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Córdoba, Argentina

From Paper to Digital in 3.5 Years.

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

At a Glance

Three and a half years ago, Córdoba did not have any digital processes and used paper for nearly everything. Today, the City has a data governance practice and more than 100 out of 275 identified processes are digital.

88% of the people that uses the health system now have their medical records digitalized.

VeDi App, launched in 2019, has more than 1.1 million users, 70% of Córdoba’s population.

18,000 residents have been trained in digitization courses to reduce the digital gap, of which 80% are women.

In 2019, when Córdoba, Argentina, Mayor Martin Llaryora entered office with a mandate to improve data-led practices, the City of 1.6 million had a small budget and operated almost entirely on paper. For residents of this vast city, which covers an area more than three times the size of Buenos Aires, this meant frequent trips to municipal offices and bureaucratic struggles to address simple issues. 

Córdoba transformed this experience quickly by creating a data governance practice. That allowed the City to prioritize 275 procedures that could make lives easier for residents, such as obtaining driving licenses and building approvals. Mayor Llaryora is most proud of the City’s Citizen App, used by more than 1.1 million people — about 70% of the population. The app lets residents file claims and generates valuable data about problems around the City, helping officials focus resources on issues important to their residents, such as waste, lighting and traffic signals.

“This is an example of hope for Latin America because although we have a very low budget, we were able to develop a smart city.”

Martin Llayora, Mayor

Córdoba has also made progress in adopting digital tools in public health policies. Different community vaccination strategies are now digitalized on the basis of Epidemiology records or the “Mejorar” free electronic prescription program. This online provision and authorization system meant a change in the public drug dispensing system.

Along with its digital efforts, Córdoba is making progress to reduce the digital gap, particularly among women, with Corlab, the city’s Innovation Lab that offers training programs for residents. Through its “Menos Brecha, Más Comunidad” program, out of the 18,000 citizens who have been trained, 80% are women. For a city with a tight budget, adopting the cloud has been doubly beneficial: simplifying processes and eliminating paper waste has saved more than 3.5 billion Argentine pesos across 22 City departments and agencies.

This rapid digital conversion delivers more than savings for the City, it’s a transformation with far-reaching consequences—from everyday services like trash pickup and traffic lights—to the times when residents count on their government the most.

We have the data to know that we are going down the right track. The data is not there to punish you, it’s there to help you course correct.

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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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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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Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

From the Pony Express to AI Traffic Control: Scottsdale Drives toward the Future with Data.

Project Type:
Communications, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Parks & Recreation, Technology, Transportation

2023 Gold Certification Highlight:

For several years the City of Scottsdale has been tracking and monitoring short-term rental properties and complaints about them. In 2022, the Arizona Legislature passed a law allowing cities to license short-term rentals and regulate nuisance properties. The City quickly sprang into action, adopting rules requiring short-term rentals to be licensed and creating Good Neighbor Guides to educate short-term rental property owners and their neighbors about the requirements. The CIty also created a Short-Term Rental Map Tool that allows residents to view the license status and understand the impact of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods. The Map Tool draws on the City’s Data Service Standard – one of the first cities in the United States to publish one – that guides the City in developing reliable and informative data services and products for its residents and businesses.

2019 Silver Certification

Launched an open data portal that provides performance data to collective benchmarking databases, which allows cities to help each other set more informed targets and put their own progress into perspective.

Used predictive analysis to calculate yearly projected water needs, which has allowed the City to continue a 20-plus-year streak of pumping less groundwater out of its aquifers than it puts back in.

Teamed up with the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) to identify the effectiveness of messages on utility bills through randomized control trials that led to more customers choosing eco-friendly, cost-effective options such as signing up for paperless billing.

Analyzed the effects of altering traffic signals after prior accidents to develop data-based, location-specific plans for minimizing traffic jams after future accidents.

Honoring Scottsdale’s Memory

The skies were clear blue at noon as a crowd cheered the world’s oldest official Pony Express to the end of its 200-mile journey, outside the Museum of the West, in Old Town Scottsdale. This annual delivery of 20,000 pieces of first-class mail is among the special events and other attractions that bring about 9 million visitors and around $41 million in tax revenue to this Southwestern city each year. Old Town, the City’s downtown, still grows olive trees from its first days of settlement in the late 1800s, at the same time that it has become the spring home of the San Francisco Giants and begun to emerge as a center for high-tech businesses. It’s just one manifestation of how Scottsdale, the “West’s Most Western Town,” is a city that remembers its past while steadfastly preparing for the future.

The Hashknife Pony Express comes to the end of its 200-mile journey in Old Town Scottsdale.

Adopting a Business Mindset in City Hall

Scottsdale stands out for adopting a business mindset to run a well-managed government, embracing transparency so that residents receive the information they deserve, and embedding data in decision-making to ensure the best outcomes. And the efforts are paying off — in conserving water, serving vulnerable residents, minimizing traffic jams, and beyond.

