017, a three-year data-driven effort that helped provide a clearer picture of how it can better match calls for service with staffing and police officer beats. As a result, it may implement a new beat system for the first time in three decades to spread the workload more evenly across staff.

The department also piloted a fourth shift this year that helped align staffing with times of day when calls for service are more frequent. The fourth shift, which overlapped with existing morning and afternoon shifts, helped the department maintain its response time — four minutes and 28 seconds — even as it saw an increase in calls and operated with an overall reduced staff. In the last four years, 15 positions have been cut from the force due to budget reductions: the equivalent of an entire shift.

Chief Filice says he won’t be able to continue the fourth shift or make the beat changes immediately due to the staffing shortage, but he is confident that the numbers demonstrate the value in innovating and realigning the department to fit the community’s evolving needs.

“I am a data-driven person. I love using technology to make us more efficient.”

Salinas Police Chief Roberto Filice

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Phoenix, Arizona, USA

 

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Environment, Equity, Finance, Infrastructure, Public Safety

2023 Platinum Certification


Phoenix instituted data governance across departments and continuous community engagement to inform key policies, including the City’s climate action plan, contributing to the average Phoenix resident using approximately 34% less water today than the average resident in 1990.

2020 Silver and 2021 Gold Certification


Continually using data-driven planning and decision-making to prepare increasing temperatures and population numbers.


Crafted a narrative using date to make the case for increased funding for water infrastructure improvements, getting ahead of more costly potential future water shortages down the road.


Used automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology in garbage trucks to collect detailed data tracking pickup routes and analyzed which ways to pick up trash more efficiently, while maintaining safety.


Created HeatReady, a program that identified the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of shade cover, tracked and enabled equitable distribution of investment to support vulnerable areas exposed to extreme heat.

Rapid Growth in Phoenix

You might call it a good problem to have. Every single day between 2010 and 2019, the Phoenix metro area grew by about 200 people. Phoenix has been among the country’s fastest-growing cities for years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data — and it’s expected to double in size by 2040, up from nearly 1.7 million people right now.

“Phoenix was born to grow. For decades, since the 1950s, we have stretched our boundaries and reimagined what a modern desert city can be. And today, we are growing vertically as well. Strategic use of data has been an incredibly valuable guide as we continue to invest in infrastructure, technology, and services that ensure an equitable future for all residents.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

All this rapid growth puts pressure on essential services — things like water, public safety, and waste management. Ensuring they remain reliable and accessible to all Phoenix residents takes careful planning that aligns infrastructure and services to where growing numbers of people live, work, and play. This is not a new challenge for the desert city, where the average daily high temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix’s population began taking off in the 1950s, when air conditioning became commonplace.

The city’s population isn’t the only thing on the rise, however. Climate change is pushing average temperatures higher in the Sonoran Desert, making Phoenix one of the fastest-warming cities in America. But not all residents feel the same heat. The hottest neighborhoods in Phoenix tend to correlate with lower-incomes.

With a hotter and more crowded future on the near horizon, the City of Phoenix is preparing through data-driven planning and decision-making. You can see this in how it is securing the most precious desert resource: water.

Staving Off a Drought With Data

One of Phoenix’s primary sources of water, the Colorado River, is becoming less reliable. City officials know this because they constantly forecast water availability while tracking regional demand and seasonal weather patterns, along with long-term climate change. The data doesn’t look good.

“Water is the lifeblood of any city, especially the fifth largest city in the nation located in the middle of a desert,” says Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher. “We have never taken water for granted. Continuous strategic planning throughout the decades, with data at the forefront, has allowed us to effectively manage potential supply challenges and opportunities for growth.”

With trend lines clear, city officials leveraged data to sound the alarm. Kathryn Sorensen, the Director of Phoenix Water Services, stood in front of the Phoenix City Council presenting data integrating economics, hydrology, geography and other subjects. An image of a black swan swam across the slides to underscore the possibility of a “black swan event.” Phoenix taps could run dry if the drought continued and the city remained so reliant on the Colorado River.

The Colorado River, one of Phoenix’s primary sources of water.
Photo by Mark Capurso courtesy of the City of Phoenix.

