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Issaquah, Washington, USA

Data Helps Issaquah Close Gaps in Homeless Services

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Equity, Housing

At a Glance

Staff from the City’s Homeless Outreach program had 1,555 interactions with unhoused community members between September 2021 and January 2024. On average, it takes four to five interactions with a person before they consider accepting services.

Created and launched Data Quah, a data training program for staff. All new hires participate in Data Quah 101 to learn about the City’s data collection and tracking systems. Over 50% of staff engaged with Data Quah in its first year.

Monitored crime trends and partnered with local businesses to gather and share data. In 2023, burglaries fell by 37% and thefts by 26%.

Using data to show how investment in the arts promotes tourism and economic development. The City tracks requests for arts grants, providing insight into community-wide needs and allowing for more strategic funding decisions. (Jakob is a city art highlight.)

Staff from the City of Issaquah’s Human Services team first met John in September 2021. At the time he was camping under bridges and had been homeless for four years. It took repeated meetings to build enough trust with John to begin the process of finding him a permanent home. With the help of the City, federal rental assistance and family, John moved into an apartment in March 2022. 

John is one of 37 people the City has helped move into permanent housing since it began its Homeless Outreach Program in June 2021. It has also provided unhoused community members with over 1,000 connections to services, such as temporary shelter, transportation and medical treatment. 

The Homeless Outreach Program started with a goal of filling information gaps about homelessness in Issaquah. Data collected by the Human Services team showed that homelessness was more prevalent than originally thought, and that shelter, treatment and affordable housing were needed in Issaquah. These findings were incorporated into the first-ever Human Services Strategic Plan, which includes goals and action steps for effectively responding to homelessness. In 2022, the City began using an online dashboard to track data from the Homeless Outreach Program and share timely updates with the community. 

“We’ve got some good data over time. But are we really able to tell that we got the outcome that we were trying to? Not just that we tried, but that we moved the needle.”

Mayor Mary Lou Pauly

Trends emerged from the data. Because Issaquah didn’t have an emergency shelter, people had to leave town for a bed, something many did not want to do. Even when they were willing to accept shelter, 43% of the time no beds were available in the regional shelters. To fill the need, the Homeless Outreach Program began collaborating with a local hotel franchise to provide emergency shelter during extreme winter weather.  

The initiative was modeled on a successful hotel-based emergency shelter program King County ran during the pandemic to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Human Services staff found that people were more likely to accept shelter in a motel room in Issaquah during extreme weather than other shelter options. The stability of the motel also allowed staff to engage more consistently with individuals, build trust faster and make quicker progress on service goals.

Seeing the positive outcomes, the City proposed expanding the collaboration with the motel beyond short-term shelter and into emergency housing. Data gathered from the homeless outreach encounters led to the City Council’s approval of a pilot program. The pilot program dedicated 12 rooms in the motel to supporting community members as they move from homelessness to permanent housing. The Human Services team, in partnership with the City’s Performance Program Analyst, will continue to collect and analyze data, look for trends, and evaluate whether their approach is alleviating homelessness in Issaquah.

1,073 connections to services, including temporary shelter, basic needs and transportation

From left WWC’s Emily Ferris, Issaquah’s Assistant to the City Administrator Dale Markey-Crimp, and WWC’s Jake Hemphill in front of Issaquah’s troll, Jakob Two Trees. Jakob is one of six trolls that form a large-scale public art installation.

“I was approved for a voucher to find housing. They did that for me!! The City of Issaquah rescued me but that’s only part of it. The man, Amir, who helped me went above and beyond the call of duty. He drove me places to apply, he paid deposits and holding fees. He started out as a case manager, but I consider him my friend.” 

John, Issaquah resident who experienced homelessness

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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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Denver, Colorado, USA

How Denver’s Outcomes-Focused Approach to Homelessness Delivered Results.

Project Type:
Finance, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Homelessness

At a Glance

Looked at evidence-supported methods to increase housing stability and decreased incarceration among homeless residents.

Provided real-time data to monitor air quality in Denver schools by using low-cost, cutting-edge air pollution sensor technology, equipped with solar, battery storage, and data connectivity.

Implemented a pay-for-success contracting model that used data to identify outcomes rather than outputs, reaping greater investments for public programs such as housing.

Denver’s Dedication to Results

The United States’ homelessness crisis has only worsened during the pandemic. Local governments searching for innovative and replicable solutions to this persistent challenge should look to Denver, Colorado. In recent years, the City has addressed homelessness through a pay-for-success contracting model that implemented an outcomes-based, Housing First approach.