Scottsdale joined What Works Cities in June 2016 and, soon after, codified an open data policy and launched an open data portal. Scottsdale has also deepened its citywide performance management. City Manager Jim Thompson says, “When we look at data and analytics, even though we assumed something was best, when we overlay old data with new or more specific data, we may find a new way to do things.” To continuously evaluate progress is to continuously improve.

The City is publicly reporting on that progress through a public-facing performance management portal, and provides performance data to collective benchmarking databases, an effort that allows cities to help each other set more informed targets and put their own progress into perspective by comparing themselves to other similar municipalities regionally and nationally. Scottsdale has gone on to earn a 2018 Certificate of Excellence in performance management, the highest distinction, from the International City/County Management Association.

If it’s a flaw in a process that’s causing shortcomings in performance, Scottsdale has a solution for that, too: a cross-departmental team that helps colleagues from across City Hall implement process improvements. A recent project involved modernizing the website for reserving facilities like picnic areas or volleyball courts from the Parks & Recreation Department. What was once a landing page with instructions to call a landline transformed into a full-service resource for determining availability and making a booking. Use of the website increased 200 percent in the first month following the redesign. Most importantly, residents are happier, and the ability to provide better customer service is boosting morale among department employees.

Making Every Drop Count

The Scottsdale Water Department Director Brian Biesemeyer was acting City Manager when Scottsdale’s open data work got underway, so it’s no surprise that he’s pointing his team to the numbers to make sure “every drop counts,” as he aptly puts it. As a desert city, Scottsdale understands the value of water to residents and the economy.

Scottsdale’s Central Arizona Project water treatment plant on its Water Campus.

Each year, by October 1, the department must submit its water order for the following year — meaning calculations for projected water needs are already underway 14 months out. In 2018, by using predictive analytics, there was a difference of fewer than 100 million gallons (or 0.4%) between planned and actual water use. An inaccurate prediction could have required tapping into underground aquifers — a crucial reserve in this arid city — or paying for water it didn’t use. An accurate water order not only saved money; it allowed the department to continue to recharge local aquifers. In doing so, the City continued a 20-plus-year streak of pumping less groundwater out of its aquifers than it puts back in. Scottsdale was the first city in Arizona to achieve this feat — known as safe yield — and has received the Sustainable Water Utility Management Award, from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the highest industry recognition for municipal water providers. Accurate data analysis and transparency help drive better planning practices that benefit Scottsdale residents now and over the long term.

Data analysis has also saved the department nearly half a million dollars each year by tracing the need for costly meter replacements in one part of the City to a pH imbalance, now corrected, originating from the water plant serving the affected area.

Gathering BITS of Insight

Scottsdale regularly communicates with residents on everything from issuing water bills to recruiting new employees. When Scottsdale joined What Works Cities, it expressed an interest in identifying which messages resonate best with local residents. Scottsdale city staff teamed up with the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) to determine the answer by using randomized control trials to test the effectiveness of messaging and keep tweaking them accordingly. Pretty soon, they identified messages on utility bills that led to more customers donating $1 per month to local nonprofits, or signing up for paperless billing, a more eco-friendly, cost-effective option.

After ending technical assistance with BIT, the City created a team of internal consultants — the Behavioral Insights Team Scottsdale, or BITS — to carry the work forward by helping staff in departments across City Hall apply behavioral science to their projects. The department that’s engaged most with BITS has been Human Services; they’ve identified effective messaging to recruit more volunteers for programs focused on assisting vulnerable seniors, including Beat the Heat and Adopt-a-Senior.

Most recently, they’ve focused on Adopt-a-Family, a program that recruits volunteers to provide food and gifts for income-eligible families during the holiday season. Human Services Specialist Sue Oh recalls a 2018 volunteer who received a family’s wish list, which included a request for a boy’s polo, and wanted to find out what style the child wanted.

When Oh reached out on behalf of the volunteer, she learned that the child’s mother had passed away; his grandmother was now caring for him and his siblings. Oh related this to the volunteer, who began to cry and shared that her husband had recently passed away. She said, “I know this is what I’m supposed to do,” Oh recalls, and voiced her plans to volunteer again this holiday season.

By integrating testing into communications, Scottsdale is more effectively and efficiently engaging with its residents.

The Road Ahead

Scottsdale’s Traffic Management Center.

Sometimes the effects of using data are quietly unfolding behind the scenes of what most residents see on a daily basis. Take the City’s Traffic Management Center, where analyzing the effects of altering traffic signals after prior accidents has informed the development of data-based, location-specific plans for minimizing traffic jams after future accidents. Now staff are turning those human-gathered insights into algorithms that will eventually allow machine learning to respond with greater precision.

There’s a lesson here: Getting from point A to point B in the best way possible is a great goal for the road — and a useful metaphor for driving progress effectively — but it always involves planning ahead. As Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell drives back to City Hall after our visit to the Traffic Management Center, he paraphrases how a former council member once put it: “See those trees planted there? They’re there because someone in the past was thinking about the future.”

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San Jose, California, USA

Harnessing Silicon Valley’s Genius in San Jose.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Cross-Sector, Equity, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Technology

At a Glance

Implemented public-private partnerships to identify barriers to break down the digital divide and make internet access more equitable in one of the nation’s largest cross-sector digital inclusion efforts to date.