Elected officials never enjoy raising the costs of essential services. What Phoenix shows is that when the decision-makers have access to data that tell a clear story, hard decisions are made a little easier.

“Part of what we had to do to get the Council to fund big water infrastructure improvements was tell a story about what you’re getting, and why it’s worth it,” Zuercher says. In fact, by acting when it did, the Council avoided a more painful rate jump down the road, when water shortages might be imminent. “Because we started early enough with the 6 percent increase, we don’t have to do an 18 percent increase later,” he adds.

Smarter Trash Collection

Along with water, Phoenix’s rapid growth has increased demand for another basic service: trash removal.

Every 2,000 new homes typically requires a city to expand waste management services with an additional truck and worker, generally speaking. But impressively, for the past 11 years, as an additional 40,000 homes appeared in Phoenix, the city’s Public Works Department has not added one additional garbage truck, waste management worker, or increased collection fees. How did it pull this off? By using data to improve efficiency.

Using automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology in each of its garbage trucks, the city was able to collect detailed data tracking pickup routes across three months in 2019. It then analyzed those routes in search of ways to pick up trash more efficiently, while maintaining safety. Could school zones be avoided while school is in session? Could collection days for residents be strategically changed? Could dangerous left-hand turns be minimized?

AVL was implemented by the department 10+ years ago to fulfill the need of the operations team for real-time data and actionable data. In the beginning, installation of any AVL monitoring device on trucks was done using a phased approach since the collection trucks could not be taken out of service all at the same time. Nowadays, the newer solid waste trucks delivered to the city are already equipped with AVL monitoring devices and technology, per the city’s specifications.

With the help of AVL technology, the department was able to implement “New Way, Same Day” in 2012, which streamlined collections through route-balancing. “New Way, Same Day” allowed the department to collect trash and recycling containers on the same day, resulting in cost savings of about $1 million annually.

The operations team, in collaboration with the information technology and data services teams, have continuously updated and upgraded Phoenix’s AVL technology.

After diving into the geographical and logistical details, the team emerged with new collection routes that balanced safety requirements with the city’s pickup needs. This hadn’t been done since 2009 — a full 10 years prior. With strong communications about the reasons for change to both residents and the waste management workers on the ground, the department successfully updated its collection routes and systems.

Through data and efficiency, despite rapid population growth, the Public Works Department was able to maintain its monthly residential fee for trash and various waste diversion services for 11 years.

Just recently, however, the Phoenix City Council approved a rate increase to the monthly residential fee. Along with the increasing cost of providing a service, China’s stricter recycling policies, announced in 2017, greatly impacted the U.S. recycling industry resulting in a decline in Phoenix’s recycling revenue. The decline in revenue hindered Phoenix’s ability to maintain the current level of trash and recycling service it provides. But through an extensive community engagement effort to educate residents, the City Council felt confident that an increase in solid waste rates was needed to keep up with the demands of a growing metropolis.

“After more than a decade, the recent residential solid waste rate increase allows our department to maintain the same level of trash and recycling services our residents expect,” said Moreno. “We will continue to rely on good data to streamline our processes and make good decisions in managing our resources.”

Everyone Deserves Some Shade

Phoenix is the hottest major city in the United States, and it’s getting hotter. But rising temperatures threaten some residents more than others — parts of Phoenix are less hot than others due to the presence of shade and certain pavement materials.

To understand climate change’s impact on the city from an equity perspective, the city created HeatReady, a program to identify, track and respond to the dangers of urban heat. The program was funded through the Mayors Challenge, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative to help U.S. city leaders develop innovative ideas that tackle today’s toughest problems.

The first step was to gather basic data on heat across Phoenix. To do this, the city partnered with Dr. David Hondula, a professor at Arizona State University, who installed heat monitor sensors in eight locations.

“The Bloomberg Mayors Challenge really set us on course to begin coordinating all efforts to address the growing threat of rising urban temperatures in Phoenix. Data continues to guide us in identifying the areas of our city with the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of shade cover, enabling an equitable distribution of investment to support those most vulnerable to extreme heat.”