A Denver Rescue Mission men’s shelter. Photo by Evan Semón courtesy of City of Denver.

It all started with a commitment to using data to identify outcomes rather than outputs, says Margaret Danuser, Denver’s deputy chief financial officer. City leaders dug into the city’s homelessness challenges, zeroing in on a particularly costly part of the problem: the homelessness-jail cycle. Without access to housing, many individuals experiencing chronic homelessness become trapped in a cycle that takes them in and out of jail, detoxification centers, or emergency rooms. The cycle makes it nearly impossible for them to find stability or to access the medical care they need. It also comes at a large cost to taxpayers; officials estimated that just a few hundred chronically unhoused people were costing the City $7.3 million each year in public safety and healthcare-related services.

With the aim of breaking this damaging cycle and mitigating costs, the City launched the Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond (SIB) Initiative in 2016. The first step was to identify participants. Using a list of names compiled by the Denver Police Department from arrest, jail, and emergency services records, local service providers walked city streets to find individuals stuck in the homelessness-jail cycle. They identified 250 people. Through partnerships with two key service providers, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Mental Health Center of Denver, SIB offered these individuals housing and intensive wraparound services to help them get back on their feet. The initiative followed the Housing First approach, which quickly gets people into housing without any preconditions. SIB participants also received a menu of services to help them get identification, medical care, and therapy; reconnect with family members; and access substance abuse treatment.

But what really sets SIB apart is a first-of-its-kind pay-for-success model. The City organized a pool of private SIB investors to commit $8.6 million dollars in upfront funding to pay for wraparound services. It would only pay back the investors if certain outcomes were met. There were two major targeted outcomes: keep SIB participants stably housed for 365 days with no more than 90 days out of housing, and reduce criminal justice involvement among SIB participants.

Denver’s Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond (SIB) Initiative brings together private investors, city government, and service providers. Image courtesy of the City of Denver.

Developed with support from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab, an expert partner of What Works Cities (WWC), this pay-for-success contracting method is a stellar example of results-driven contracting, one of the foundational practices of What Works Cities Certification.

“Having that upfront money was a game changer for us. It allowed us to ensure stability for tenants immediately.”

Denver Deputy Chief Financial Officer Margaret Danuser

It shifted the risk to the investor group because if the outcomes were not achieved, the City didn’t have to pay.” On the other hand, if outcome goals were exceeded, investors had the opportunity to not only recoup their funds, but receive a return on investment (ROI).

“We wanted to know the true impact of an investment or program, and we wanted to pay for real results.”

Denver Deputy Chief Financial Officer Margaret Danuser

A Clear Win-Win

In the end, SIB’s outcomes-focused approach transformed many participants’ lives, far exceeding the initiatives’ goals. An in-depth rigorous evaluation by the Urban Institute tracked outcomes, showing that 86% of people receiving supportive housing remained in their new homes at the end of the first year. After three years, 77% were still stably housed. Participants had a 34% reduction in police interactions, spent 38 fewer days in jail, and experienced a 40% reduction in arrests compared to a control group. Moreover, SIB participants had a 40% decrease in emergency department visits and a 155% increase in office-based visits, where they could receive preventative care.

A staff member (left) at a men’s shelter meets with an individual in need. Photo by Evan Semón courtesy of the City of Denver.

Having a third-party evaluator has helped build trust between service partners and the City, Danuser says. “It was timely and it gave us a really clear picture of what was going on.” Guided by data detailing desired outcomes, the City made an additional $675,000 in the initiative, expanding SIB midstream in 2018 by an additional 75 participants.

At the program’s conclusion at the end of 2020, the City of Denver had paid investors a total of $9.6 million across five years. The payback encompassed funders’ initial investment of $8.6 million, plus an ROI of $1 million because SIB goals were exceeded. But that was money well spent in two respects, says Stephanie Karayannis Adams, director of Denver’s Budget and Management Office. Hundreds of lives have been transformed through stable housing and better medical and behavioral care. And by helping people get out of the homelessness-hospital/jail cycle, the City avoided millions of dollars in costs associated with that cycle.

“Without SIB, it’s likely that many of the initial 250 participants would have continued to require high levels of public safety and healthcare services. That would have cost the City more than $9.6 million across five years. So to us, this initiative is a clear win-win in terms of people’s lives and public spending.”

