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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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Rochester, New York, USA

Rochester Multi-Pronged Housing Strategy Started With Data.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Economic Development, Finance, High-Performing Government, Housing

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance

Used a range of qualitative and quantitative data sources, including City-owned and U.S. Census data, to understand the housing market’s structural challenges to help develop affordable and market-rate housing units.

Used data-driven approaches to support projects in vulnerable neighborhoods and targeted investments to help stabilize home values and promoted long-term investments to the community.

Displayed housing data in Rochester’s Development Opportunity Sites initiative so that residents can understand how their government is working to attract businesses and produce more affordable housing and view a GIS-based map detailing investment projects.

Solving the Housing Crisis with Data

In many U.S. cities, residents face rising rents and home prices that put affordable housing out of reach. But Rochester, New York’s housing crisis is different. The city is a soft market in which supply exceeds demand. Median housing costs for homeowners and renters are significantly lower in Rochester than in New York State and nationwide, but high poverty rates and very low incomes still create major affordability challenges. There’s also a basic quality problem: An aging housing stock requires maintenance and upgrades.

“We have one of the oldest housing stocks in the country,” says Elizabeth Murphy, associate planner and administrative analyst in Rochester’s Office of City Planning. Nearly two-thirds of housing units in the city were built prior to 1950 and nearly 90 percent were built prior to 1980.

“That means a lot of deferred maintenance and healthy housing needs.” In many parts of the post-industrial city, houses have deteriorating roofs and mechanicals, as well as lead paint and asbestos. Renovation and remediation needs are high, but given low home values and high poverty rates, rehab or redevelopment at the scale that is needed only makes financial sense with “significant subsidies” in the mix, Murphy notes.

Image courtesy of the City of Rochester.

Rochester’s 2018 citywide housing market study, its first in more than a decade, crystallized officials’ understanding of the housing crisis. Drawing on a range of qualitative and quantitative data sources, including City-owned and U.S. Census data, the study painted a detailed picture of the housing market’s structural challenges as well as key market interventions the City could pursue to help develop both affordable and market-rate housing units. City leaders incorporated the data-driven housing analysis and recommendations into its new 15-year comprehensive plan, Rochester 2034, adopted by City Council in 2019.

“The housing study made the challenges of our market context clear,” says Kevin Kelley, manager of planning. “It also made clear that we need to strategically engage that reality to help reposition and revitalize our neighborhoods.”

Like the housing study, Rochester 2034’s blueprint for growth and development reflects the City’s commitment to foundational data-driven practice areas including stakeholder engagement, performance & analytics, and data governance. It draws on input gathered from over 4,000 community members and over 100 stakeholder groups to set specific, achievable goals across a range of areas — transportation, economic growth and housing among them. Recognizing that Rochester’s housing challenges are multidimensional, the Plan envisions the City playing multiple roles to spark and sustain positive change.

“There’s a spectrum of roles local governments can play with housing,” Kelley says. “In some instances it serves as a charitable giver and in others it plays the role of strategic investor. There’s a time and a place for each.”

As examples of the former, the City serves hundreds of low-income households each year through grants to pay for housing rehab, new roofs, emergency furnace/boiler/water heater repairs, and addressing lead hazards in pre-1978 housing units. As a strategic investor, the City is looking to take a data-driven approach to support projects in so-called “middle markets.” These are defined as neighborhoods vulnerable to decline where targeted investments could help stabilize home values and promote long-term benefits to the community.

Image courtesy of the City of Rochester.

Rochester 2034’s Housing Action Plan set six overarching goals with 37 specific strategies recommended for implementation. Staff track progress on the goals by updating a shared internal reporting site. In its first Two-Year Progress Report since Plan adoption, the City reports that work has been completed on one of the 37 housing strategies and is underway (i.e., “started” or “ongoing”) on 28 of them. Reports that describe overall progress on Plan implementation and provide detailed status updates on specific strategies will be released to the community every two years through 2034.

Image courtesy of the City of Rochester.

Leveraging RFPs and City-Owned Land to Catalyze Change

One of the Plan’s housing goals was to support the production of new high-quality, mixed-income housing that is both affordable and accessible to people across a wide range of incomes, abilities, household sizes, and ages. Rochester’s annual budget now sets specific targets for the number of affordable and market-rate units the City will create; current fiscal year goals are 152 and 103, respectively.