Deputy City Manager Karen Peters

Building on its long-standing partnership with Arizona State University, the city collaborated with researchers at ASU’s Urban Climate Research Center to gather and synthesize meteorological data from all across the city and install new sensors. Among the key findings: on the hottest days of the year, surface temperatures varied by up to 13 degrees between different neighborhoods, depending on greenness, shade cover, and other factors. The hottest spots were often in low-income communities. Dr. Hondula and his collaborators are now collecting long-term data in some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods to help the city track its progress over time in reducing heat inequities.

“Our partnership with the city on urban heat is a point of pride for the urban climate research community at ASU. We share the city’s desire to identify and prioritize the hottest and most vulnerable neighborhoods for future cooling investments. The opportunity to work in real-world settings also gives us unparalleled access to learn more about how the urban climate system works and how it can be improved, knowledge that we will work to translate into solutions with city and community partners.”

Arizona State University Professor Dr. David Hondula

The city plans to continue working with its partners at Arizona State University to place sensors throughout the city, and leverage data by strategically improving the built environment. For example, it will create shade in places where residents are in greatest need of walkable routes to public transit, and has begun resurfacing roads in pilot areas with lighter-colored pavement that doesn’t retain as much heat. There is potential for new buildings to be oriented to create better airflow and more shade in high-need places. The city continues to partner with non-profit agencies to offer cooling stations with free bottles of water and heat-safety information, at locations chosen based on heat data and public transit ridership.

Phoenix’s flyer on the warning signs of heat exhaustion
Source: Phoenix Summer Heat Safety.

HeatReady has just begun — the city is currently seeking additional funding for the program and planning to implement a comprehensive shade and cooling plan built from gathered data. But the program already shows a valuable way forward for cities on the frontlines of climate change. The city and Arizona State University are in the final stage of the development of a HeatReady assessment to measure a city’s “heat readiness.” Phoenix will be the pilot city to complete the assessment this year.

Read more about Phoenix’s journey here.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Philadelphia Champions Collaboration and Data to Increase Opportunity.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Economic Development, Equity, Finance, High-Performing Government, Homelessness

At a Glance


Created an open data program that prioritized cross-departmental collaboration to secure the best possible equitable outcomes for residents.


Helped the city save money and amplify the impact of its programs and services such as reducing litter, social rewards and school district meetings with teachers through the Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative.


Through a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the City’s homeless intake system to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Philadelphia’s Open Data Program

In a room adjacent to Mayor Jim Kenney’s office stands a long wooden table where he often holds meetings. He chooses to sit in the middle of the table, embodying his commitment to distributed leadership and collaborative problem-solving in the City of Philadelphia.

As the birthplace of American democracy, the City of Philadelphia is no newcomer to collaborative leadership. To find sustainable solutions that get results, the City pairs data-driven decision-making with efforts to ensure key stakeholders — from inside and outside City Hall — bring their varied perspectives to the task of solving local challenges. Whether it be city agencies, academic partners, or local businesses, everyone has a role to play in building a better city.

Philadelphia’s open data program is executed by the Office of Innovation and Technology CityGeo team. By using the department’s platform, Atlas, residents can easily access city data on permit history, licenses, and 311, and more; much of the data is also mapped via GIS. To open up an additional 300 data sets of information on both municipal and non-municipal data across the region, the City partnered with a local geospatial firm to build OpenDataPhilly. And the Open Budget section of the Philadelphia website shares how the City is spending taxpayer dollars alongside data visualizations that make the numbers digestible. To make the connection between innovation and city data more apparent, the City has collaborated with Temple University’s Department of Journalism to showcase the experiences of residents, from business owners to activists, who have used the City’s open data.

The City’s strong collaborative foundation has enabled it to incorporate data into nearly every aspect of governance. From silo-busting behavioral science initiatives to equity-building workforce development efforts, Philadelphia’s increasingly innovative programs are delivering better outcomes for residents — and opening up even more seats at the table.

Spreading Behavioral Insights

The results of the trial were so promising that Mayor Kenny and his administration established the Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative (PBSI) in 2016 to continue improving the City’s delivery of services. In 2017, PBSI grew to become a key branch of GovlabPHL, the City’s multi-agency team focused on bringing evidence-based and data-driven practices to city programs and initiatives through cross-sector collaboration.
Now when departments have a policy issue or a possible project, they are teamed with local academic researchers whose expertise matches the nature of the work. From there, the City and academics collaborate to determine the goals and the kind of data that will need to be collected, and to create a data-licensing agreement. The trials run through PBSI have already helped the City save money and amplify the impact of its programs and services, including reducing litter, as well as putting social rewards and identity salience to the test with school district teachers. Each year, the City of Philadelphia co-hosts an annual conference to generate new research partnerships and ideas.

