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Monterrey, Mexico

Improving Quality of Life Through a Data-Driven, Resident-Oriented Municipal Budget

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Equity, Health and Wellbeing, Technology

At a Glance


5% of the City’s annual real estate tax is allocated to projects proposed by residents through the Participatory Budget.


10,254 of votes cast by residents in 2023 for participatory budget proposals in 2023—five times higher than votes cast in 2022.


313 project proposals submitted by residents for the 2024 participatory budgeting round.


30 projects funded in 2023.

In late October 2023, Monterrey residents and city leaders gathered at the Rube Bridge in the Bella Vista neighborhood to celebrate a resident-led transformation. A once nondescript concrete underpass, which many neighbors avoided due to open-air drug use and loitering, was inaugurated as a recreational space featuring a soccer field, basketball and tennis courts, modern lighting and benches. Plans for security cameras, a playground and murals are in the works.

This revitalization is the result of the City of Monterrey’s participatory budgeting (PB) program, which allocates five percent of annual property tax receipts to fund resident proposals each year. Launched in 2022, the proposal is part of the city’s growing commitment to collaborative government and data-driven decision making.

Here’s how it worked:

  1. A resident of the Bella Vista neighborhood submitted a proposal to revitalize the bridge underpass.
  2. The City approved the proposal and included it on the ballot.
  3. Voters approved related proposals in 2022 and 2023.
  4. Bella Vista neighbors formed a committee to review construction project bids and monitor work site progress. (The commitment to this project from Bella Vista residents is remarkable—residents helped keep construction materials secure by sleeping at the construction site.)
Image Courtesy of the City of Monterrey.

Residents are clearly powering Monterrey’s participatory budgeting process—and behind the scenes, so is data. To ensure that wealthy enclaves don’t receive a disproportionate amount of funding, the City divided Monterrey into 30 sectors based on their respective socioeconomic conditions. It then prioritized funding projects in vulnerable areas. Additionally, the amount of funds made available to a particular proposal depends on four factors: the number of inhabitants of the area, the correct payment of property taxes, the level of segregation and the amount of active neighborhood councils in a sector. All proposals put up for vote must also meet technical and legal requirements, as well as being aligned to the City’s strategic goals.

One signal of the PB program’s success? Its growing popularity. In 2022, residents proposed 265 projects, of which 160 were accepted by the City; 2,452 residents ultimately approved 30 to receive funding. Last year, the City received 280 proposals, with 172 deemed feasible and 30 selected by voters. More than four times as many people (10,254) voted on those projects, thanks in part to a city communications campaign that drew on results from a performance analysis of the PB program’s first year.

Today, with civically active residents and an administration that routinely uses data to identify and prioritize local needs, progress is happening in Monterrey. Across the city—the first in Mexico to earn What Works Cities Certification—public spaces are being rehabilitated and reforested, and mobility infrastructure is being made safer. This is what smart, open government looks like in action.

“By having transparency mechanisms in place so citizens can understand how we use resources and make decisions with data, we’re promoting collaboration between society and government. It’s about being able to understand and recognize what can be improved. If we don’t listen to citizens, we lose a fundamental way to keep growing and improving.”

Monica Medellín Estrada, Director of Proactive Transparency, City of Monterrey
Monterrey city staff share more about the participatory budgeting process. Image Courtesy of the City of Monterrey.

“As leaders we have to make decisions every day, otherwise things can fall apart. Whatever our intentions, data helps us know what to do. When you have data, you know you are making a good decision.” 

Luis Donaldo Colosio Riojas, Mayor

30 resident-proposed projects funded by participatory budgeting

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Rionegro, Colombia

Leveraging Data for Fiscal Sustainability

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Transportation

At a Glance


Has one of the lowest unemployment rates for mid-sized cities in Colombia at 7.5% in 2023, compared to the national unemployment rate of 9.3% in 2023.


