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Luján de Cuyo, Argentina

Bajo Luján’s Journey to New Housing.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Equity, Health and Wellbeing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Technology, Transportation

At a Glance

Relocated more than 1200 families who lived in flood-prone areas.

Created a workforce development initiative that employed residents, renovated public land and expanded access to recycling centers.

Improved access to territorial data, which made getting land permit data faster—going from months of waiting to just three clicks. The platform, Luján 3D, allows renovations and housing development to have substantial improvements.

Improved accessibility for residents with disabilities through an adapted bicycle program.

In 2016, a survey conducted by the city of Luján de Cuyo, Argentina, revealed a heartbreaking reality. There were about 3,500 families who lived in marginal or informal neighborhoods, of which 700 were concentrated in the Bajo Luján area, often without basic services. The most vulnerable residents lived near a flood-prone river, underscoring the urgency for change. As a result, the City developed an ambitious urbanization and relocation project, supported by the World Bank.

At the heart of the initiative was a resident-driven approach. Residents were surveyed to identify and prioritize needs, including proximity to employment, family size, and level of need to minimize disruption to their daily lives. Efforts to monitor the impact of this relocation were key. A survey and audit process was initiated, capturing residents’ experiences before, during and after the move. This data was visualized through PowerBI dashboards, allowing real-time tracking of project progress.

“Governing is making decisions. Doing it well requires exceptional use of data. If we intend to achieve real impact in the community, our public policies must be data-driven. We dream of becoming an international example of well-managed local government.”

Esteban Allasino, Mayor

The result was the construction of 700 homes in 11 neighborhoods.

This enormous initiative not only provided new homes, but restored a sense of human dignity and trust in government for those who had long been marginalized.

Seven hundred safe and practical homes is a significant achievement.

Additionally, the community intervened and regularized other settlements benefiting 500 families, completing a very ambitious stage that managed to reach more than 35% of the most vulnerable sector of the City.

But the government did not stop there. City leaders knew that housing is only one part of poverty. Thus, in an effort to create employment opportunities, the city turned its attention to residents who worked at the landfills as urban recyclers.

These families made a living collecting recyclable materials from garbage dumps. To help them, the following public policies were promoted: Closure and remediation of garbage dumps, Social inclusion of urban reclaimers, Inclusive Recycling Program – Centro Verde. In this way, the city, together with a group of neighbors, mainly women, officially formed a cooperative. The City provided land and necessary infrastructure.

The Fortress of My Earth, which now has nearly 30 members, launched a program that uses geographic information system (GIS) data to strategically place recycling bins throughout the city. This project successfully increased the number of Green Dots from 8 to 65, ensuring that residents could easily find a container within 500 meters of their homes. This caused a notable increase in recycling from 2021 to 2023.

The story doesn’t end there. In 2021, the City cut the ribbon on Luján Park,  located in the previously abandoned housing settlement Bajo Luján. The area has been transformed into a lively community space, with children’s play areas with equipment made from recycled plastic from the cooperative.

The Bajo Luján and Centro Verde projects reveal how intertwined initiatives can have an exponential impact on residents’ lives. They boosted citywide sustainability, helping hundreds of Luján de Cuyo residents achieve housing stability and financial independence and building much-needed trust in local government.

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Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Data & Community Partnerships Key to Addressing Evictions in Alexandria

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Equity, Housing

At a Glance

Developed an automated system for gathering information on eviction court proceedings. The data informs the efforts of the Eviction Prevention Task Force, a City-community partnership that supports households at risk of eviction.

Since the CDC moratorium ended in August 2021 to the end of 2023, 7,968 evictions have been filed in Alexandria. With support provided by the Task Force and other community partners, only 1,018 of those evictions resulted in a resident being removed from their home.

An independent evaluation of the Alexandria Co-Response Program (ACORP) found that when its teams of trained law enforcement officers and behavioral health clinicians responded to 911 calls that could have resulted in arrests, 70% were diverted from legal action.

Launched an Equity Index Map in 2023 to identify disparities in key social and economic outcomes and to help city staff and community partners make equitable, inclusive and data-driven decisions.

Maintains 92 datasets and dashboards that track how well City programs are working, provide transparency to the community, and help inform collaborations with residents and stakeholders.