The relationship through PBSI is a win-win for everyone, with the City working to better serve residents, while academics are able to test hypotheses that could turn into potentially publishable studies.

Improving City Service Delivery

The Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT) believes in a City government that supports the success and well-being of all Philadelphians. ODDT is composed of a multi-disciplinary team who has deep expertise in design research, service design, content strategy, product design, and accessible technology development. With these comprehensive skill sets, the team partners with policy-makers, service providers, and the public to transform policy ideas into holistic and implementable solutions that meet people’s service delivery needs — improving how the government serves the public from an evidence-based design perspective.

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial component of the PHL Participatory Design Lab.

For example, through the City’s PHL Participatory Design Lab which is co-led by ODDT and funded by the Knight Cities Challenge, the City’s homeless intake system has become a learning lab for service design. Through a detailed and thoughtful process of journey mapping, identifying “pain points,” and soliciting input and feedback from those seeking services and staff who help them, the Lab identified two main areas for improvement. They are: 1) approaching information as a service, such as through transforming informational materials like signs, videos, and forms to better equip people with knowledge of what to expect, and through making the service delivery process more of a partnership and 2) improving physical space. Both ideas seek to improve the experience of people entering the homeless system and the experience of the staff working with them to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Supporting Local Business Owners

Another crucial community partner — local businesses — were once disadvantaged by outdated contracting laws. The City’s charter formerly required that contracts be awarded to the bidder with the lowest price, regardless of the contractor’s level of experience or other considerations. In May 2017, the City went to voters with a measure to award contracts based on factors such as expertise, quality, and experience to ensure that taxpayer dollars were leading to the best possible outcomes. Voters passed the new law to shift from “low-bid” to “best-value” procurement. The $25 million the City spends every year on food services — from after-school programs to feeding people experiencing homelessness — is one of the first areas the City is applying the new approach toward, teaming up with the Sunlight Foundation.

Philadelphia has since structured its RFPs around strategic goals and desired outcomes that can be measured through performance metrics. And to help leverage the expertise of previously overlooked vendors, the City has implemented a point system in its RFPs that rewards contractors on certain criteria; one of them is being a local business, helping the City work toward its goal of reinvesting more taxpayer dollars back into the local economy through vendors that were once priced out by less expensive options. The City is also prioritizing increasing the number of contracts with minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

Investing in the Future Generation

A focus on stronger collaboration between the city government and residents is also transforming the very composition of City Hall. Philadelphia yearns to build a government for its residents, by its residents. But when the City looked into employment data, the average age of a City employee was 45 years old, and Philadelphia’s diversity was hardly reflected in the government workforce.

Mayor Jim Kenny meets with a member of Philadelphia’s workforce.

The problem was not so much how to create talent, but how to get it into the pipeline. Part of the City’s workforce development strategy is designed to activate talent in the city and connect young people, communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and formerly incarcerated individuals to family-sustaining jobs — and City government is ripe with these kinds of employment opportunities. In collaboration with ten city departments, the City as Model Employer program hopes to transition a minimum of 200 underserved individuals from temporary work into permanent employment by 2020.

While there’s still progress to be made, Philadelphia’s vision is clear: The future will be imagined around an inclusive table.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Minneapolis’ Data-Driven Green Cost share Program Delivers Environmental Justice.

Project Type:
Cross Sector, Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Equity, High-Performing Government

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance


Prevented more than 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere through a data-driven incentive program to help Minneapolis property owners invest in energy efficiency upgrades and other green projects.


Developed a Green Career Program to increase solar and energy-efficient jobs, economic opportunities, and awareness – particularly in underserved neighborhoods where data showed less participation in green initiatives.


Created the 4d Affordable Housing program for building owners to keep units affordable and maintain energy efficient upgrades for residents.