To spur production of units, the City updated its annual Housing Development request for proposals (RFP) requirements for any organization (whether for-profit or otherwise) seeking financial support from the City or looking to buy vacant City-owned land for a housing project. As of this year, to garner City support, developers of market-rate mixed-income projects that do not qualify for affordable housing subsidy programs administered by New York State have to make at least 20% of housing units affordable to individuals or families earning at or below 60% of the area’s Median Family Income (MFI).

Image courtesy of the City of Rochester.

The Rochester 2034 plan has also jump-started more strategic approaches to developing vacant lots; the City owns thousands of parcels across Rochester. City officials are working to customize redevelopment goals and RFPs for City-owned land to better reflect market context, with the goal of stimulating neighborhood development in more targeted ways. In low-demand areas, which tend to be lower-income, parcels may be reserved for businesses that will create durable jobs and thereby stimulate demand for housing. But if the parcel is in a higher-market area, the city may want to use the RFP to spur affordable and mixed-use development.

“We’re taking a more customized approach in how we think about land use and our role as a strategic investor. A basic goal here is to provide more jobs, with better wages, so housing options can become more in reach for folks.”

Manager of Planning Kevin Kelley

Because Rochester’s affordability challenges are rooted in very low incomes, its housing strategy and economic development strategy need to dovetail.

This is on display in Rochester’s Development Opportunity Sites initiative that markets 12 City-owned sites which, officials believe, are well-positioned to help revitalize surrounding neighborhoods. While those sites await buyers, residents interested in understanding how their government is working to attract businesses and produce more affordable housing can view a GIS-based map detailing projects the City has invested in during the last 10 years.

“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in embedding data-driven governance practices into our culture and grateful to What Works Cities for its support. There’s been a valuable shift in how we think about housing challenges and pursue solutions. In the coming years, I expect our new strategies will deliver more and more results to residents.”

Chief Performance Officer Kate May

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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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New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Orleans: From “BlightState” to Preventing Fire Fatalities.

Project Type:
Economic Development, Education, Energy, High-Performing Government, Housing, Public Safety, Youth Development

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance

Created a data-driven performance management program and a website that aggregates data about important housing information to address blighted homes post-Hurricane Katrina, resulting in more than 15,000 fewer blighted addresses by 2018.

Worked with What Works Cities partner the Behavioral Insights Team to devise a “nudge” letter to owners about housing violations, resulting in a 10 percent drop in cases moving to the hearing stage, saving staff time and city funds.

Developed a predictive model that identified which parts of the city were most at risk for fires and fire fatalities using that information to target its campaign to distribute smoke alarms to vulnerable households.

Targeted anti-gang violence via prevention efforts and rehabilitation, which led to an 18 percent decrease in the number of murders as of 2016.

New Orleans’ Creation of New Orleans

One Thursday morning, some ten city officials seated in a u-formation of tables faced an audience of some two dozen local residents in a room at New Orleans City Hall. The city staff and residents all knew each other by first name, and they bantered a bit back and forth, which was no surprise as many have been regulars at this monthly meeting for years, regularly returning to follow progress and to fight for the removal of blighted properties that have proven more difficult to address in their neighborhoods.

BlightStat, a data-driven performance management program, has been in place since 2010. When Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in May 2010, New Orleans faced what has been described as one of the worst blight problems in the U.S., “with no strategy to address it,” the City notes. A large part of the problem was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005. Five years later, faced with thousands of homes that could not be saved, Mayor Landrieu instituted BlightStat to ensure that the City’s efforts to get rid of the blighted homes would proceed efficiently and effectively.

BlightStat set priorities for the inspectors and researchers who identify rundown properties and determine whether to levy fines, order a demolition, force a sale, or take some other action. Under the BlightStat framework, the City considers issues such as the condition of the roof and foundation, the owner’s history of tax payment, and the market for real estate in that neighborhood, trying to predict the cases that will have the best outcomes so that the Department of Code Enforcement can decide how to best to deploy its resources.

New Orleans has 15,000 fewer blighted properties thanks to BlightStat, a data-driven performance management program that’s helped the City strategically address the issue.