Denver Director of Budget and Management Office Stephanie Karayannis Adams
The SIB Initiative takes a Housing First approach, quickly getting people into housing without preconditions. Photo by Evan Semón courtesy of the City of Denver.

Critically, SIB’s strong results illustrated what many homelessness policy experts have long felt to be true: Supportive housing helps people and communities create lasting change. When asked how the program impacted their lives, participants shared how they felt a sense of relief and security for the first time in years. They told stories of decorating their kitchens, rediscovering a love for cooking, hosting family visits, applying for work, and saving money for the future.

With the number of individuals experiencing homelessness growing since the pandemic began, the City of Denver is recommitting to SIB’s successful outcomes-centered strategy. In 2022, it signed a performance-based extension of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless’ contract to continue providing supportive housing to SIB participants. In addition, the City’s Department of Housing Stability (created in 2019) will oversee a new program funded through the federal Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA). This permanent program, called Housing to Health, will provide 125 additional individuals with supportive housing and basic health services.

“SIB’s pay-for-success contracting model powered an innovative housing approach that both changes lives and saves money — the data proves that. Now, we’re scaling up the strategy with confidence.”

Denver Deputy Chief Financial Officer Margaret Danuser
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Chicago, Illinois, USA

How Chicago Is Improving Homeless Shelters Through Results-Driven Contracting.

Project Type:
Equity, Finance, High-Performing Government, Homelessness

2023 Gold Certification

In 2019, the Chicago Department of Public Health gathered data on the health and life expectancy of Chicago residents, and the social and institutional inequities affecting both. It then used this data to prioritize, plan and implement the goals and strategies of Healthy Chicago 2025, the City’s five-year community health improvement plan. The plan’s vision is for a city where all people and communities have power and equitable access to resources, environments and opportunities to promote optimal health and well-being. This includes making data available so that communities can use it in their own efforts to promote health equity. One way the City is realizing this vision is through a Data Academy. The Academy teaches residents how to access hyper-local data, to use data to prioritize resources, to effectively communicate data findings, and to learn to write research questions – all with the goal to “Empower communities, with data, to tell their story.”

2021 Silver Certification

Utilizing data as both an information-finding, accountability, and performance management tool.

Applied results-driven contracting strategies to improve Chicago’s homeless services system.

Helped a shelter increase the number of assessments it completed from 63% to 84% by collecting housing data metrics and collaborating with shelters to share resources and practices.

Improving Chicago’s Homeless Services System

On any given night, over 5,000 Chicagoans are experiencing homelessness on the streets or in shelters. “We’re in the middle of a crisis,” Chicago Alderman Harry Osterman, chair of the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate, said in September.

Part of the City of Chicago’s response to this long-standing challenge, which the pandemic has worsened, is to create more affordable housing. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Department of Housing announced the largest investment in affordable housing in the city’s history in December 2021. That plan involves 24 developments selected through a first-of-its-kind data-driven racial equity impact assessment.

A commitment to data-driven government and equity is apparent in another key way the City addresses homelessness: improving its homeless services system. A top priority of the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), which manages a continuum of coordinated services such as homeless shelters, youth programs, domestic violence programs, veterans resources, and workforce services, is to reduce homelessness. In pursuit of this goal, in recent years DFSS has applied results-driven contracting (RDC) strategies, one of the foundational practice areas of What Works Cities (WWC) Certification.

A Chicago DFSS staff member conducts a wellness check. Image courtesy of the City of Chicago.

“DFSS sees data as both an information-finding tool and an accountability and performance management tool,” says Kim Howard, project manager for DFSS’ Homeless Services Division. Mindful that the department is the primary funder of homeless shelters in the city (its funding supports about 70% of shelter beds), the division began looking at the shelter system as a key area where it could apply RDC to drive improvements.

“The reality is that our shelters are under-resourced and overextended, so we wanted to focus their efforts on one key goal: increasing the number of people who quickly transition from the shelter system into permanent housing,” Howard says.

“We aim to infuse equity in everything we are doing to better serve our residents. Data is key to this process.”

Chicago Chief Data Officer Nick Lucius

Driving Strategic Alignment Across Shelters

From the beginning, DFSS saw its RDC effort as a strategic component of a broader data-driven performance improvement framework called a Commitment to Outcomes. “RDC places the positive outcomes we would like to see for Chicagoans at the center of our work,” says Christian Denes, DFSS’s director of strategic planning and impact. “It’s a tool that aligns funding with goals and builds the foundation for continuous improvement with our partners.”