Minneapolis’s Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gasses

The City of Minneapolis has a long history of enacting progressive policies to tackle climate change. Back in 1993, it joined forces with neighboring St. Paul to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) into the atmosphere with its Urban CO2 Project Plan. In 2012, Minneapolis set the ambitious goals of cutting GHG emissions 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

That same year, Minneapolis took another innovative step with the creation of its Green Cost Share program. It was launched by the City’s Department of Health as an incentive-based — rather than punitive — way to reduce pollution and address climate change. The basic idea is this: The City offers matching funds to residential, commercial, and industrial property owners as an incentive to invest in energy efficiency and pollution reduction projects. The resulting improvements help the City move closer to achieving its climate change goals while also addressing public health inequities.

Data-driven performance management and open data are at the core of the Green Cost Share program — and are playing a growing role in the City overall. In recent years, Minneapolis has strengthened other foundational practices as well, including general management and data governance, all of which help in the City’s efforts to monitor and utilize relevant data. Leaders of the Green Cost Share program collect data on dollars invested, estimated lifetime energy bill savings, and pollutants reduced. And they make everything public through a dashboard presenting all the metrics.

“From how we track progress toward program goals to how we target underinvested parts of the city overdue for environmental justice, data is in many ways the engine of Green Cost Share,” says Patrick Hanlon, who runs the program as director of environmental programs for the City of Minneapolis.

The program kicked off by building partnerships with dry cleaning companies to end their use of perchloroethylene, a cleaning solvent and known toxic air pollutant that may cause asthma, birth defects, and cancer. By 2018, Minneapolis became the first city in the country to be completely “perc”-free.

A rooftop solar project incentivized by the Green Cost Share program. Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

That was just one program goal. By offering property owners 20 percent of project costs (up to $20,000), the Green Cost Share program has also incentivized the installation of solar arrays, insulation, high-efficiency water heaters and furnaces, and other pollution-reduction improvements across the City. The program’s specific impacts since 2013 are detailed in the dashboard: 580 projects have received match funding, saving 31.8 million kilowatt hours of energy. That’s prevented more than 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of taking over 2,400 cars off the road. Combined, program recipients will be saving over $50,000,000 over the lifetime of their projects.

“Tracking and analyzing data has helped us both define and prove success, as well as course-correct as the program has evolved over the years.”

Director of Environmental Programs Patrick Hanlon

Data-Driven Course-Correcting

The Green Cost Share program’s use of data goes beyond demonstrating impact, however. To ensure the program helps improve public health measures and delivers environmental justice, staff have ramped-up efforts to engage property owners in areas of Minneapolis defined as high-need.

In 2017, program staff noticed they weren’t receiving many applications from areas designated as Green Zones. Mostly located in north and south Minneapolis, the zones were defined by community groups based on demographic, economic and public health data provided by the City. They have higher concentrations of low-income residents and communities of color, and histories of practices like redlining and lease covenants. Not coincidentally, these areas also often have high levels of pollution related to traffic and stationary pollution sources, brownfield sites, and substandard housing. The City’s Green Zone task force expressed a desire for more investment in renewables, energy efficiency, and green jobs.

With the goal of inspiring more projects in the zones and support from the mayor and City Council, the Environmental Programs team adjusted the program’s match funding formula. It began offering a 30 percent match rate of up to $30,000 to applicants in the Green Zones or Great Streets program, another revitalization program that targets areas where people of color and low-income residents are concentrated. Before 2017, only about 20 percent of program participants were environmental justice properties. Today, the figure is 58 percent.

The City of Minneapolis has developed various strategies to support economic recovery from the pandemic and address racial inequities. As part of that comprehensive approach, the Green Cost Share program matches 40 percent (up to $40,000) of the cost to rebuild properties damaged during protests last year following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked a national movement for racial justice. The program continues to look for ways to provide additional incentives, prioritize projects, and build relationships in environmental justice communities. One way it is doing this: A Green Career program launched last year in partnership with the Department of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) that focuses on training residents in BIPOC communities for jobs with solar and energy-efficiency contractors. The City is tracking data to evaluate program outcomes.