The City also created BlightStatus, a website that aggregates data about inspections, code compliance, hearings, judgments, and foreclosures, providing users with a simple search box that unlocks all the information available for any address in the city. It opened up a new, easy-to-use link between the city and community, keeping everyone on the same page and giving residents the chance to make their voices heard. The tool also helped city employees keep up-to-date with changes to properties and stay accountable for promised changes.

By 2018, New Orleans had more than 15,000 fewer blighted addresses, accomplished through a mix of demolition, sale, and owner repairs, aiding vastly in New Orleans’ recovery.

New Orleans also worked with What Works Cities partner the Behavioral Insights Team to devise a “nudge” letter to owners about housing violations, resulting in a 10 percent drop in cases moving to the hearing stage, saving staff time and city funds.

New Orleans’ use of data undergirds many of its major programs. “We use data to plan. We use data to create an iterative process that informs implementation. Data is baked into our culture; it’s a part of our subconscious,” says Oliver Wise, former Director of the Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA), who was succeeded by Melissa Schigoda.

OPA runs the City’s data analytics initiatives. Along with BlightStat, they include ResultsNOLA, which evaluates the performance of city departments, and NOLAlytics, which helps those departments conduct their own data analytics projects to support their missions.

In one project, OPA developed a predictive model that identified which parts of the city were most at risk for fires and fire fatalities. The City used that information to target its campaign to distribute smoke alarms to vulnerable households. Using analytics, it identified twice as many households in need of smoke alarms than it had when the City chose households at random. Less than a year later, there was a fire in an apartment building in one of the neighborhoods that the City had identified, and eleven people escaped — all because of a very cheap, but strategically installed, smoke alarm.

To address its high murder rate, the City instituted its NOLA for Life initiative in 2012, targeting anti-gang violence via prevention efforts and rehabilitation, which led to an 18 percent decrease in the number of murders, as of 2016.

Mayor Landrieu, who left office in May 2018 after serving two terms, says he has always been data-driven, realizing that if you can’t measure something, you can’t assess outcomes. “Data shouldn’t make you look good — it’s intended to tell you the truth,” he says. “The results can speak for themselves.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu signs the City’s open data policy, in 2016.

Landrieu says he told staff from the start that he “wanted to count everything” and to fold that sensibility into the budgeting process to run a “leaner, more efficient government.”

Landrieu says a “culture of counting” will have a real impact on the ground and make a difference in people’s lives. He created a Neighborhood Engagement Office to ensure managers are more connected to residents and see to it that “everybody’s data can matter.

As he looks back at his administration, Landrieu says he’s most proud of the team he assembled for their focus on getting things done in a data-driven fashion, and the processes they put into place to encourage innovation. “These processes were designed to last,” he says, “not to be a flash in the pan.”

“If you measure and it’s real, you gain the confidence of the public.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
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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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Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Cincinnati Surges Forward.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Cross-Sector, Economic Development, Equity, Finance, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Public Safety

2023 Gold Certification

Cincinnati’s Emergency Communications Center historically has had three dispatchable tools for handling incoming 911 calls: the police department, the fire department and parking enforcement. But when calls involved mental health, the unhoused, and poverty crises, none of these tools clearly aligned with the need. In 2022, the City piloted a new public safety resource – Alternative Response to Crisis (ARC) – sending a Behavioral Health Technician and paramedic to low-risk calls rather than police. The City tracked the program’s progress on an ARC Dashboard. It found that over the first 12 months of ARC, the City was able to save more than 3,000 hours of police officer time and freed up resources that could then be directed towards more high-risk calls. Based on the data, the City expanded ARC’s capacity in the FY 2024-2025 Biennial Budget.

2020 Silver Certification

Office of Performance and Data Analytics (OPDA) helps deliver better, faster, and smarter services to city residents by working across departments to measure performance, evaluate success, and identify areas for improvement.

Create hundreds of dashboard to track performance and provide both residents and internal city staff high-level, real-time information about a variety of city services.

Used data to address systemic issues in their emergency response system, increasing the number of 911 calls they answered in less than 10 seconds from 40 percent to over 90 percent in just a few months.

Implementing City Services

Set along the gently curving Ohio River, which forms the border between Ohio and Kentucky, Cincinnati is an unassuming city. At times overshadowed, lacking the more national profile of nearby cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, the Queen City is the home of two Fortune 50 companies, two major universities, three professional sports teams, and a rich breeding ground for startups and new businesses.