Set up grant-based contracts for local community-based organizations to help them deliver broadband to 50,000 unconnected households by the year 2030.

Launched an app for residents to both submit service requests and receive service information from the city, which fields 165,000 service requests a year.

The Silicon Valley

San José’s status as the capital of booming Silicon Valley is hard to miss. Construction cranes dot the skyline, powering the city’s steady downtown growth. Major tech companies like Zoom and Cisco call the city home, Google will soon open a huge new campus on 60 acres downtown, and giants like Apple and Facebook are headquartered in suburbs just to the west. With great pride in its diverse heritage, this is a city oriented toward the future, a stance reflected in San José City Hall. The postmodern structure’s glass-paneled rotunda confidently embraces the Valley’s nearly constant sunshine.

With five major roadways criss-crossing the city, a gleaming new BART line, and a major public transportation hub set to open in 2021, strengthening connections to Oakland and other East Bay locales, San José is poised to become a true hub of the Bay Area. The region’s tech talent and entrepreneurial spirit is alive in City Hall, with leaders and staff of all stripes having spent time in the local private sector. They bring big aspirations of impact to this diverse city of more than one million people, of whom 40 percent were born outside of the United States, and over 10 percent live under the federal poverty line.

“Like any city, we have our share of challenges,” Mayor Sam Liccardo says. “But there’s a lot about San José that can be a model for others in the country. If we can get things right, it can be the next great American city, the next great model of a multicultural, diverse city.”

Underlying San José’s aspirations is a foundational belief in balancing innovation with equity and inclusion. It’s a new take on the Silicon Valley-esque mindset of growth at all costs. And it’s at the core of its “Smart City Vision” to deploy data-driven decision making and technology to continuously improve how City Hall serves residents.

Using Data to Bridge the Digital Divide

Universal broadband access is part of the city’s current “Smart City Roadmap.” The fact that people in Silicon Valley’s largest city lack broadband access was unacceptable to city leaders, so in 2016, working from the premise that internet access is a basic human right in the 21st century, Mayor Liccardo launched the Digital Inclusion Fund, pledging to close the digital divide.

Led by the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and the City’s Office of Civic Innovation and Digital Strategy, this public-private partnership between local government teams and external partners is believed to be the nation’s largest cross-sector digital inclusion effort to date.

The first step was to learn who lacked access. Working with external partners such as Stanford University, the City’s digital inclusion team used a variety of data sources to identify over 95,000 San Jose households without access to broadband. After creating a heat map of the digital divide down to the neighborhood level, the team canvassed over 600 residents and conducted street surveys and interviews in multiple languages to identify primary barriers to access.

Digital exclusion heat maps developed by the city to identify “digital deserts” and further identify which populations have the least access to a broadband connection. Image courtesy of the City of San José.

“We knew we needed to bring ‘hyper local’ solutions to San José’s digitally underserved communities. We integrated several data sets to develop a geography-based ‘Digital Exclusion HeatMap’ that allows the City and our partners to know exactly where to expand existing programs and develop new solutions — which library, community center, or park, for example, would be most effective in providing free Wi-Fi, device lending, and digital literacy training to our underserved communities in East San José.”

Civic Innovation Director Dolan Beckel

With this essential data in hand, the team identified three critical components for digital inclusion: (1) an affordable broadband connection at home, (2) a working device, and (3) digital literacy skills. The City then made the case to external private-sector funders, including major telecom companies and others in the private sector, to help fund the initiative.

A streetlight in San Jose outfitted with small cell technology. As of June 25, 2020, over 250 small cell sites were on-air and operating across the city, with another 1,479 sites under construction. Image courtesy of the City of San Jose.

Funding for San José’s broadband strategy is bolstered by the deployment of “small cell” technology — basically, 5G-compatible antennae that can be installed on rooftops, streetlights, and other locations. Beckel’s team negotiated innovative outcomes-driven contracts with telecom companies Verizon, AT&T, and Mobilitie on behalf of Sprint: pricing was structured so that the cost per broadband-enabling small cell site built by the telecom giant was tied to the number of sites built. To support residents in need of the other two components of true digital inclusion — working devices and digital literacy — the team set up grant-based contracts with the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and local community-based organizations.

The City is now on its way to improving broadband for all San José residents while simultaneously delivering broadband to 50,000 unconnected households by the year 2030. Since the implementation of the digital inclusion program began, 23 grants totaling $1,000,000 have been issued to San José community-based organizations with the goal of achieving 4,000 “adoptions” in the next year (i.e., connecting previously unconnected households to broadband internet access, ensuring household members have the appropriate devices, and providing digital literacy training). Average connectivity speeds across the city have improved fivefold to 30Mbps per second, and permits approved for construction of small cell sites have skyrocketed — up from five permits total in 2017 to more than 70 permits each week as of early 2020.

The vital importance of closing the digital divide and building out a city-wide digital infrastructure that connects all its residents — and ensures equity in digital access — was underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. San José was one of the first places in the country under a stay-at-home order, which immediately presented challenges for work and education for the thousands of school-aged children in the city.