Created the Tax Intelligence Center (CIF), through which the City developed its internal data management capacity and increased tax revenue by USD $14,000 in 2022.


In 2021, improved public safety by increasing the number of cameras throughout the City from 65 to 337, which has corresponded to reductions in theft, sexual and domestic violence, and extortion.


Implemented a data-driven triage system for hospital emergency rooms, saving the city $377,500 USD in operating costs (a 91% decrease according to the Secretary of Family, Health, and Social Inclusion).

In recent decades, Rionegro, Colombia, has invested heavily in sectors to improve quality of life for residents, such as housing, sanitation and public spaces. However, this investment has come at a cost, and since 2017, the Rionegro government has operated with a budget deficit. At the same time, the population of Rionegro has grown and its economy has diversified. At the same time, Rionegro’s population has grown and its economy has diversified, and while these developments open opportunities for Rionegro, they also come with challenges.

 

In response, Rionegro created the Fiscal Intelligence Center (CIF). CIF is a comprehensive citywide initiative to use analytics and business intelligence to monitor, manage, evaluate and optimize Rionegro’s financial decisions, notably regarding taxes. Through this data-driven approach, the City is better able to combat tax evasion by using data to choose who to audit. CIF’s work to revamp tax collection is about more than making sure residents contribute their fair share—it aims to transform the culture through taxpayer outreach so that residents see themselves in Rionegro’s development and build trust in city government.

 

What are CIF’s results?

 

Rionegro’s industry and commerce revenues increased by 22% in 2022 and another 24% in 2023.

 

Residents and city staff alike understand that more revenue means more opportunities for the government to address issues that matter, such as employment, security, community projects and health care.

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For instance, Rionegro struggled with overcrowded emergency rooms as residents, especially those from rural communities, flocked to emergency rooms with non-emergency needs. In 2022, Rionegro found that 93% of patients were admitted to emergency rooms for non-emergency services.

 

With strong data practices and increased revenue, Rionegro launched the Te Acompaño platform in coordination with other health service institutions. Te Acompaño helps redirect patients who might not need emergency services from emergency rooms and educate them on how to best seek alternate forms of care. Within the first year, the platform reached 8,000 users, helped improve health care resource savings by 91%, and saved the city’s health care system USD $377,500 in operations costs. In a resident survey, 93% of Te Acompaño users said they were satisfied with the service.

 

CIF is not a behind-the-scenes government initiative, it’s a program that directly impacts residents. From health care to mobility to employment, Rionegro’s residents are seeing how increased digitization and efficiency allow the City to provide better services and build trust with residents.

“With the commitment, support and coordination between the municipal administration and all the actors in the network, it will be possible to improve access and opportunity to health services.”

Felipe Puerta, former Secretary of Family, Health and Social Integration

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Carlsbad, California, USA

Data and a Cross-Sector Approach Lead to Street Safety in Carlsbad.

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

At a Glance


Using road collision heatmaps and other data to inform interventions, the City saw a 19% decrease in all injury collisions.


Monitored progress and changed course when needed to achieve traffic goals using Performance & Analytics strategies.


City’s staff telecommuting policy reduced employee commute time by 47,000 hours and saved the City between $300,000 – $400,000. It has also improved traffic conditions for all city residents and eliminated 424 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.


Budget and finance processes require data and alignment with the city’s 5-Year Strategic Plan, to ensure funds are efficiently and effectively allocated to address the most important priorities of the community.

The number of collisions involving bikes and e-bikes was already surging in Carlsbad when, in August 2022, two bikers were killed during a 10-day period. The City had issued an ordinance on e-bike safety a few months before, but the tragedies and an alarming 233% increase in collisions involving bike and e-bikes between 2019 and 2022 promoted greater action. City Manager Scott Chadwick declared a 6-month local emergency, which was ratified by the City Council at its next meeting. The emergency allowed the City flexibility to move quickly and focus resources on encouraging everyone to be safer on the road.