Housing affordability has been a priority and a work in-progress for the City of Alexandria for over a decade. Even before the economic volatility of the pandemic, 89% of renters earning $50,000 or less were housing cost burdened and paying over 30% of their incomes in rent. When the pandemic hit, many of these households had little financial buffer.

Hoping to stem a tide of evictions, legal and housing advocates across the city jumped into action. Rather than duplicate the work of local organizations, in June 2020, the City formed an Eviction Prevention Task Force to bring together local nonprofits, faith organizations, and City departments to share information and coordinate efforts.

“We have boots on the ground. We are triaging emergencies. This partnership with the City and faith-based community and nonprofits is unique to Alexandria,” Mary Horner, a housing attorney for Legal Services of Northern Virginia, said in July 2020. “It is the benefit of our size and our tight-knit community. Everyone is on the same team.”

One strength, in particular, the City brought to the partnership was in data collection and analytics. Legal Services of Northern Virginia had been collecting publicly available data on eviction proceedings from the Alexandria General District Court to guide outreach efforts to at-risk households – but that data collection was taking hours each week. The City’s Office of Performance Analytics (OPA) used funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to hire a data analyst to work with the Task Force. The analyst assessed the situation, built a web scraper that reduced the weekly data collection process to a few minutes, and developed a dashboard to follow trends and changes in the eviction landscape.

“We have boots on the ground. We are triaging emergencies. This partnership with the City and faith-based community and nonprofits is unique to Alexandria. It is the benefit of our size and our tight knit community. Everyone is on the same team.”

Mary Horner, Housing Justice Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Services of Northern Virginia

Coordinated, data-based outreach efforts by Task Force partners paired with state and local rental assistance proved incredibly effective in preventing evictions. Between June 2020 and September 2021, City departments helped 3,717 households secure city and state rental assistance.  In 2021, control of rental relief funds transitioned from local government to state government. From January 2021 to December 2023, Legal Services of Northern Virginia – with financial support from the City – provided legal assistance to over 3,500 people through courthouse outreach, representing 17% of tenants facing eviction.

The Task Force’s role has evolved with the changing eviction landscape. Pandemic-era federal and state eviction moratoriums and rental assistance programs have ended, yet evictions legally served to tenants are still below pre-pandemic levels. But the approach of using data and partnerships to improve housing stability is still producing positive outcomes. For example, when a state rental assistance program ended in 2022, a local church asked how much it would cost to stop evictions for the remainder of the year. Using data on the average amount of unpaid rent, the Task Force could answer and the church donated the money.

The City of Alexandria’s strong data foundation and investment in staff capacity made it a productive partner in the Eviction Prevention Task Force, helped bring housing stability to thousands of residents during the pandemic, and are informing the City’s ongoing efforts towards increasing housing affordability.

“The [Eviction Prevention] Task Force has done an impressive amount of work and, as you can see in the numbers, it’s making results. During the pandemic I saw a report that suggested that Virginia had the highest rate of any of the states in allocating federal rental assistance funds. That’s impressive for the entire commonwealth, but I would argue that it’s our efforts in Alexandria that probably made most of that happen.”

Mayor Justin Wilson

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Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Creating a One-Stop-Shop to Track Progress on City Goals.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Equity, Housing, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Technology

At a Glance

Charleston’s TIDEeye app helps the city and its residents monitor the effects of severe weather by providing real-time data on road closures and weather information.

Charleston has added almost 800 affordable housing units since 2016, and 500 more currently in the pipeline.

Data has shown that 86% of the affordable housing units in development are within .5 miles of public transit.

Known as a tourist destination with idyllic horse-drawn carriages, the City optimized equine waste management with GPS tracking. The system helped reduce cleanup time from 40 minutes to 20 minutes.

Using outcomes-based performance management practices to understand if programs are achieving their intended impact.

For cities with competing priorities and limited resources, making city-wide strategic goals built on data and evidence is an achievement in itself. But tracking progress, engaging residents and strengthening accountability is a tougher feat.

In 2022, the City of Charleston outlined six mayoral priorities and launched PriorityStat, an online dashboard and public meeting series to increase transparency and help the City and residents track progress on these six goals. While traditional city open data dashboards are organized around departments or services, PriorityStat takes a more innovative approach and is centered on City—and residents’—priorities.