Green Career program participants and city staff. Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

For all its activities and projects, the Environmental Programs team collects and analyzes data to identify areas for improvement. One need that’s emerged from analysis: a better group purchase program allowing solar developers to aggregate smaller projects like single-family homes to be submitted in bulk to both take advantage of the incentive and reduce overall project costs.

The team also received community feedback about the lack of energy-efficiency projects being done in larger apartment buildings with low-income tenants. A data analysis bore this out, so the Environmental Programs team partnered with the CPED department on its successful 4d Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing program. The 4d program, which provides incentives for building owners to keep units affordable, has successfully helped building owners make energy efficiency upgrades after they signed up for the incentives. The results were significant — Green Cost Share projects in buildings with over 1,000 tenants rose sharply, from three to 49.

“Those are the kind of opportunities that can be revealed by regular, robust project data analysis.”

Contract Manager Isaac Evans

The program is also working to obtain better demographic data about project applicants to make further progress on environmental justice goals. Applications can request (but cannot require) demographic data from applicants; the team is working to improve data sharing between city departments to supplement information and improve demographic data tracking.

“The Green Cost Share program can’t succeed in a silo and it can’t succeed without strong data practices,” Hanlon says. “To align with the City’s overarching climate and equity goals, we know we have to work hand-in-hand with colleagues across city government and residents in need. Sustained collaboration and proactive data-driven performance management are both key to success — for all City programs, really.”

“We look at this program as a way we can intentionally invest back into communities that have been discriminated against historically.”

Director of Environmental Programs Patrick Hanlon
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Long Beach, California, USA

Data Takes Center Stage in Long Beach’s Pandemic Push to Help Small Businesses.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Economic Development, High-Performing Government

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance


The BizCare team set up a data collection system to track who visited a BizCare site, applied for relief, and successfully received funds during the height of the pandemic. They fed data back into GIS maps in real-time, and regularly reviewed them to adapt how the City was meeting communities’ needs.


Working alongside other departments, the economic development team was able to adapt their practices to best support local businesses during the height of the pandemic.


Data dashboard supported COVID-19 response and recovery efforts by informing the community of updates and tracked vaccine distribution.

Community Outreach

COVID-19-related restrictions hit local businesses hard in Long Beach, California, as they did across the country. Along with uncertainty and confusion related to evolving public health orders, many business owners grappled with a simple existential question: How will my business survive?

The City of Long Beach’s Economic Development Department stepped up to help, launching a call center to help business owners navigate health orders and access financial resources such as grants and loans. But the department’s team quickly realized this approach didn’t go far enough. Demand for relief was very high, but staff knew from tracking callers that many business owners were not accessing available services.

With government buildings closed due to the pandemic, the need for better outreach methods to help businesses survive was clear and urgent. So the City pivoted to a more targeted data-driven approach. In November 2020, the department launched the Long Beach BizCare Program, which allowed City staff to more directly engage local businesses in high-need areas. BizCare created outdoor pop-up sites offering free one-on-one in-person services to small business owners, helping them complete business relief grant applications and learn about other available resources.

A group of “community ambassadors” who supported the City’s COVID-19 health outreach efforts attend a meeting. Image courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

This new strategy required close collaboration across departments so that pop-ups could be located in areas of high-need.

“The economic development team is small — the pandemic only heightened the importance of working with other departments. I served in the military, and the way staff came together to support the outreach effort felt like a military deployment. Everybody was moving at rapid speeds to assist business owners.”

Economic Development Project Manager Adelita Lopez

A first step was to understand which communities in Long Beach were most impacted by COVID-19 and least likely to have accessed relief resources. The City’s geographic information system (GIS) analysts worked with the BizCare team who provided layers of data detailing neighborhoods’ average income levels and engagement with City resources. To further prioritize outreach to high-need businesses, the BizCare team leveraged business license datasets to identify which businesses were open.

“Designing and rolling out the BizCare program was a crash course in how the right data is critical for designing a new service in a time of crisis,” says Ryan Kurtzman, Smart Cities Program Manager at the City of Long Beach.

“Residents are our eyes and ears on the streets, So if we’re looking for a mix of projects that will maximize benefit to the community, it makes sense to turn to people who are knowledgeable about what’s needed.”