San Jose’s #SiliconValleyStrong landing page, which was designed specifically for the broader community in Santa Clara County to give and get assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to its ongoing digital divide work, to respond to the immediate needs at hand, the City quickly partnered with on-demand tech companies like DoorDash to support meal delivery to vulnerable residents. San José also steered critical regional leadership by launching Silicon Valley Strong, a multi-city initiative where residents can give help or get help with COVID-19 related issues. To date, more than 3,000 volunteers have signed up through the online platform, millions of free meals have been distributed throughout the metro area, more than 200 internet-enabled devices have been collected and distributed, and $27 million in donations have been raised.

Fighting Blight While Boosting Resident Engagement: There’s an App for That

San José’s city government has also improved its own digital infrastructure in recent years. In 2019, it launched My San José, a dashboard residents can access either through a mobile app or web browser to both submit service requests and receive service information from the city. Since My San José’s launch, the City has fielded 165,000 service requests a year.

The vision behind this tool, now called San José 311, is to “use data to make it easier for the community and local government to work together to keep San José safe, clean, and engaged,” according to Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness.

San José 311 landing page, where residents can live chat with a city customer service representative, request city services, and view various service data reports.

To that end, the dashboard focuses on five types of service requests: abandoned vehicles, graffiti, illegal dumping, potholes, and streetlight outages. Before, if residents wanted to request services related to these things, they would have to find the right phone number to reach the right call center, and rely on the call center to email the request to the right departments.

Now, residents submit their request through San José 311 and automatically receive information about expected turnaround time and the status of their request. Great customer service is built into the platform where residents receive confirmation that an issue has been resolved and an opportunity to provide feedback to the city. The City can now collect and analyze a robust set of data on specific service request areas and neighborhood needs, and strategically deploy staff and resources to boost efficiency and productivity. Real results have come from the new far more user-friendly system, including:

— Abandoned vehicles. The average initial response time for inoperable vehicle removal dropped from 15 days to four days over the last 12 months. Average time to complete a service request dropped to about nine days, from 27 days. A giant backlog of over 4,000 service requests was prioritized so that important requests were not left waiting, and has now been whittled down so that few high-priority requests remain untackled.

— Illegal dumping. Response times to cleanup requests used to take up to six months — they’ve dropped to less than a week thanks to work done over the past two years. With service requests far easier to make (they’d been handled over the phone historically), they have doubled within a year of the dashboard’s launch. The City staffed up, using service request data to justify an increased number of workers.

These kinds of improvements deliver tangible benefits to residents. Various studies have shown a high degree of correlation between neighborhood cleanliness and crime. The City is determined to use data-driven tools to remove early signs of blight — thereby preventing the need for more police services down the road. And there’s another benefit: Residents involved in service requests report being more engaged with the city, Harkness says.

“Responsiveness matters to those feelings of being heard and being engaged.”

Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness

Further progress is on the way, including language translation in Spanish and Vietnamese to increase community engagement, and piloting a chatbot to help reduce calls into the call center. Additionally, the City plans to add new services to the platform, starting with automating manual processes for recycling. The city is only “scratching the surface on the data we’re getting from San José 311,” Harkness adds.

Charting a ‘Smarter, Leaner’ Future

San Jose’s data-driven, iterative approach to innovation — which embraces “failing fast” to drive continuous improvement — is familiar to anyone who has spent time around tech startups. But the City’s mindset isn’t just a reflection of its Valley surroundings. It’s taken root out of necessity.

Through a long, slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, the City has had to use data to drive efficiency. Budget cuts reduced the city’s workforce by 16 percent from its pre-recession peak. Compared to similar-sized cities, San José has an extraordinarily lean staff: 6,700 employees for just over one million residents.

“We’re the leanest big city in the country,” City Manager Dave Sykes says. “We cannot just throw resources at a problem to solve it. We need to be making decisions that are informed. We have to be smarter, leaner about how we do our work.”

“We have the capacity to use Silicon Valley’s genius to make this a valley of opportunity — that’s really important to us,” Beckel says. “We have a core of people who push hard to find different ways to do things better. This is a city and team laser-focused on addressing what matters to people in this city.”

“We are starting to measure what it is that the community wants and support the priorities of elected officials with data. The open data portal is the perfect place around which to coalesce those conversations.” says Chief Data Officer Joseph D’Angelo

A visual representation of the city’s approach to prioritizing work in service of working “leaner and smarter.” Image courtesy of What Works Cities, February 2020.

And, once an initiative gets underway, city officials look for evidence of success quickly. If something “fails fast,” that’s OK — it informs how the city uses resources going forward.

When discussing new projects, Mayor Liccardo frequently challenges his staff to always view a project from the question, “How does this benefit someone in our community who is at greatest risk?” At the end of the day, the city staff’s focus and purpose are here to solve real world problems for the community, particularly those with the most need.

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San Diego, California, USA

San Diego: Customizing its Own Portal and Building a Smart City.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, High-Performing Government, Infrastructure, Technology, Transportation

At a Glance

Utilized an open source code to automate the publication of data sets to staff and residents in real time, saving time, resources, and reducing the potential for human error.