With critical support from Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab (GPL), a WWC expert partner, DFSS developed new RDC processes, including new request for proposal (RFP) and contract requirements, that supported its goals. Prior to implementing new requirements, the department provided shelters with a proposed list of metrics the organizations may be expected to report on during their contract period. Through a three-month pilot in 2018, which involved frequent reviews of data to improve outcomes, the City was able to refine these metrics with the shelters to identify those that mattered most to its North Star: getting more people into permanent housing more quickly. (Tracked metrics include the number of clients and households served, average number of days in shelter program, and percentage of households exiting to permanent housing.)

With lessons learned from the pilot in hand, DFSS then rolled out a new “active contract management” (ACM) process to a cohort of 18 shelters serving families as well as five others serving single adults. The department asked shelters to collectively develop a process map that showed all key activities they did with clients, from when they showed up at the door to when they exited. Completion of the coordinated entry assessment emerged as a crucial metric. This assessment, a national best practice required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ensures that clients are on the list to be matched with permanent housing resources. By collecting data on this metric and bringing shelters together to share best practices, DFSS was able to support one shelter in increasing the number of assessments it completed from 63% to 84%. (Offering more flexible intake hours proved crucial.)

DFSS staff meet with Chicago residents. Image courtesy of the City of Chicago.

The department’s ACM data review also revealed that a small percentage of families in shelters were accessing permanent housing through the coordinated entry assessment, based on prioritization criteria. Conversations with families and case managers underscored two additional reasons families often continued to remain in shelters: lack of sufficient income and lack of affordable housing. So Homeless Services Division staff ramped up efforts to connect these families with job training services, SNAP benefits, and/or DFSS’ Workforce Development Division.

DFSS was also able to bring data to the Department of Housing to articulate the need for affordable housing earmarked for households making 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). This advocacy helped shape the $1 billion affordable housing investment plan unveiled in late 2021. Nearly 700 of 2,428 newly built units will be family-sized and 394 units will be affordable to households earning 30% of the AMI.

DFSS is still relatively early in its change journey. The RFP process and shelter contracts (which run on two-year cycles) were updated with key performance indicators for the first time in 2018, and the department has continued to improve its RDC processes through subsequent RFP cycles while also integrating the new approach into its other contracted services. “It’s helpful to think of active contract management as a learning cycle,” Howard says. “We have the goal of improving services right away, but we also take learnings from our service providers and apply them to our next request for proposal.”

Lessons learned by the Homeless Services Division have been shared with all divisions in the department, helping to build a culture of data-driven governance and sparking conversations about the strategic value of data. “Our next step as a department is to dig further into the data from an equity standpoint,” Denes says.

“We want to ensure that those who are most in need are getting the right kind of support.”

Department of Family and Support Services Director of Strategic Planning & Impact Christian Denes

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Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Chattanooga’s Data-Driven Mission to End Veteran Homelessness.

Project Type:
Equity, Finance, High Performing Government, Homelessness

At a Glance

Used data to more efficiently and quickly address the veteran housing crisis by understanding the size and scope of the problem, coordinating with city officials, and measuring their impact.

Chattanooga’s Police Data Initiative analyzed arrests, traffic citations, 911 calls, and use of force, and created a Police Equity Dashboard to implement more equitable practices.

Residents can access performance dashboards and keep tabs on everything from infrastructure issues to the average length of traffic jams via open data platform

Affordable Housing in Chattanooga

2014 was a decisive year for the city of Chattanooga. Then-Mayor Andy Berke set the ambitious goal of housing all of the city’s homeless veterans by the end of 2016, creating a special task force and signing on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

“We met that goal by the hair of our chin,” says Tyler Yount, the City’s former director of special projects, who served as head of the mayor’s task force composed of city officials, homeless service providers, community leaders, and veterans.

How did they house every veteran? In Chattanooga, a city of about 180,000 people located along the Tennessee River, the task force took a data-driven approach. First, it canvassed the city to track down every homeless veteran — they found a total of 184 individuals. Next they mapped and analyzed every step involved with housing veterans, looking to streamline and improve the process. Then they began holding weekly meetings with case managers and officials at city agencies that addressed homelessness in order to share and implement ideas. It was an iterative and at times painstaking process, but it moved the needle in the right direction.