Dismissing Cincinnati becomes much harder when it is experienced first-hand, its distinct skyline rise from the surrounding seven hills. The city exudes an infectious energy, evident in part as you stroll through the city, surrounded by over 140 large-scale murals that adorn brick walls and building facades, bringing vibrant color and life to the city’s neighborhoods — like the “The Hands That Built This City” mural, which covers the downtown convention center and celebrates Cincinnati’s creative and industrious spirit.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cincinnati.

The first big city west of the Appalachian mountains, Cincinnati was a trailblazer in more ways than one. It is home to the nation’s first fire department, when, back in 1853, after three residents built the first practical steam-powered fire engine and the Cincinnati City Council voted to purchase the engines and pay the volunteer firefighters, the country’s first professional, fully paid fire department was born.

This civic-minded innovation continues today — look no further than the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics (OPDA). OPDA’s mission is to help deliver better, faster, and smarter services to city residents. Led by Chief Performance Officer Nicollette Staton, its team of analysts work with the city’s 27 departments to measure performance, evaluate success, and identify areas for improvement.

“Our goal is to work across city departments, leveraging our data systems to highlight the impact quality data can have on process improvement and innovation of city services. We’re focused on adding value within departments, by empowering staff and leadership with accurate up-to-date information about how their current systems are performing, while providing opportunities to collaborate on innovative improvement projects founded on data science and in alignment with the mission of our city.”

Cincinnati Chief Performance Officer Nicollette Staton

With OPDA providing problem-solving support and guidance, the City takes a data-driven approach to all its work — whether involving day-to-day services like street cleaning and 911 calls, or longer-term initiatives to address public health crises and upgrade infrastructure. In this way, the city has married data, performance, and innovation into a framework that guides OPDA’s — and the city’s — work.

Building the Foundation

OPDA takes an integrated approach to performance management. To improve city processes, it combines the power of a centralized data analytics infrastructure with regular performance monitoring and collaborative and creative solution-generating. Every year, the City Manager and department heads establish priorities, goals, and metrics to track and evaluate performance in Performance Management Agreements. They are shared on CincyInsights, the City’s visual open data portal.

When OPDA first launched in 2015, each department had its own dedicated CincyStat meeting to review their individual department-level performance and goals. Under City Manager Patrick Duhaney’s leadership, individual department level performance measures are monitored daily through internal dashboards, and CincyStat meetings are convened around citywide priorities and goals, with multiple departments presenting performance data that are specific to citywide initiatives.

The CincyStat meetings are also used to drive progress on city priorities and collaboration around interdepartmental challenges and shared projects. Committed to transparency, OPDA publishes memos from CincyStat meetings on CincyInsights, making city progress and progress on those priorities accessible to the public.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cincinnati.

The Office also maintains public dashboards that bring the city’s enterprise data warehouse to life and share progress toward top goals. City governments collect a lot of data, but its value can’t be leveraged if it just sits in the warehouse. So OPDA has helped create hundreds of dashboards (both internal and external) to track performance and provide both residents and internal city staff high-level, real-time information about a variety of city services, from neighborhood cleaning to police calls for service to snow plow removal and more.

They automatically update with current data — which Staton sees as sustaining OPDA’S mission. “If OPDA no longer exists one day, the dashboards will still update and the data will still be provided to departments and residents to support informed decisions,” she says.

The hard work building data infrastructure and a robust city-wide data culture is paying off. Various departments, from Emergency Communications to Buildings and Inspections, reach out to Staton’s team for support and collaboration when they identify challenges and need solutions. “We play the role of both a partner and a doctor for city departments,” Staton says.

The results have been significant for the health and safety of Cincinnatians.

A More Responsive City

Take, for example, overhauls to Emergency Communications Center (ECC) operations. A few years ago, despite multiple 911 calls, a 16-year-old boy died while trapped in a car. It was a seemingly preventable tragedy that shook the community and catalyzed action to make wholesale improvements to the emergency response system.

Cincinnati was able to quickly pivot the years of groundwork laid through ECCStat, which launched in early 2015 and had acclimated the department to tracking key metrics — such as call center hiring and staffing and call answer times, among others.