Created an app to allow residents to more efficiently report complaints and track progress by the response crews.

Relied on data to prioritize road repairs and how to time them with other infrastructure improvements, such as replacing water or sewer lines, to maximize efficiency.

Making Data Transparent

The City of San Diego has its own way of getting things done. While many of the cities leading the way in data-driven governance have been at this work for years, San Diego was a late bloomer. Most of the City’s open data efforts began in 2014, as Mayor Kevin Faulconer was taking office. Since then, Mayor Faulconer has created a Performance & Analytics Department, and the work has taken off. The City passed an open data policy and, soon after, hired Chief Data Officer Maksim Pecherskiy to begin implementing it.

After coming on board, Pecherskiy’s first order of business was to launch the City’s open data portal, and thanks to his background in programming, he brought a fresh perspective to the task. After reviewing several vendor options, he found that none allowed him to realize his vision. So, he set out to build his own, basing it on an open source project developed in Philadelphia. The portal, which only costs the City around $7 a month to host, launched with an initial 44 data sets voted on by the public for priority release.

Pecherskiy has also leaned on open source code to automate the publication of data sets to the portal. Most cities, he explains, have to publish data sets internally and then externally via distinct processes that can consume between 10 and 20 staff hours per month. But Pecherskiy has made it so that any public data sets automatically publish in both locations, saving time as well as reducing the potential for human error. Staff receive daily email digests with the most updated data, and residents gain access to new data sets nearly in real time. Pecherskiy says there’s also the potential to tie the automation to performance by triggering emails to management when data falls below a certain level.

San Diego also took an unconventional approach to starting its 311 program. The City has never had a designated call center for complaints, so residents often resorted to calling 911 or a non-emergency police number, but the latter was also answered by emergency operators. A resident satisfaction survey showed that 80% of San Diegans didn’t even want to make phone calls to report problems, so the City bypassed the traditional 311 model altogether and went straight to launching its Get It Done app. “We didn’t want to create a new call center that would likely become obsolete in the near future just because that’s how cities have always done it,” says Almis Udrys, Deputy Chief of Staff for Innovation & Policy.

After learning that 80% of San Diegans didn’t want to make phone calls to report problems, the City bypassed the traditional 311 model altogether and went straight to launching its Get It Done app.

Using Get It Done, residents can now report and track progress on a variety of complaints directly from their mobile phones, and response crews are closing the loop by sending “after” photos to residents, who can rate their experience with a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a comment. The app is helping the City become more efficient, too. Before the launch, paperwork for a resolved complaint might sit on a desk for weeks before being reflected in the data, meaning departments couldn’t track how quickly they were responding to issues. Get It Done data is also helping the City in other ways, such as identifying sanitation hazards while partnering with the County to address a recent outbreak of hepatitis A.

The City has applied its newfound data prowess to Mayor Faulconer’s doubled investment in road repairs and ambitious goal to fix 1,000 miles of road by 2020. “I think infrastructure is the ticking time bomb in most cities today,” says Udrys. “Our mayor is really getting out ahead of the problem.” By using data to prioritize repairs and time them with other infrastructure improvements, such as replacing water or sewer lines, the City is ahead of target, and residents can see the progress for themselves on the StreetsSDportal.

By using data to prioritize repairs and time them with other infrastructure improvements, the City is ahead of target on its goal to fix 1,000 miles of road in five years.

Across the City, the world’s largest Internet of Things platform is being rolled out through the installation of street lamps equipped with “smart” technology, part of a partnership with General Electric. Staff can monitor outages and adjust the brightness of the lights remotely, at the same time that sensors in the lamps are providing invaluable data. By monitoring pollution levels, the lamps can help the City better advance its Climate Action Plan, which calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the City and aims for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035. The sensors will also help the City more effectively monitor parking spot usage, traffic patterns, pedestrian safety, and more.

Street lamps equipped with “smart” technology help the City gather invaluable data from pollution levels to pedestrian safety.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer David Graham recently recalled seeing a young couple and their children among attendees at a demonstration of the lamps. When he asked what inspired them to come, their answer was simple: they wanted their son to be safe if they allowed him to walk to school, and data would go a long way in helping them make the choice.

“We didn’t just want to dump data out there; we wanted to put it out there in formats that people could actually utilize. The data belongs to the people, so they should be able to access it.”

Councilman Mark Kersey

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Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Building Climate Resilience Through Data Infrastructure in Norfolk.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Communication, Environment, Health-Wellness, High-Performing Government, Technology

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance

Developed and launched STORM, an app that displays data collected by residents and City staff during a storm event detailing flooded streets, downed power lines, and other problems.

Improved resident decision-making around flood risk by allowing them to look up their property to identify the risk of flood across their mortgage period.

Collected and analyzed data for Norfolk City Council to demonstrate which neighborhoods are in need of more local, healthy grocery options.

Data Helping Norfolk Weather the Storm

Tropical Storm Elsa battered the east coast of the United States in July 2021, slamming cities like Norfolk, Virginia with 50 m.p.h. winds and heavy rainfall. With more than 50 million people under flash flood warning, local governments sprang to work, preparing for potential damage caused by the storm. Luckily for the residents of Norfolk, the City’s long-term investment in data infrastructure prepared them well.