Some residents worried that the emergency declaration would lead to less access for bikes or more traffic. But Chadwick was able to reassure them. “We’re going to let the data guide us,” he said. And that is exactly what they did.

Immediately after declaring the emergency, the City began gathering and analyzing additional data on collisions. They created heatmaps to identify the most dangerous intersections, did a 5-year trend analysis, and set up tracking for the future. Armed with data and streamlined procurement processes as part of the emergency declaration, the City was painting key intersections and bike lanes with high-visibility green paint within two weeks. In fact, they moved so fast that they exhausted the supply of green paint in the region.

Within 30 days of the emergency declaration, the City had a full plan in place for improving street safety. The Safer Streets Together Plan seeks to change public behaviors and attitudes by focusing on education, engineering and enforcement. “It wasn’t just, ‘Here’s an emergency.’ The public saw real things happening in the first weeks and months and that’s how this has changed things so quickly,” Chief Innovation Officer David Graham said.

Six months after declaring an emergency, injury collisions across all transportation modes were down by 19% compared to the same time period in the previous year, and injury collisions related to bikes and e-bikes had decreased 13%. Graham points to qualitative measures of success as well – street safety yard signs and car window clings on display throughout the community, residents saying they are wearing helmets and slowing down, and the city’s partnerships with schools and bike organizations.

Because of the positive trends and evidence of behavior change, in March 2023 the City Council voted to extend the emergency declaration for a few more months. City staff hope that a year’s worth of data and analysis will help build a sustainable approach to traffic safety and that the early positive trends will become permanent.

The traffic safety emergency is not the first emergency that Carlsbad has tackled with data-driven decision making. It took a similar and equally successful approach during COVID. Hopefully the City won’t have cause for testing its emergency response again anytime soon, but having a well-honed system for collecting and analyzing data, and for innovating and tracking outcomes means that no matter what the future holds, Carlsbad will be well prepared to handle it.

“To see transformation in government you have to invest in areas that aren’t readily apparent like data and analytics, process improvement and operational excellence. When we work together with our community to discover shared insights around issues like traffic safety, we can create impactful change.”

David Graham, Chief Innovation Officer

It’s not easy to change the way people behave on the road. Often, you’re trying to change habits people have had for years or decades, for better or worse. By taking a balanced approach to traffic safety and digging into the data, we can see what’s working and what isn’t working, and learn how to be more effective as we move forward.

Scott Chadwick, City Manager

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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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Syracuse, New York, USA

In Syracuse, Data Delivers Efficient, Effective and Equitable Services.

Project Type:
Equity, Finance, High-Performing Government, Housing, Infrastructure

2023 Gold Certification


Several years ago the City of Syracuse teamed up with the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) to create a data-driven prioritization for road reconstruction. This year, the City and SMTC introduced an equity component to the priority scoring process to ensure that the City does not overlook roads in historically underserved neighborhoods. Inspired by equity score systems in other cities, the City created a metric to measure the amount of historically underserved residents in an area. The new model considers the equity score as well as road conditions when recommending reconstruction projects for the year. In this way, the City avoided completely reinventing the reconstruction priority process while introducing equity as an additional factor.

2021 Silver Certification


Compiled data from GPS units in each snowplow, allowing the city to create and publish an interactive map for residents to determine if a street was already plowed and allowing city staff to quickly identify any streets a snowplow may have missed on its run.


Created a database mapping sidewalks and walkways in 164 parks in order to improve its approach to snow removal, empowering the city to lower the average time to clear paths of snow from 3 days to 6 hours.


Gave city departments centralized access to budgeted and actual financial data, allowing staff to better predict funding needs and allocate resources. Analysis from this data saved the city an estimated $800,000 on salt used for de-icing.


Determined locations for new affordable housing construction by gathering and analyzing quantitative data on the locations of vacant properties and qualitative data from 800 resident interviews.