The City found that systemic issues such as gaps in communication, lack of information-sharing between the city and county dispatchers, and opt-out options for call takers, were causing significant underperformance. (In Cincinnati’s 911 system, people tasked with routing calls to the appropriate dispatcher could opt-out of taking a call.) Turnover caused by employee burnout and hiring delays also contributed to understaffed call and dispatch centers, with vacant call taker and dispatcher positions sometimes numbering as high as 40 people, or nearly a third of the required number of employees to be operating at full capacity.

With the root problems clear, the City set a 60-point action plan to deliver on in 12 months, including setting new targets and hiring goals, and tracking performance metrics to meet the national standard for call answer times. Within months,Cincinnati was answering well over 90 percent of calls in less than 10 seconds — up from just 40 percent in 2017.

City Manager Patrick Duhaney says the emergency response transformation could not have occurred without carefully analyzing data and tracking metrics.

Cincinnati has also applied a data lens to day-to-day services that boost quality of life across the city: things like grass cutting, street cleaning and litter removal. By tracking and mapping various data points — the locations of litter complaints, how often the city sends out crews to pick up litter or sweep the streets, employee turnover rates — the City has decreased the volume of complaints from residents.

Routinized schedules allowed for more efficient delivery of services, but the solution also involved better staffing practices. The City analyzed decades-long data sets to project employee turnover in the public services department. Now it strategically hires to better ensure that essential departments have the staff needed to keep Cincinnati’s neighborhoods and streets clean.

Reaping Long Term Benefits

The City of Cincinnati is taking data-driven approaches to tackle longer-term challenges as well — everything from stemming the heroin crisis to phasing out lead water pipes.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cincinnati.

The water line project, led by Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), has enormous public health consequences for city residents. (Lead exposure through drinking water is particularly harmful to fetuses and young children.) Under a new rule that went into effect in 2017, lead service lines — which connect homes and other buildings to water mains — are prohibited. Data collection is at the very center of this infrastructure initiative, which aims to phase out all lead lines by 2032. To prioritize repairs and the replacement of lead lines, the City must first know where the lead lines are and which lines are in the worst condition.

GCWW is now in the process of mapping all the public service lines that connect to buildings across the city, detailing their condition and which are made of lead. Gauging conditions requires lots of tests; schools are being tested first and making the results of those tests public. In fact, public engagement is at the core of the project. Residents are able to view all line data on a citywide lead map. They’re invited to work with city staff to determine whether the water service lines connecting to their home are lead or not. This complex project is still in its early stage, but the city’s investment in data analytics will pay dividends from a public health perspective.

The heroin epidemic is another public health challenge Cincinnati faces — and here again a data-first mentality is proving valuable. After the city experienced a spike in heroin overdoses in the summer of 2016, OPDA created a user-friendly tracker powered by EMS response data to show the dates, times, and locations of suspected overdoses. With more than three years’ worth of data now available, emergency responders, public health officials, and social service providers are able to identify trends and hotspots and respond strategically to prevent overdoses.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cincinnati.

Since 2017, there’s been a steady reduction in overdose-related responses and in overdose-related deaths in Cincinnati. Data is directly supporting the fight against heroin addiction, and the city is sharing lessons learned with governments in the surrounding region as they grapple with the epidemic.

Pushing for More Progress

With the right structures in place to track progress toward ambitious goals and leaders and staff invested in data-driven performance management, the City of Cincinnati is showing how smart government can have big impacts. And it’s only widening the scope of its efforts.

In 2019, it joined the inaugural cohort of the What Works Cities Economic Mobility initiative. The city is partnering with the Cincinnati Chamber’s Workforce Innovation Center to increase frontline employees’ wages while decreasing turnover by 10%. The pilot program will test new ways of advancing mobility — and build the data infrastructure needed to accelerate change.

Duhaney says the city’s data work “enhances the core services of our city so much.” The investment in these capabilities has more than paid for itself in time and money saved and better services, he adds. “Part of why OPDA is so successful here is because we’re small enough to move tactically but big enough to have meaningful results.”

“Data breaks things down, reveals what’s not working and what’s working well. It allows you to surgically attack issues. We are using this approach to save lives.”