For cities like Norfolk, water is king. Boasting the world’s largest naval station, the City’s port and maritime areas have been an economic and cultural hub for hundreds of years. While water is a source of opportunity in Norfolk, it is also a source of challenges. With climate change bringing rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events, the coastal city is experiencing more frequent flooding. But thanks to the City’s investment in an in-house data and innovation team, CivicLab, and its robust Open Data portal, Norfolk is better equipped than most to gather real-time storm data and translate it into informed action.

Flooding in Norfolk. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

“Through CivicLab, we connect employees and residents to data, create tools for analyzing this data, and catalyze exploratory work that offers new approaches to local government. Applying this approach to resilience efforts is critical to how Norfolk addresses challenges like Tropical Storm Elsa.”

CivicLab Director Peter Buryk

A Two-Pronged Strategy

Norfolk’s data-driven resilience strategy is a two-pronged approach that focuses on both residents and the City’s own flood management efforts. On the external side, IT developed and launched STORM, an app that displays data collected by residents and City staff during a storm event detailing flooded streets, downed power lines, and other problems. The data from this tool was later posted to the Open Data Portal so everyone could access it.

In March 2021, the City took its resilience efforts to the next level with the launch of the Flood Risk Learning Center. Expanding on the City’s successful TITAN application, which shows residents the flooding levels from past storm benchmarks based on the Norfolk Tide Gauge dashboard, the new Learning Center gives residents the ability to generate personalized flood risk reports based on their building address. Reports also include FEMA resources and tips to lower flood insurance costs.

Built with Civis Analytics, the Learning Center incorporates audience-specific messaging to improve resident decision-making around flood risk. By allowing people to look up their property and identify the risk of flood across their mortgage period, the information has more impact. “When you give them information like: ‘There is a 96 percent chance of 1.25 feet of flooding happening during your 30-year mortgage’ — that’s when you see the aha moment,” says Matt Simons, principal planner in the City’s Planning Department.

Part of an address-specific flood report created by the Flood Risk Learning Center. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

Even during its pilot phase, the Learning Center’s improved floodplain mapping services was partially responsible for Norfolk’s increased score in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS), which incentivizes communities to go beyond minimum NFIP flood management practices. The City is a top CRS community in Virginia and in the top 10 percent of cities nationwide. This increased score has translated into a 25 percent reduction in the premium for Norfolk’s flood insurance policyholders, amounting to $2.5 million in annual savings — about $200 per policyholder.

“Through the Learning Center, we are translating data to help people make improvements to their properties that reduce flood risk, buy more appropriate flood insurance plans, and save money on their existing policies,” Simons says.

The most tangible improvements made through Norfolk’s resilience strategy may be in the City’s impressive system of tide gauges. Before their installation, staff had to monitor certain areas for flood risk, driving around to visually check for rising waters. Now, every six minutes, tide gauges record a water level reading. Data flows to the Tide Gauge dashboard, helping the City determine when to close its flood gates. All of this is done remotely by staff monitoring flood risks in real-time. They’re able to efficiently dispatch crews to targeted areas for mitigation efforts and alert residents about flood risks (or actual flooding) via digital devices.

One of the City’s tide gauges. Image courtesy of the City of Norfolk.

In neighborhoods plagued by regular flooding — like Tidewater Gardens adjacent to downtown — these sensors are informing plans for new stormwater systems that incorporate more drainage systems, pump stations, and green space for rainwater absorption. All of this data is stored for long-term use, helping to inform engineers’ designs and predict water levels 36 hours out. Another benefit of the data: It helped the City and state win large grants, including a $100 million flood control project via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A Strong Foundation, Then Results

Norfolk’s data-informed resilience work is built upon the City’s long-standing commitment to building a data culture that prizes foundational practices like stakeholder engagement, open data, and performance & analytics. Starting in 2017 with guidance from What Works Cities (WWC), Norfolk developed an open data policy, formed a data leadership committee with members from across departments, and selected data champions to train others. WWC introduced the team to Sunlight Foundation, which selected Norfolk as a pilot city to expand its use of open data outside of City Hall and into the communities it serves. One example of this: For each new data set made public, the City writes a data story to help explain how the stats impact residents.

To help better organize ongoing efforts, city staff pitched the idea of an in-house data and innovation team to City Manager Larry “Chip” Filer. Filer quickly agreed to support the new group, and CivicLab was born. Since then, CivicLab’s efforts have steadily grown.

It had also applied the City’s extensive data infrastructure to address a range of challenges, such as improving Norfolk’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. CivicLab helped identify possible locations for vaccine pre-registration and mobile clinics, pinpointed census tracts with low vaccination rates and socially vulnerable populations, and tracked current vaccination rates across the City. Norfolk then successfully used this data to convince FEMA to establish a vaccine supersite in the City, leading to the administration of an additional 83,571 shots. Another example of CivicLab’s data chops in action: Its team collected and analyzed data for Norfolk City Council to demonstrate which neighborhoods are in need of more local, healthy grocery options.