The Snowiest City

Syracuse, New York is seriously snowy. Averaging more than 120 inches of snowfall each year, it’s officially the country’s snowiest city. Throughout each long winter, staff in the Department of Public Works (DPW) work to keep roads and sidewalks clear and safe so residents can keep moving. Until a few years ago, Syracuse’s snow removal services were challenged, resources were limited, and many residents weren’t happy.

“I used to want to avoid Facebook every time we had a storm,” says Corey Dunham, the City’s chief operating officer. “There were just too many friends and family complaining about the snow on their streets!”

When Mayor Ben Walsh took office in 2018, he was determined to take a new data-driven approach to tackle persistent problems facing Syracuse residents. Whatever the problem in Syracuse today, a first step toward designing a solution is to dig into data. “You can’t fix what you don’t fully understand,” Mayor Walsh said in his 2019 State of the City address. Data helps the City understand the causes of problems and address them, he added.

With clear support from the Mayor’s Office, city staff have worked in recent years to build foundational data practices including general management, performance & analytics, and open data to improve the delivery of city services like snow removal. The aim is to deliver efficient, effective, and equitable services — a goal that has become core to Walsh’s administration.

“We’re not data-driven for the sake of being data-driven. Data empowers us to know if we’re being effective or not, and then pivot when we need to change.”

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens admits she was once a “data nonbeliever.” Now she has the passion of a convert. “Being able to use data to hone in on quality-of-life issues is crucial,” Owens says. “We spend too much time sending out a wide net when we should be honing in. Residents are impacted by our ability to take data and use it to solve the problems they care about.”

Plowing Through Data

The Parks Department and DPW’s effort to overhaul how they prioritize clearing snow from roads and sidewalks shows how data can translate into better and more transparent city services.

During snow events, the DPW snow plows move into action. The department follows a system of prioritizing city streets for snow removal: the first priority is always emergency routes, followed by hills around the city and roads with significantly higher levels of traffic. Flatter city streets generally found in residential neighborhoods come next.

Clearing the City’s streets after a snowfall. Image courtesy of the City of Syracuse.

The City compiled data from GPS units in each snowplow to create and publish an interactive map on the City website, enabling residents and property owners to track the path of snowplows during storms to determine if a street was already plowed. The map includes timestamps of a plow’s most recent pass of a street. The data also equipped the DPW staff to more quickly and accurately identify any streets a snowplow may have missed on its run.

To improve sidewalk snow clearance, the City took a similar approach. Working with the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, a team of DPW staff members and transportation planners first mapped foot traffic, building a dataset detailing which sidewalks are used most frequently and which are adjacent to the most dangerous streets. Again, data analysis showed the obvious snow removal strategy.

“We determined the most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cleared sidewalks in those areas first. Using data, we were able to make and defend decisions about why we chose to clear certain streets and sidewalks over others.”

Chief Operating Officer Corey Dunham
Image courtesy of the City of Syracuse.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs also dug into data to improve its approach to snow removal. The first step was mapping all the sidewalks and walkways in Syracuse’s 164 parks it is responsible for — 13 miles total, the department learned. Previously it would take three days after a major snow event to clear all sidewalks and walkways. After creating a color-coded map making priority routes clear — and buying two Bobcat L28 machines enabling a sidewalk to be cleared in just one pass — the department now clears them in just six hours.

Syracuse officials have also used more data-driven budgeting practices to save money on road de-icing materials. Previously, each department across the city was managing its own financials and budgeting from budget-to-budget, instead of actuals-to-budget. By centralizing the budget planning process and providing actuals to departments, Syracuse was able to make better spending decisions. This approach allowed DPW to analyze data for how much salt it purchased each year for de-icing and how much salt it actually used. The ultimate outcome: officials were able to better predict how much salt they needed to buy. Last year, the data-driven effort helped the city save an estimated $800,000 on salt purchases.