City Manager Patrick Duhaney

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Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Innovation Developed from a Culture of Goal-Setting in Cambridge.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communication, Economic Development, Environmental, Equity, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Public Safety

At a Glance

The Safety Net Collaborative Program and its social harm index sought to use data to prevent harm and crime through a safety net working with the police, schools, and human services.

The Community Development Department launched its Small Business Data Dashboard to connect people to vital information such as demographics, average industry wages, and regulatory requirements – helping residents create and grow small businesses and explore ways to increase their opportunities.

Developed a data-based predictive model that empowered the city to tackle its recycling contamination problem and target outreach to properties more prone to recycling violations, all of which cut the contamination rate to under 6 percent.

Public Safety in Cambridge

The glowing lights on the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts make the entire building appear to breathe. At night, when the Emergency Communications and 911 Center receives a call, they’re impossible to miss. The LED lights along the building’s brick exterior signal activity in the emergency dispatch system. When the system is quiet, blue lights slowly fade in and out. They flicker in blue, red, or green when a dispatcher inside connects a caller to the police department, the fire department or emergency medical services. It’s a public art installation that lends transparency to essential services — and a visible reminder that the City of Cambridge is always at work responding to residents’ needs.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

Home to world-renowned universities and scores of startups, Cambridge has a reputation for turning good ideas into reality. Kendall Square, the neighborhood that abuts the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and contains the public safety facility, has been called “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” City officials aren’t stuck in their ways and don’t get defensive when problems surface. Instead, they dive into data and proactively devise solutions that bolster services.

“I always push staff to look at different options, discuss alternative solutions, or engage in more dialogue with the community so that we can come up with the best possible solutions.”

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale

With a population of 118,000 spread across just six square miles, Cambridge may be relatively small compared to Boston and other certified cities. But it punches way above its weight when it comes to fostering a transparent data-driven culture that delivers for residents. Within and across departments, innovation flows out of a culture of goal-setting.

“Building staff capacity and skills to use data, evidence, and stakeholder engagement is critical to our city’s ability to make more informed decisions, deliver more effective services and programs, and improve our residents’ lives.”

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale

Evolving the Policing Model

Violent crime rates have dropped drastically in Cambridge in recent decades, in line with many other U.S. cities. Currently “only three percent of our calls for service are serious crimes,” Deputy Superintendent Daniel Wagner says. “97 percent of what we’re being called to respond to now are complex social issues.”

These issues include substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and juvenile delinquency. They cannot be solved by police officers alone — so the Cambridge Police Department has evolved to act as a bridge between individuals in need of help (especially repeat offenders) and various city departments offering wraparound services. “Policing in Cambridge is not just about arrests,” Wagner says. “It’s about getting people the help that they need.”

Through the city’s juvenile-focused Safety Net Collaborative Program, individuals from the police, health, schools, and human service departments meet bi-weekly to implement a case management approach. Breaking down silos in government, city staff work together to identify services that can help individuals avoid problem behavior that leads to arrests. Research has demonstrated that Safety Net has had a significant impact on juvenile arrests (according to a 2016 study, community arrests have decreased more than 50 percent since its implementation), recidivism, and service utilization (contracting with mental health services has led to an average of 94 outpatient mental health provider referrals per year).

Evidence-based decision-making guides all of this work. With the Cambridge Police Department’s Focused Deterrence Program, officials developed a “social harm index” to identify chronic offenders and the most-effective strategies for use of wraparound services. A mathematical model is used to evaluate the seriousness, frequency, and recency of harmful behavior to identify this small group of serious and prolific offenders. They then are partnered with social service agencies, community leaders, and other criminal justice agencies to implement an evidence-based crime-prevention program to directly engage with offenders in an effort to disrupt their harmful behavior before they re-offend.

This is what the future of policing looks like, Wagner says — “proactive strategies to try and prevent harm and crime through a safety net working with substance abusers and homeless outreach and social workers.”

Data lives at the core of the police department’s work in other ways as well. The department is working to improve how it measures whether racial profiling is occurring within the police force. Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr., who completed a Ph.D. dissertation about racial profiling, is moving the city away from population benchmarking to focus on the reason, duration, and severity of police stops.

With population benchmarking, Bard notes, governments look to see if a police force stops an appropriate percentage of people relative to the demographic profile of the city. But that approach doesn’t offer a full picture of a person of color’s experience with the police force. How long were they held? Were they given a more severe ticket or response than what a white person in the community stopped for the same offense receives? Cambridge’s new system is overseen by the police department’s Office of Procedural Justice, which is focused on monitoring data about police-resident interactions.