Chief Data Officer Joseph D’Angelo

Building Trust, One Conversation at a Time

Many of the business owners visiting BizCare pop-ups had never previously interacted with the City of Long Beach or accessed government services. Building trust was a huge part of the outreach effort, especially since many grant applications require personal information such as Social Security numbers.

To build trust, the BizCare team chose to staff pop-up sites with people who lived in, or were originally from, priority outreach neighborhoods. It partnered with the City’s workforce innovation network Pacific Gateway to hire young people. With multilingual translation services available at each site, they helped business owners understand relief options and complete grant applications.

A BizCare street outreach team visits a local business. Image courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

The pop-up sites demonstrated the City’s commitment to careful stakeholder engagement. Staff in the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department as well as the Library Department helped BizCare identify safe spots for tents, with access to bathrooms and electrical outlets. With personal protective equipment (PPE) and laptops, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, printers, and scanners borrowed from the City’s Technology and Innovation Department, BizCare staff helped business owners without their own computer or internet connection take significant steps toward protecting their business.

A basic goal of BizCare was to dynamically align pop-up locations to areas of high-need as the pandemic wore on. To that end, the team set up a data collection system to track who visited a BizCare site, applied for relief, and successfully received funds. They fed data back into GIS maps in real-time, and regularly reviewed them to adapt how the City was meeting communities’ needs.

As it happened, the BizCare team realized there were significant pockets of communities where businesses were not accessing available relief services. So it innovated again, developing a complementary street outreach team to go door-to-door in these areas. “Our goal was to offer business owners seamless support resources, between the call center, pop-ups, and the street team,” Lopez says.

One data point suggests the BizCare program succeeded in building trust in high-need areas. Eighty percent of pop-up attendees said they discovered BizCare through word of mouth. Maria Zepeda of Lili’s Store and Long Beach Snacks was one of the first business owners who worked with BizCare. It was her first time applying for any type of city aid. She received a commercial rental assistance grant of $4,000 and has since helped several other business owners on her block connect with BizCare.

The program’s targeted stakeholder engagement efforts have produced impressive results. As of December 2021, BizCare’s pop-ups supported 795 business owners, who have collectively received $760,750 in grant-based relief funds. The street outreach team engaged with 1,048 businesses, who have accessed over $100,000 in funds. The Call Center team answered 6,361 calls. The Community Based Organizations Partnerships team connected with 27 non-profit organizations to partner and reach some of the hardest-to-reach communities. Access to grant funding for business owners who don’t speak English increased more than 40%.

“Having team members with personal connections to the community was really helpful in building trust. For a lot of our staff, we were talking about their neighbor’s store or their uncle’s friend’s restaurant.”

Economic Development Project Manager Adelita Lopez

Strong Foundation Into the Crisis

BizCare’s success is a reflection of Long Beach’s investments in foundational open data and stakeholder engagement practices. Current data efforts kicked off in 2016 with the City’s launch of an open data portal and the development of a data governance structure to provide training and promote data-driven decision-making. During its creation in 2017, the City’s Economic Development Department developed a blueprint for inclusive economic growth informed by deep community engagement, including community listening sessions and interviews with community-based organizations.

One of Long Beach’s community ambassadors. Image courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

All this work laid the groundwork for BizCare, which launched within the context of a deepening data-driven culture of innovation.

“It’s been incredibly helpful that we have City staff invested in measuring what good governance looks like. The technical assistance we’ve received via What Works Cities as well as the Certification process itself have been really foundational for our COVID response and recovery efforts.”

Smart Cities Program Manager Ryan Kurtzman

Through the BizCare program, the City continues to engage with Long Beach business owners and use data to understand where support services might be the most impactful. Many of the data-driven outreach strategies honed by BizCare will be considered best practices for future COVID-19-related grant distribution programs, as well as deployment of Long Beach Recovery Act funds.

“I am proud of our efforts to use data to guide decision-making and improve community outcomes during the pandemic,” says Lea Eriksen, Long Beach’s director of technology and innovation/CIO.

“Cities need to design services with a digital equity lens to meet people where they are. Programs like BizCare showcase our commitment to building a data-informed culture, and that’s something we’ll be investing in for years to come.”

Director of Technology & Innovation/CIO Lea Eriksen

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