More Results to Come

Syracuse’s efforts to strengthen its data culture and practices have yielded benefits beyond snow removal. The City has also used data-driven problem-solving skills to address more complex challenges, such as poverty, inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Looking ahead, exciting things are in the works — all fueled by the data capacity Syracuse has built. Later this month, the City plans on unveiling a brand-new resident information system revamping its city service request system into a more comprehensive and user-friendly portal.

And by the end of the year, Syracuse will build the first 25 of 200 one- and two-family housing units through the new Resurgent Neighborhood Initiative (RNI). The program supports city neighborhood planning and revitalization at the block level. Affordable housing construction locations were chosen by analyzing quantitative data detailing the locations of vacant and unused properties, and gathering qualitative data through 800 resident interviews conducted over eight months. This stakeholder engagement helps ensure equity, so the City can better deliver on the promise of affordable housing.

“Whether the challenge is housing, a pandemic, or snow removal, being a data-driven city means efficiently, effectively, and equitably delivering services that taxpayers pay for,” Mayor Walsh says. “This is the nuts and bolts of local government.”

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South Bend, Indiana, USA

South Bend Charts its Future, One Dashboard at a Time.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Finance, High-Performing Government, Housing, Parks & Recreation, Public Safety, Technology, Transportation

2023 Gold Certification

South Bend, Indiana has been leveraging data and performance management to support its struggling utility customers. First, throughout 2021, the City closely tracked utility payment behavior to understand household vulnerability. The data work justified and contributed to the design of a post-COVD utility bill forgiveness program that impacted 4,957 households. The City also evaluated its existing, monthly Customer Assistance Program (CAP) and discovered two important things: the monthly discount program was burdensome to apply for and was dramatically undersubscribed. To solve the process problem, the City remade the program into the Utility Assistance Program and adopted best practices by shortening the application, testing it with users, and taking away document requirements. To solve the undersubscription problem, the City created a strategic performance management and outreach program called “Assistance Stat” in 2022. Assistant Stat brought together the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Innovation & Technology, neighborhood canvassers, public health workers, and librarians together to track uptake in various undersubscribed government programs and plan data-driven outreach and events.

2020 Silver Certification


Used the Hub data-site details officer recruitment efforts, breaking data down by gender, ethnicity and hiring stage, and links to more information contextualizing the dataset and explaining the overall recruiting process.



To ensure access to affordable and reliable mobility options, outcomes-based procurement strategies were applied to ensure better quality and more effective rideshare services for community employees and residents.

Committing to Data

For decades, South Bend’s national reputation has centered on “the Fighting Irish,” the famed football team of neighboring University of Notre Dame. The reality is that South Bend is far more complex and dynamic than its image as a college town implies.

The city of about 100,000 people is a former manufacturer hub reinventing its economy for the post-industrial age — something two-term mayor and former Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg liked to note on the campaign trail. And South Bend’s government is also charting a new path for itself. It has led by example in recent years, embracing technology and data-driven practices to spark innovation, engage residents, and improve city services. These new approaches to governance started under Buttigieg and continued under Mayor James Mueller, South Bend’s former Director of Community Investment and Chief of Staff.

As Chief of Staff, Mueller oversaw the launch of a new Department of Innovation & Technology — I&T for short. Over the last four years, the department has provided support to strategic initiatives and internal departments, moving critical projects forward while championing the use of data to improve processes.

“Our Department works across a wide variety of city teams to forward data governance, transparency, process improvement, technology implementation, and analytics,” said Chief Innovation Officer Denise Linn Riedl.

Staffed to serve all city departments, I&T is the centralized office for all things data and technology in South Bend. SBStat, a citywide performance management program, is managed by I&T, along with SB Academy, the government’s internal employee training program for technical skills and leadership. But the department also directly supports things far more visible to South Bend residents — like the police department’s “Transparency Hub.”

“The City of South Bend is committed to data and technology excellence and that was codified with the creation of our Department of Innovation & Technology.”