“With all of this work, we aim to use data to make better decisions. Our hope is to be a living laboratory for resilience, where well-informed ideas can really take off and accelerate.”

Principal Planner Matt Simons

“Our partnership with What Works Cities helped City staff get comfortable with thinking of data as a citywide resource.”

CivicLab Program Manager Pamela Marino

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Miami, Florida, USA

Crowdsourced Data Boosts Miami Climate Resiliency Efforts.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Environment, Infrastructure, Technology

WWC - Silver Certification Badge for year 2021

At a Glance

Created an app for residents to report flooding on their streets, creating an influx of crowdsourced data that the City could act upon.

Received data from mapped geolocation spots that identified neighborhoods needing infrastructure improvements.

Accessed satellite images through Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer that guided streetscape planning and reduced runoff and flood levels.

Miami’s Weather

Given Miami’s extensive coastline and frequent tropical storms, city officials are accustomed to hearing from residents when streets flood. Yet until recently, most of the complaints they received came from people who lived close to the ocean — often in affluent communities.

That meant help was being provided unevenly. “It was like the squeaky wheel gets the attention,” says Melissa Hew, resilience programs manager in Miami’s Department of Resilience & Public Works.

But Miami’s approach to managing floodwaters and the broader impacts of climate change has changed since work began three years ago on the Miami Forever Climate Ready plan. The collaborative effort convened stakeholders and local experts to make Miami more resilient to growing threats — including more frequent and intense floods, storms, and high-heat days. A main goal of the plan, published in January 2020, is to make decisions based on data-driven assessments, including historic and crowdsourced data, to ensure a methodical and equitable approach. Another is engaging stakeholders (especially residents) and incorporating their feedback into the plan and its implementation.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez takes a close look at part of the City’s coastal infrastructure. Photo courtesy of the City of Miami.

Both of those goals have guided Miami’s partnership with ISeeChange, a company that created an app in partnership with the City to make it easy for residents to report flooding on their streets. Since it launched in July 2020, data crowdsourced through the app has been used in several ways to guide flood response and remediation efforts.

The most immediate impact involved maintenance crews. When residents report incidents through the app, the Department of Public Works can send crews out to address the flooding, which is often due to a clogged drain or other obstruction.

“Because we don’t have enough inspectors, these residents have been our eyes on the street. It’s been extremely helpful.”

Resilience Programs Manager Melissa Hew

Data received from the app is also mapped using geolocation, allowing the city to notice patterns and identify neighborhoods that require infrastructure improvements. That’s particularly important in disaster preparedness efforts, Hew notes, including capital project planning. “Having this data gives us an upper hand: We have a better idea of what’s to come,” she says. “We know what the flooding will look like, and we know the type of infrastructure we need to put in place,” such as stormwater systems.

“We didn’t hear as much from the folks inland, even though they tend to be equally if not more affected by climate hazards.”

Resilience Programs Manager Melissa Hew

A Community Engagement Upgrade

When the City released its stormwater master plan last year, the app also came in handy on the stakeholder engagement front. In addition to in-person meetings where residents could point out flood-prone areas on a map, the app offered another touchpoint to ask community members what they were experiencing and collect their feedback.

“We went to the community to see if the forecasting models were validated by what the residents were seeing,” Hew says.

A Miami Department of Resilience & Public Works employee works on a stormwater project. Photo courtesy of the City of Miami.

The app also guides the Department of Resilience & Public Works’ outreach efforts. It doesn’t reach all Miami residents, since some lack access to reliable internet access or have limited English proficiency. (A Spanish-language version of the app is also available.) But by seeing which neighborhoods have low levels of engagement in the app, Hew and her colleagues can tell their community managers to focus in-person efforts in those areas.

“It’s not a total loss when we are not able to engage with them digitally. It highlights a different form of engagement we need to initiate.”

Resilience Programs Manager Melissa Hew

Her department utilizes data beyond the ISeeChange app as well. Through a pilot with Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer, the team has access to satellite images that detail Miami’s tree canopy. That is more granular data than the City has ever had, says Alissa Farina, who is also a resilience programs manager in the resilience department. She anticipates it will guide streetscape planning moving forward; trees can help reduce runoff and flood levels by absorbing water.

The hope is to pull together in one place all the data the City receives about how climate change affects residents. In addition to the app, residents can also provide information through email and 311. The larger goal is a central, GIS-based database that all city departments can access and pull from, Farina says. This resource would be maintained by the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), which leads Miami’s data-related efforts, and help improve capital project planning, emergency management, and implementation of climate-related programs, among other things.

With the effects of climate change likely to intensify in the coming decades, the stakes are high for Miami’s resiliency efforts. But the City’s commitment to foundational data-driven practices, especially stakeholder engagement and data governance, is already yielding clear benefits.

“Being serious about resilience means being serious about data-driven assessments and decision-making, in my view. We’re in the early stages of this effort, but we’ve already developed invaluable new ways of gathering, analyzing and acting on data. As a city on the frontlines of climate change, there’s no time to waste.”