For instance, FloodStat, one of the dashboards, is focused on protecting the City from sea level rise and flooding. In the 1950s, Charleston was impacted two  days per year on average by nuisance flooding. In the past five years, that average is now 61 days per year. Traditional dashboards would have relevant metrics, such as police complaints about flooded roads and properties, and city carbon emissions, in different dashboards since they’re in different departments. But addressing flooding and coastal challenges requires many departments to effectively work together. FloodStat helps break down silos by developing and regularly tracking metrics that require cross-agency collaboration. Additionally, it gives residents one place to see a more complete and clear picture of how the City is combatting its challenges.

Another one of the mayoral priorities is affordable housing. Home prices have jumped 78% since 2011 in Charleston—an unsurprising trend for a City with a 25% population increase since 2010 and more than 7 million visitors each year.

HousingStat allowed Charleston officials to develop a 10-year comprehensive plan to improve housing. To eliminate affordability gaps by 2030, the City learned that it needs more than 16,000 affordable units. HousingStat has also led to new programs, such as a Senior Homeowner Initiative, that has already helped 18 seniors become first-time homeowners. Regularly disaggregated data has helped the City allocate resources where they are needed most and develop more targeted strategies.

“We’ve been able to cut red tape on affordable housing initiatives. This is the largest, most ambitious affordable and workforce housing initiative in our city’s history.”

John Tecklenburg, Mayor

The City is clear that PriorityStat is still a work in progress. Two more dashboards are on the docket for 2024: one for mobility and transportation, and the other for neighborhood livability and resident quality of life. While these are being built, the City is actively seeking feedback and encouraging residents to watch public meetings on Charleston’s YouTube page.

PriorityStat is a performance management grand slam for the City. But more importantly it’s a win for residents. An unwieldy and unorganized performance management dashboard isn’t a platform that performs for residents. Charleston’s PriorityStat is different: by embedding accountability, transparency and collaboration into the fabric of the City’s strategic goals, residents know the City is making strides with them in mind.

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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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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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New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

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

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

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance

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

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

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

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

New Orleans’ Creation of New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
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Mesa, Arizona, USA


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

2023 Gold Certification

Mesa created a strategic dashboard to help park rangers on the front lines supporting unhoused residents. One of the first cities to join WWC in 2015, Mesa has seen an increase in unhoused residents gravitating toward public parks. As such, park rangers have increasingly become essential points of contact with these residents. One ranger spearheaded a collaboration between park rangers and the Housing department to better equip rangers with ways to support unhoused residents.Data has been a key component of the effort; notably, the City launched an internal homelessness dashboard customized for park rangers. It shows types of communication between rangers and unhoused individuals, which city parks have the highest homeless populations., how many contacts involved opioid/fentanyl use, and more. One example of this data-driven collaboration happened when Housing opened its Housing Choice Voucher Program waitlist. Mesa park rangers used information from the dashboard to better assist individuals applying for the voucher waitlist, specifically helping them apply in parks using park rangers’ vehicle computers.

2020 Silver Certification

Tested potential station locations against call locations, and identified the best property the city could buy to lower call response times.

Collected and analyzed emergency calls data to understand where and when the calls occurred to increase response time.

Used data to organize and upload budgetary requests ensuring smoother delivery at citywide meetings.

Launched HackivateMesa to collaborate with residents on data-driven solutions to community issues.

Mesa’s Approach to Public Safety

On the eighth floor, under City Hall’s historic copper roofline in downtown Mesa, AZ, a small team of data experts works in a room known as “the Attic.” Part of the Office of Management and Budget, the team leads the City of Mesa’s data analytics work, providing departments with ad hoc support around specific projects.

For years the data scientists’ work had flown under the radar in Mesa, a city of about half a million people that sits 20 miles east of Phoenix. That changed after the team partnered with the Mesa Fire & Medical Department in 2016 to help them maintain their international accreditation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). The CPSE increased the data requirements portion of the accreditation process. Chief Mary Cameli was not sure that they could pull the required data from their system, creating a possible block to their accreditation. At the same time, she had heard that some fire and medical units were stretched thin due to an overwhelming number of calls. That meant that both the response time and well-being of emergency personnel was stretching beyond national standards, creating public safety problems.

The data analytics team’s first step was to collect and analyze call and response time data to understand where and when calls to the department were occurring. The results uncovered by the team were sobering:

  • Over the previous 14 years, the number of daily medical calls had grown by approximately 90 percent, on average.
  • The city’s average response time to a call was seven minutes — beyond the national response time standard.
  • Some stations and response units had much higher call volumes and longer average response times than others.