Chief Innovation Officer Denise Linn Riedl

Boosting Police Transparency

The Hub’s central goal — to gather and share with the public valuable data and information about police operations into one accessible location — aligns perfectly with I&T’s mission. Initially launched in 2017 by I&T and the police department, the Hub features new additions and improvements each year, including a new recruitment and diversity analysis in 2019. Another highlight of the Hub is a dashboard detailing calls for services, shootings and various other crimes.

A dashboard on the police department’s Transparency Hub. Image courtesy of the City of South Bend.

South Bend policing practices came under heightened scrutiny after Eric Logan, a black resident, was fatally shot by a white officer in June 2019. A community outcry followed and national media outlets covered the story as Buttigieg returned to South Bend from the campaign trail. City residents are looking for greater accountability and transparency, and the Hub is an important part of the police department’s commitment to those values. Looking ahead, the city plans to make greater detailed data on Use of Force and include Group Violence Intervention data publicly available on the Hub. The SBPD and I&T teams are also partnering to work with city residents to make the Hub more interactive and user-friendly.

Of course, data transparency is only one step in the journey of broader reform and improvement. As the entire country has focused on reforms to policing following the death of George Floyd, the City of South Bend has worked to move forward with plans to implement multiple policing reforms, including new discipline policies for the department. The Department of Innovation & Technology spearheaded efforts to collect public input on the latest draft of disciplinary changes, as well as facilitating public feedback on budget decisions for 2021.

South Bend Police Officers, I&T, South Bend Council Members, and residents at a Feedback/UX session held to brainstorm improvements to the Police Transparency Hub in 2020. Image courtesy of the City of South Bend.

Beyond accountability and transparency, the Hub also supports the police department’s civic engagement efforts — including partnering with the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) to recruit a more diverse officer corps reflective of South Bend’s population. The site details officer recruitment efforts, breaking data down by gender, ethnicity and hiring stage, and links to more information contextualizing the dataset and explaining the overall recruiting process. “We want people from our own backyard to join the team, but we also want people from other areas, with other experiences and ideas, to call South Bend home too,” said Ruszkowski.

Why such a focus on recruiting? The city wants potential officers — especially people of color and women — to become familiar with the application process so they can prepare for the steps in the application process where people most often stumble. As a result of this tracking, the police department has already taken action to improve the process, including reducing the number of police officers at interviews and adding new training resources and events before physical tests.

New Views on Green Space

Another data-driven project I&T has helped make reality involves parks. Aaron Perri, the Executive Director of South Bend’s Venues, Parks, and Arts (VPA) Department, wanted to maintain the city’s parks more strategically and efficiently. VPA partnered with I&T and used SB Stat to identify and track park condition metrics over time.

The result of the partnership was the Parks Health Dashboard, an internal tool which will launch publicly in 2020 and includes maintenance statistics regarding mowing, park assets, tree coverage goals, and graffiti removal. But every park’s performance isn’t measured in the same way — staff decided that parks of different sizes and with different facilities should not be benchmarked in the same way. For example, a larger destination park such as South Bend’s Potawatomi Park, should be mowed every five days, whereas a smaller neighborhood park might need mowing every two weeks. After establishing targeted benchmarks, Parks Department staff discovered they were actually over-mowing many parks.

The playground at Potawatomi Park. Image courtesy of the City of South Bend.

Using the analyzed data, the department was able to reduce the overall amount of time and money spent on mowing parks. John Martinez, VPA’s Director of Facilities and Grounds, sees the Parks Health Dashboard as a means to track consistent maintenance goals. While these daily goals seem small to most, in reality they add up to long-term savings for the City while maintaining standards for residents.

“The value and impact of maintenance is hard to quantify, because it’s largely not noticed by the public unless it’s in a state of disrepair,” said Martinez.