The new approach weighs the actions of individual officers against the actions the police department feels an officer could have reasonably taken in any given situation. It collects data at the individual officer level and is expected to be sharing aggregate data with the public by the end of 2020 with a sample dashboard available for the public.

Mission Control for Small Businesses

The Community Development Department (CDD) is also using data to improve the city’s quality of life — but in a very different way. It’s helping local businesses thrive.

Christina DiLisio, the CDD’s associate economic development specialist, wanted to create a tool that could help current and aspiring business owners access market research and understand the city’s business climate. In 2018, her department launched its free Small Business Data Dashboard to connect people to vital information such as customer base demographics, average industry wages, and regulatory requirements. The dashboard pulls information from the city’s open data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources to provide information on available local commercial properties, license and permitting information, and other business resources available from the city.

Robin Brown is a business owner in the Cambridge Food Truck Program. He owns and operates the Pull Up food truck which offers soul food and Latin cuisine. Brown has gone on to grow his business and has often checked in with the City of Cambridge to explore increasing vending opportunities. He’s been connected to the Small Business Data Dashboard with real estate options for potential brick and mortar locations.

“[The dashboard] lets people ask questions about their industry and have a productive conversation about potential pitfalls when starting a business.”

Community Development Department Associate Economic Development Specialist Christina DiLisio

“‘Do you know how to think about competitors? Do you know how much your goods cost?’ We can’t give people business advice, but we can give them valuable data,” DiLisio says.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

Nudges in the Right Direction

Cambridge’s commitment to setting goals and doggedly pursuing them is hard to miss in the realm of recycling. Back in 2009, the city committed to reducing trash across the city by 30 percent by 2020 (using 2008 as baseline). Its strategy partly focused on improving residential recycling practices.

Because of its data tracking practices, the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) knew Cambridge had a recycling contamination problem that was bad for the environment and its budget. When a load of recyclables is contaminated with things like plastic bags and clothing, it cannot be sold as easily–so waste management companies mark up their collection fees. Cambridge’s waste company sets its recycling contamination threshold at 7 percent; anything higher and the city has to pay more.

In 2018, when the average contamination rate was 11 percent, Cambridge set a new performance goal of reducing contamination to below 7 percent by the end of 2019. “Everyone in our division is really passionate about recycling and passionate about the environment,” Michael Orr, the Director of Recycling at DPW, says. “We decided we had to do this.”

If the city could train more residents to recycle properly, it would lead to more recyclable material being accepted, thereby reducing the city’s trash production and lowering hauling costs. The DPW took a data-driven approach, diving deep into contaminants so it could target its education efforts. It surveyed more than 1,000 recycling carts citywide and determined which items were most frequently the source of the contamination.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

By individually counting the contaminants in each cart, DPW staff learned where residents needed the most help. It then began new communication practices — one involved “OOPS!” tags to nudge residents toward better recycling habits.

Image Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

But DPW’s strategy for achieving its trash reduction goal didn’t only rely on changing resident behavior. With the assistance of What Works Cities partner, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University (GovEx), Cambridge developed a predictive model that allows the city to target outreach to properties more prone to recycling violations. The city also added financial incentives into its contracts with curbside pickup vendors. Now drivers can receive bonuses from the city for delivering recycling bins to collection facilities with little or no contamination, as measured by rejection rates. It’s a win-win-win: the city saves money on its overall waste bill, more material is recycled and drivers benefit as well.

By the end of 2019, the strategy had cut the contamination rate to under 6 percent. Cambridge met its 30 percent trash reduction goal in early 2019, one year early. However, the team isn’t planning on resting on their laurels. They are now aiming to reduce trash even further, to an 80 percent reduction of 2008 levels of waste by 2050.

“I’m incredibly proud of this achievement and the innovative waste reduction programs deployed by city staff,” DePasquale says. “Equally important, it highlights the close collaboration we have with the city’s passionate residents. Public buy-in and resident engagement are critical to accomplishing any citywide goal.”

Read more about Cambridge’s data journey here.

“This accomplishment highlights the deep commitment city departments have to data-driven decision-making.”

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale

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