With the support of the data team, the Fire & Medical department analyzed the existing resources against the demand for service. Over the years, stations and response units had been added as the city grew. But during that time, both the demand for service and the type of service changed based on numerous factors, like age of neighborhood and density of housing. Using the demand data, the department was able to realign their existing resources to better balance the call load on personnel.

One of Mesa’s radio dispatchers hard at work. Image courtesy of Mesa Fire Department via Twitter.

Due to the heavy weight on medical calls, Fire & Medical also implemented two Medical Response Units. These units were composed of the same personnel as the all-hazards units but did not work the traditional 24-hr shifts, allowing for more flexibility in the location placement and therefore assistance in reducing travel time. The results of the redeployment were seen quickly and presented to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

While the redeployment addressed some travel time issues, it couldn’t address the overall call response time issue. To solve that problem, the department would need to invest in a new fire station in northeast Mesa to rebalance unit locations in line with where calls were coming from. That would require approval from Mesa City Council — and additional funding.

The data analytics team stepped in to help Fire & Medical make the strongest possible case for both the need and the location. The team’s models tested potential station locations against call locations, and identified the best property the city could buy to lower call response times. When Strategic Planning and Analysis Program Manager Mark Castleton and Fire & Medical leaders proposed the new station to the City Council, solid data proved to be the decisive factor.

“Reviewing the data and process behind the decision allowed the City Council to focus on the relevant information and to quickly achieve a consensus.”

Strategic Planning and Analysis Program Manager Mark Castleton

The data team set up operational reporting that the department can review on a daily basis. In addition, city management has requested that the data team update the demand/response model annually as part of the budget process.

“We reached out to the data team to help us evaluate the current resources and the placement of future units to help with distribution of calls and to reduce response times.”

Chief Mary Cameli

Converts to the Cause

These data-driven results made Mesa Assistant City Manager John Pombier and other city officials a convert. Previously, Pompier, who oversees fire, police, emergency services, and human resources, had made decisions based on argument and rhetoric instead of data-backed evidence and results. If department directors gave Pombier a compelling reason why they needed more funding and/or resources, he would agree.

Since the City’s data analytics team proved its value to the Fire & Medical department, Pombier has changed his management approach, pushing department heads to gather data and then make decisions. Now, all budgetary requests must be backed up with data.

That shift builds on years of momentum in other parts of Mesa city government. With the support of City Manager Chris Brady and Mayor John Giles, Mesa was one of the first cities to join What Works Cities in 2015. It initially focused on refining and scaling MesaStat, the city’s performance management program, with the support of the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University.

City Manager Chris Brady and the Mesa Transportation Department during a MesaStat meeting.

Today, all departments now participate in MesaStat. Momentum to build a culture of data-driven decision making has really picked up in recent years. In 2019, Mesa hired its first-ever Chief Data Officer, allowing it to expand the city’s data governance practices. Public-facing efforts have also ramped up. Last year, the City launched HackivateMesa to collaborate with residents on data-driven solutions to community issues.

Empowering Employees to Step Up

Mesa’s Performance Excellence (PEX) Training Program is a great window into how the City has built its data-centric culture. Its guiding concept is that if employees are empowered to make improvements with the right tools and knowledge, they will deliver results. The City launched the program back in 2015 with the goal of deploying performance management and data analytics tools across departments to enhance decision making and improve performance. Any Mesa city employee can take advantage of training — and to date, over 1,500 have done so, on topics ranging from critical thinking to performance analytics.

A PEX certification program offers staff more structured professional development, and importantly, recognizes individuals for acquiring new skills and investing in themselves and the city. The Certification in Performance Excellence recognizes individuals for their “exemplary knowledge and effective use of the tools of performance management and continuous improvement.” Fifty-one employees from more than 12 departments across the city have now completed the certification program. It culminates in a capstone project that tackles a real problem facing the city.

Alison Walker, a budget analyst in the Office of Management and Budget, partnered with the Department of Human Resources for her PEX capstone project addressing the inefficiencies of a physical timecard system. Non-exempt employees have to punch in and out of work every day, and supervisors have to spend significant time entering timecard information and correcting missed punches. Walker’s PEX project analysis found that in 2018 alone, supervisors had to make 111,483 additional punches to correct employee oversights, and that the time they spent doing this translated into over $230,000 in wages.