“The Parks Health Dashboard allows us to directly show the residents the value of our preventative maintenance programs and capture the meaningful work our employees perform in public spaces. It represents the safety inspections, planning, and intentionality we have with managing community assets.”

Director of Facilities and Grounds John Martinez
A view from the Parks Health Dashboard. Image courtesy of the City of South Bend.

Martinez has also pointed to the motivational power of data for his team. When a frontline worker sees the dashboard displayed, they see how the bars and numbers change from the beginning of their shift to the end. They can see visually how their daily work contributes to system-wide health for the City’s parks.

Beyond improving operations, morale, and transparency, the Parks Health Dashboard also revealed to staff how their work can improve equity across the city. Staff are not simply maintaining parks that receive the most 311 calls for improvements from residents, they are proactively prioritizing parks maintenance based on a comprehensive set of metrics that assess parks health. This new approach ensures parks health is applied equitably across the city regardless of how affluent a neighborhood is, as 311 data shows 311 is a resource that is more likely to be used by residents that live in affluent neighborhoods.

A Data-Driven Future

Additional improvements are planned for both the police department’s Transparency Hub and the Parks Health Dashboard — and the city is moving forward with other data-driven projects involving financial transparency, public health, and transportation access. When data showed that a lack of reliable transportation was the top barrier to employment for one-third of low-income workers in South Bend, the city acted.

I&T is expanding the Commuters Trust program, which aims to solve transportation challenges using support from a three-year grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge. South Bend piloted the guaranteed-ride program in 2019 with three employers (including the University of Notre Dame) and more than 200 participants. Three-fourths of participants said that guaranteed transportation to and from work prevented them from missing or being late to a shift and allowed them to work more shifts. There was a 29 percent decrease in absences. To ensure access to affordable and reliable mobility options, I&T is applying outcomes-based procurement strategies, with the support from the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, to ensure better quality and more effective rideshare services for community employees and residents.

The Technology Resource Center, where I&T, Commuters Trust, and the local South Bend Code School work, symbolizes South Bend’s commitment to leveraging data and technology to improve the region and lift up all residents. The 12,500 square-foot facility opened in December 2019 and provides a space where education, government and the private sector can come together to solve problems and grow tech skills, Mayor Mueller said in March. The Center is dedicated to helping everyone learn about technology and data and build an inclusive tech future for South Bend.

The City holds technology and data trainings out of the TRC. The picture above shows a PC refurbishing and giveaway event at the TRC in partnership with the South Bend Community School Corporation and PCs for People. Image courtesy of the City of South Bend.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m proud of what our team has accomplished in partnership with all city departments,” said CIO Riedl.

“Data continues to shape program design, evaluation, and transparency, but we want to take that a step further and engage residents with the City’s data and put that information in service to them. We hope the TRC and its programming can help accomplish that.”

Chief Innovation Officer Denise Linn Riedl

For updates on the data and technology-related work coming out of South Bend, you can follow the I&T team’s Medium Blog.

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Seattle, Washington, USA

Seattle: Transforming a City in Fast-Moving Transition.

Project Type:
Communications, Equity, Finance, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure

At a Glance


Initiated a data-driven approach to homelessness intervention that reoriented providers’ thinking — and their service delivery models — around the goal of ensuring any experience of homelessness in Seattle is rare, brief, and one-time.


Used a results-based contracting approach to monitor contract progress and encouraged contract managers and providers to meet regularly to review performance data.


Developed a dashboard focused on homelessness-related data from twelve departments to have better situational awareness of the homelessness crisis, in addition to how human services programs are performing.

Seattle is More than a Cup of Coffee

Fast-paced economic development is bringing plenty of high-tech jobs to Seattle and leading to spikes in household incomes, but progress isn’t being felt by everyone. It’s also contributing to a severe shortage of affordable housing and a homelessness crisis that led the City to declare a state of emergency in November 2015. This wasn’t for a lack of funding directed toward the city’s most vulnerable residents; Seattle’s budget for homeless services grew from $29 million in 2005 to $50 million in 2016 while homelessness continued to rise. Struggling to keep up, the City had to take a hard look at how it was tackling the crisis.