Tracking progress toward housing the City’s homeless veterans was supported by a dashboard detailing the status of time-bound, measurable goals. The task force created it in partnership with Chattanooga’s Office of Performance Management and Open Data (OPMOD). The office has been at the center of the City’s years-long commitment, supported by What Works Cities (WWC), to build a data-driven culture that prizes transparency, accountability, and evidence-based evaluations of programs and policies. All this prior investment and work has built a strong foundation for the task force’s success.

The mayor liked the task force’s dashboard so much that he tracked it on his smartphone — which helped the task force stay focused on success. “Having support from the top for our data-driven approach mattered,” Yount says. One major problem the team discovered while sifting through data: Some veterans with housing vouchers had difficulty finding a place to live and signing a lease within the 90 days required by the Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA). Vouchers would expire after that point, forcing homeless veterans to start the city’s housing assistance process over again. At the task force’s request, the City hired housing navigation assistants to help veterans secure housing. The result: People were able to be housed weeks — even months — faster than they would have without targeted support.

Another successful process improvement involved CHA paperwork. The task force worked with the agency to expedite processing of required paperwork by weeks. “Lots of small tweaks like that saved us three weeks here, five days there,” Yount says. “There was no magic wand — we just had to chip away at the problem and try to make the housing process better and easier for veterans.”

When the task force began its work in Spring 2014, the average time it took to get homeless veterans into housing was close to 300 days. By the end of 2016, it shrank to about 60 days. By then, the city had achieved “functional zero” when it came to homeless veterans. This metric, developed by the national advocacy organization Community Solutions, means the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in Chattanooga is less than the number of veterans it has proven it can house within a month. To reach this milestone, a community must first gather quality data on every homeless veteran and update it at least monthly to ensure that when a veteran does become homeless, the ordeal is brief.

“We would try different solutions and then look at the data that month to see if it got people moving into housing faster.”

Chattanooga Former Director of Special Projects Tyler Yount

Building a City-Wide Learning Culture

The City has scaled up similar data-driven techniques to address homelessness as a whole in Chattanooga while also making data-driven governance and innovation the norm across other realms. OPMOD, which launched in 2014, works to harness data and use specific performance metrics to support projects that can improve the lives of residents in areas like economic growth and public safety.

For example, OPMOD staff has helped with Chattanooga’s Police Data Initiative. The team analyzed arrests, traffic citations, 911 calls, and use of force, and created a Police Equity Dashboard to break down the data. The process revealed that Chattanooga’s nonwhite residents were disproportionately cited for driving without insurance or with an expired registration. The city is now working on how to better help minority populations with vehicle upkeep.

“Our approach to data in the city is very mission-driven. We don’t do data for data’s sake. We’re very purposeful in why and how we use data. And we’ve tried to create a learning culture built around it.”

OPMOD Director of Performance Management & Open Data Tim Moreland
A screenshot from Chattanooga’s open data portal. Image courtesy of the City of Chattanooga.

To that end, Chattanooga began holding monthly data-driven performance meetings called ChattaData in which the heads of city agencies team with OPMOD’s three data experts to crunch numbers and tackle big issues. The City also created an open data platform,, so that residents can view performance dashboards to keep tabs on everything from property crimes to the average length of traffic jams. (Technical assistance received from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence, a WWC expert partner, in part focused on open data practices, including automating the flow of data to the platform to increase access to real-time data and better respond to resident requests.)

Chattanooga also embraced budgeting for outcomes, an approach that involves specifying outcomes the city hopes to achieve through the annual budgetary process, creating plans for how to achieve them, and then using data to measure progress. And in 2017, Chattanooga launched the Peak Academy, which trains city employees to use data to drive innovation. Moreland estimates that about 200 people from various city departments have attended the intensive five-day “black belt” training program, which is based on a successful program in Denver, Colorado. The expectation is that each attendee returns to their regular duties ready to implement three innovation ideas that can improve work processes and the delivery of city services to residents.

Peak Academy graduates. Image courtesy of the City of Chattanooga.

Even small, relatively simple innovations can have big impacts over time, Moreland says, while building “connective tissue between city staff and between staff and residents,” he says.

“That’s one thing that’s really special about Chattanooga and the culture we’ve created around data-driven work in the city. It’s very collaborative, it’s very open, and at heart it’s about service, making the city a better place.”