Walker notes that one of lessons learned from the project was that “it’s important to let the data tell the story whatever that may be. Sometimes the original story you thought you were going to tell gets changed based on what the data depicts. Originally, I was hoping to find a way to reduce the time it took to fix a punch. After analyzing the data, I realized it’s better to encourage the employee to record their own punches as reducing the amount of time wasn’t a possibility.”

She presented her findings to Pombier, and the City has moved forward with two solutions: a mobile device platform offering digital time cards and a Missed Punch Campaign to promote the importance of accurate time cards across all departments.

Forecasting Balancing Act

Mesa’s data-driven performance management ethos is also apparent in its approach to utility rates, which have an outsized importance in the city. Mesa is the largest city in the United States without a primary property tax. The consequence of this quirk? With no property tax revenue, the City must be innovative in how it generates revenue. Major funding for an array of core city services must come from places like the water and electricity bills all customers pay.

But this is tricky, because what customers owe is based on their household’s consumption level. And in terms of water, consumption is impacted by how much it rains each year, because rain affects outdoor water use for lawns and landscaping. So for the City to accurately forecast its annual budget, it must analyze data on rainfall and consumption patterns and population growth projections, and then set utility rates accordingly. That task falls to Brian Ritschel, Deputy Budget Director, his team in the Office of Management and Budget, and utility departments. “The City is able to more accurately forecast consumption and usage based on seasonality by leveraging statistical forecasting techniques,” says Ritschel. “It informs and improves the utility rate setting process that will directly affect residents.”

Data analytics has become core to the crucial utility rate-setting process. The goal of that process isn’t just to bring in the revenue the city requires for services each year. Ritschel’s team also works to protect customers from sudden rate jumps that would translate into steep bill hikes. Smart use of data analytics allows the City to create long-term forecasts on a 5–8 year horizon, ensuring residents are not shocked when they open their latest bill. Through data-driven forecasts, the City can gradually increase a rate (e.g., 2% or 3%) annually across multiple years, instead of a drastic increase (e.g., 7%) in one year. “As the City of Mesa continues to grow, it is vital that the City has a multi-year forecasting process to balance the City’s growth with utility rate adjustments,” notes Ritschel.

Signs of Mesa’s remarkable growth trajectory are visible from the Attic in the City Hall: A construction site for the new Arizona State University campus sits a few blocks away. Mesa had the fifth fastest-growing job market and the eighth fastest-growing population in the country, according to Bloomberg CityLab’s 2019 rankings.

“Data is the fuel that powers our city’s efficient and innovative services, and the City has spent the last five years strengthening its capacities to understand, leverage, and forecast data and evidence.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles

As Mesa looks towards the horizon, the city is ready to both welcome new opportunities and tackle the challenges that come with rapid growth.

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Los Angeles, California, USA

Los Angeles: City of Angels Leads in Transforming Data into Action.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communications, Cross-Sector, Equity, Finance, High-Performing Government, Housing, Infrastructure

At a Glance

Published key metrics of success on the Mayor’s Dashboard allowing residents to see how the City is performing.

CleanStat measures quarterly, block-by-block assessments of the entire city to build data on and identify trends in street cleanliness.

After examining an index combining data of displacement patterns with predictive analysis, LA launched a campaign to raise awareness for tenants’ rights, reaching over 20,000 residents in the first year.

Open Data portal provide residents easy access to mapped sets of open data related to health, safety, schools and more.

How LA Measures Success

Los Angeles City Hall has a room with a view. Visitors who make their way to the building’s public observation deck can enjoy a vast panorama of the city below, home to some 3.9 million people. Inside City Hall, the permeation of what works practices is vast; one gets the sense that, after his election, Mayor Eric Garcetti came to the observation deck, looked around, and set out to determine how to embed data in everything the City touches.

That’s why one of his first moves as Mayor was to ensure that all 36 of the City’s General Managers develop key metrics of success for their departments, and then began tracking the data that would monitor progress toward their goals. Their progress is published on the Mayor’s Dashboard, where residents can see for themselves how well the City is performing — setting a new precedent for transparency in municipal service provision.