In response, the City launched its Pathways Home plan to shift its focus away from emergency, short-term interventions toward longer-term solutions, using data-driven decision-making to guide the way. As the City says, “Every dollar spent on emergency beds is a dollar not spent on strategies that allow people to exit homelessness.” A critical aspect of the plan was to rethink relationships with outside providers that contract with the City’s Human Services Department (HSD) to provide homelessness services, beginning with a pilot of $8.5 million worth of contracts. The pilot was carried out as part of Seattle’s engagement with What Works Cities partner the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School.

George, Maria, and their young son are among families that nonprofits contracted with the City have helped to move into permanent housing.

Through the pilot, providers were no longer tracking indicators like how many beds were filled or meals were distributed, but rather metrics such as how many people moved into permanent housing or became homeless again after being served, and how long they experienced homelessness. The approach reoriented providers’ thinking — and their service delivery models — around the goal of ensuring any experience of homelessness in Seattle is rare, brief, and one time. By using a results-based contracting approach, that’s what the City began holding providers accountable for too; contract managers and providers began meeting regularly to review performance data, enabling the City to troubleshoot problems in real time and spread the most effective practices.

“It’s not just about more money, although more resources is important. It’s also about thinking and how we do our work differently. How do we use data in a way that is not just compliance-driven, but helps us figure out what is working for people we’re trying to support out of crisis?”

Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester

Seattle has just expanded the pilot to $34 million in contracts awarded to bidders following the issuance of the City’s first competitive RFP for homelessness services in ten years. By keeping providers on target with performance benchmarks, the City aimed to double the number of people being moved into permanent housing by the end of 2018. Seattle is also expanding the performance-based model even further — across the entirety of HSD, which invests $105 million in contracts annually. Simultaneously, the City is developing a dashboard that will bring together homelessness-related data from twelve departments to have better situational awareness of the homelessness crisis, in addition to how human services programs are performing. Soon, real-time data will be available to staff, enabling a more coordinated, citywide approach to tackling the problem, tracking vendor performance, and more.

These efforts are part of a larger culture of data use throughout City Hall. Seattle was one of the first cities in the country to pursue open data and has a robust approach to engaging residents that goes beyond simply publishing data sets on its open data portal. The City is also advancing skills it developed with What Works Cities partner the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University by rolling out performance management citywide. To help facilitate that process, the City’s Office of Performance is conducting twelve-week engagements with departments on a rolling basis to train staff. “Getting people the right resources — that’s what’s critical to getting the job done,” says former Organizational Performance Director Tyler Running Deer, who also worked extensively to help departments link their performance and budgeting goals. Seattle is also sharing progress toward citywide goals via its performance portal, one of several public-facing ways residents are kept informed.

After data showed that use of a former bikeshare program wasn’t offsetting its cost or meeting users’ needs, the City piloted a dockless model.

By tracking data and seeing what works, Seattle is learning important lessons about when and how to allocate funding, manage programs, or sometimes, when to shut them down. In one recent example, the City rolled out a bike share program, but data showed use wasn’t offsetting the cost and the service wasn’t meeting users’ needs. Bike docks were taking up valuable parking space, much to the dismay of local business owners. A highly-used station was located on a hilltop, so users weren’t returning the bikes, leaving the task to a truck that drove large numbers of bikes back to the dock at the end of each day. Now the City is piloting a dockless model with three different companies that are funding the program through their own revenue, and had to provide a data-collection plan before receiving permitting. Users can take the new bikes on the routes they truly travel and park them in more convenient locations. Without the temptation to concentrate docks in the highest-income areas, the hope is that bike access will also become more equitable. So far, the results seem promising, but for this city, there’s more than time that will tell — there’s also data.

Read more about Seattle’s data journey here.

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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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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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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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