OPMOD Director of Performance Management & Open Data Tim Moreland

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Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Project Type:
Community Engagement, Equity, Finance, High-Performing Government, Homelessness, Housing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Transportation

2023 Gold Certification

Boston, MA is building a more inclusive city by improving how it asks for gender-identity data. City officials in Boston recognized that gender and sexuality help shape an individual’s identity. In 2023, the Equity and Inclusion Cabinet investigated how and when the City should be asking about gender identity through a series of data-driven projects including an in-depth literature review, soliciting resident feedback through focus groups, and a process mapping of the Boston Marriage License experience. Based on the City’s findings, the City has taken steps to support individuals whose gender and sexual identities have historically not been recognized by no longer requiring sex or gender identification on marriage licenses. In addition, the Cabinet developed a citywide Gender Aware Guidelines and Standards for the collection of gender-identity data.

2020 Silver Certification

Data-based dashboards offer transparency around City programs and demonstrate progress on goals like improving EMS response times and reducing double-parking.

Revising performance metrics and contracts with outside vendors to focus on outcomes incentivizes city agencies to produce tangible results. For example, this drove the Hubway Bike Share system’s improved user experience by increasing access to the bike share system for low-income and minority communities through data analytics.

Community engagement increased significantly as a result of Boston’s user-friendly data-driven investments that include testing different communication methods such as targeted emails and social media posts.

Driving Boston’s Progress and Performance

Achieving What Works Cities Certification builds on Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. Imagine Boston 2030 will guide growth to support the city’s dynamic economy and expand opportunity for all residents. The plan prioritizes inclusionary growth and puts forth a comprehensive vision to boost quality of life, equity, and resilience in every neighborhood across the city. Shaped by the input of 15,000 residents who contributed their thoughts to the plan, Imagine Boston 2030 identifies five action areas to guide Boston’s growth, enhancement, and preservation, and is measured against metrics to evaluate progress and successes.

Image Courtesy of the City of Boston.

In addition to Imagine Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh’s Administration also launched CityScore in 2016, a metrics-driven program and first-of-its kind tool created by the City of Boston to provide Mayor Walsh, city staff, and residents a way to understand the overall health of the City by scoring the City’s performance on individual metrics and delivering a single, indicative number to see how operations are going on a day-to-day basis. (Any score over 1.25 is considered perfect.) CityScore continues to provide real-time data on how city services are operating, and has led to increased investments and improved services, including in EMS response times.

Boston applies its analytical expertise to many challenges, including:

  • Ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2018 with innovative new software for Boston’s Way Home;
  • Working to create 53,000 new units of housing at a variety of income levels, to ensure growth and prosperity in every corner of Boston;
  • Launching Analyze Boston to create more transparency around city data;
  • Using data for everything from improving EMS response times to tackling double-parking;
  • Making data-driven investments through the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.
Image Courtesy of the City of Boston.

Ensuring Strong Outcomes

The city has also worked with What Works Cities (WWC) partner the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School to redesign contracts with outside vendors to ensure better results, including for its bike share program — with a focus on making bikes available throughout the city, and not just in more affluent areas — and new city roadway and building projects.

Boston also revised its performance metrics for city departments to ensure stronger outcomes. In Public Works, for example, instead of keeping track of potholes filled, the department has focused on creating an average pavement index for the city, seeking to assess what percentage of roads are in good repair. The City also developed milestones to hold itself accountable for making progress each year.

Engaging Communities to Reimagine the Future

The city has also worked with What Works Cities (WWC) partner the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School to redesign contracts with outside vendors to ensure better results, including for its bike share program — with a focus on making bikes available throughout the city, and not just in more affluent areas — and new city roadway and building projects.

Boston also revised its performance metrics for city departments to ensure stronger outcomes. In Public Works, for example, instead of keeping track of potholes filled, the department has focused on creating an average pavement index for the city, seeking to assess what percentage of roads are in good repair. The City also developed milestones to hold itself accountable for making progress each year.

Image Courtesy of the City of Boston.

For Imagine Boston 2030, the City ensured — through innovative mapping tools, texting, and multiple digital formats, including old-fashioned street canvassing — that thousands of residents would have the opportunity to give their opinions on everything from transportation to open space. Indeed, the plan has 14 metrics tracking, among other issues, housing, premature mortality, walkability, safety, childhood poverty, education, and job creation.

“It was imperative to bring data and innovation to planning what Boston could look like in 2030.”

Imagine Boston 2030 Executive Director Natalia Urtubey

“It’s the first time we’ve done a plan like this in 50 years, and we were very ambitious about what we wanted it to contain. Our vision was that individuals could engage with the data in an easy-to-use way; we wanted to send a clear message of how the City is working collaboratively toward its goals, making sure Boston is a better place for everyone who lives here.”

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