“Data shines a light on the problem and inspires targeted action. It allows us to be more proactive, more efficient, and more engaging.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti


As part of his Back to Basics approach, Mayor Garcetti launched CleanStat in 2016, so that all communities, regardless of their economic status, could enjoy clean streets. CleanStat, the nation’s most comprehensive street-by-street cleanliness assessment system, provides quarterly, block-by-block assessments of the entire city to build data on and identify trends in street cleanliness.

A sanitation worker assigns a cleanliness score to an LA street, part of the City’s Clean Streets initiative. (Photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

“When I came into office, my priority was to improve the quality of life for all Angelenos, and the use of data in assessment, monitoring, and implementation helped us achieve that,” says Mayor Garcetti. “Using data allowed our street-cleaning efforts to shift away from a reactive approach, and instead, focus on a methodical and equitable way.”

With CleanStat, staff from the Bureau of Sanitation drive all of the more than 20,000 miles of the city’s public streets and alleys, assigning a cleanliness score from 1 to 3 — or from clean to not clean — to every block, once a quarter. Those scores are added to the Clean Streets Index, where department officials can keep track of performance and residents can hold the City accountable for its goal to eradicate red grids (ones with a score of 3) by 2018. Residents who want to get more directly involved can sign up for the Clean Streets LA Challenge, with the potential to secure funding for a project to make their neighborhood cleaner.

Before and after a Clean Streets cleanup.

Because workers are generating service requests as they conduct assessments, the new approach is helping the department become more targeted in its response. Now, resources can be deployed to meet the specific needs of the site, and response teams can maximize efficiency. The department is also addressing between 4,000 and 6,000 service requests each quarter that wouldn’t have been called in otherwise, meaning streets are being cleaned more quickly. The results speak for themselves — just one year after its launch, the City had already reduced the number of unclean streets by 82%.

Rent Stabilization Ordinance Campaign

As in so many cities across the country, ensuring adequate access to affordable housing is a growing challenge in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, tenants living in any of the nearly 624,000 units covered by the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) have many rights that aim to keep them in their homes, including protection from excessive rent increases. But when the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) began to survey residents, staff made an alarming discovery: nearly one third of renters and nearly as many landlords were wrong about — or were not even aware of — their rights and responsibilities under the RSO.

Data helped LA identify which neighborhoods to target with a campaign to raise awareness of tenant rights under the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

Through Mayor Garcetti’s Innovation Team (i-team) within his Office of Budget and Innovation, the City of Los Angeles launched a multi-faceted Home for Renters campaign in 2016 to raise awareness of tenant rights through direct outreach, the creation and distribution of easy-to-understand educational guidebooks, placement of PSAs, and more. To ensure the campaign targeted the most vulnerable residents, the i-team examined an index combining data of displacement patterns with predictive analysis on where displacement was likely to occur, mainly households with incomes under $30,000 and areas with high concentrations of RSO housing units and complaints. In its first year, the campaign has reached over 20,000 people online, and more through rigorous field outreach, multilingual handbooks, and strategic ad placement on city buses and benches — all with the goal of increasing the awareness of rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords under the RSO.

More City Data, More City Solutions

A culture of data use has led to other notable developments, including a new portal tracking all city-owned properties so that staff across departments can better maximize available real estate assets when looking to develop new public amenities. A recent call for a Chief Procurement Officer demonstrates the City’s commitment to modernize the City’s procurement process in response to new technological advancements and data-collection capabilities. Through its Data Science Federation, the City is partnering with local colleges and universities to accelerate its use of data-driven tools at the same time that it’s creating a pipeline to bring new talent into local government. And the City is using data to see what works and what doesn’t as it pilots potential solutions to such challenges as police hiring, problem intersections, and the urban heat island effect before scaling them.

The City’s focus on data also aims to increase civic engagement with residents. Los Angeles’ open data portal greets visitors with an invitation to “find the data useful for you,” while the City’s GeoHub empowers residents with quick access to mapped sets of open data related to health, safety, schools, and more. These efforts are as much about fostering transparency as they are about working to build relationships with residents centered on collaboration and problem-solving.

“When the City gives residents the information to discuss our challenges, we are opening the door for them to help us work towards the right solutions. Los Angeles is a city that leads, and we are proud to pave the way for greater inclusion, opportunity, and equity for our residents in an era of accessible data that’s also ripe for innovation.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

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