CIO & Director of DoIT Michael Sarasti

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Memphis, Tennessee, USA

From a Windowless Conference Room to a Mayoral Platform: Memphis Builds Momentum with Data.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Public Safety, Technology

At a Glance

The City’s Department of Animal Services used data to track progress toward its goal of ensuring more shelter animals find homes, now nearly 94% of animals are adopted, up from just 46% in 2014.

Dispatched a paramedic and a health doctor in a cherry-red SUV to evaluate callers, bringing the screening exam to the patient to make travel easier through the Rapid Assessment Decision and Redirection (RADAR) data program.

Took a holistic approach to data using video analytics, installing cameras around the city to monitor trash collection, potholes, and a wide range of factors impacting city life.

The Beginning of Data

When it comes to transforming your city into a 21st-century data tech model, is it possible to be both incredibly humble and supremely advanced at the same time?

Memphis proves that it is!

The City is rewriting the rules for what it means to be a smart city on a daily basis. But while Memphis is leading the way, you will never hear a public official — from the mayor down to line-level data analysts — claim that their work is finished.

Momentum Gets Going

The City’s approach to tech and data began in 2011 when Memphis was chosen to be one of the first five cities to receive a Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Team (i-team) grant.

Then-Innovation Director Doug McGowen began leading a small group of creative thinkers working side by side with the Mayor and agency directors to rethink and revamp major policies in areas of gun violence and neighborhood economic vitality. After the initial success of the City’s i-team work, McGowen realized something most all innovation leaders encounter: Individual programs may see dramatic improvements, but the underlying systems and operations of government will not sustain success without a solid performance management system in place. McGowen holed up in a windowless conference room in City Hall while he talked with all city departments to map out a rudimentary performance management program.

The program has gained steam under the leadership of Mayor Jim Strickland. Even before officially taking office in 2016, he had already promised residents to measure results, share outcomes, and hold the City accountable by using data. During his first days on the job, he made his way to McGowen’s stuffy conference room, and what he saw there was the core of a turnaround strategy for the City. He promoted McGowen to Chief Operating Officer, one of the most important jobs in the City, and tasked him with building a performance dashboard that would invite residents into City Hall.

Tackling the Basics

Memphis’s Good Government Dashboard may have its roots in the Innovation Office, but Mayor Strickland and McGowen knew that the new data system needed to prioritize the basics of service delivery before it could take on glitzier projects, such as mobile apps. “This may not seem sexy or be all that visionary,” Mayor Strickland explains. “But people want 311 and 911 calls answered; they want blight cleaned up, and they want potholes filled.”

The seriousness of data and performance becomes clear the minute you step into one of the monthly dashboard meetings the Mayor holds on the 4th floor of City Hall. Directors from across the City’s departments convene to analyze service delivery numbers displayed on a wide screen for all to see. What’s evident at these meetings is the meticulous attention to the fundamentals of performance.

For example, when Mayor Strickland took office, police recruitment had not been keeping pace with attrition, and staffing was at critically low levels. The City revamped its public safety recruitment and retention practices, and Human Resources now reports monthly on officer staffing, attrition, and recruitment. Another instance of data illuminating a service gap has been in the City’s Department of Animal Services, which has been tracking progress toward its goal of ensuring more shelter animals find homes. Now nearly 94% of animals are adopted, up from just 46% in 2014.

A dog recently adopted into its forever home as a result of Memphis’s data use.

“Numbers spur competitiveness, and they increase your focus on core issues.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland

Streamlining Emergency Medical Services

Memphis’ focus on data has created a culture in which other agencies have the support to experiment and be creative with how they implement services. Take emergency medical services (EMS), for example. Housed in the Fire Department, they were awash with data and resources but were having a difficult time figuring out if they were effectively dispatching their ambulances. “We would just keep getting more money from the City Council to ensure we were responding quickly to calls, without questioning if we were providing the most appropriate services,” said Fire Chief Gina Sweat.

Sweat dug into the call data and conducted a full review of services, leading to a startling conclusion: Up to 20% of EMS calls did not require an ambulance. Something had to change. Fire Department Lieutenant Kevin Spratlin started researching how Memphis could connect residents to the right services, such as a primary care physician or a healthcare professional, instead of dispatching an ambulance. “These are not people abusing 911 — they just don’t know where to turn” shared Lieutenant Spratlin.

Memphis’s solution to its strained EMS resources comes in the form of a cherry-red SUV.

The City stood up a pilot of what is now its Rapid Assessment Decision and Redirection (RADAR) program, which dispatches a paramedic and a health doctor in a cherry-red SUV to evaluate the caller, bringing the screening exam to the patient. Interim results of that pilot showed that, out of 400 runs, 66% did not require an ambulance.

The program, which is preparing to fully launch this summer, will ensure that all callers to 911 receive the right level of care, promoting better long-term health outcomes while saving money for both residents and the City. In fact, insurance companies are proactively calling Spratlin to see what the cost-saving secret is. “These guys used to never return my call, and now they want to talk to me!” he exclaims.

Beyond Sensors to Service

Maybe one of the greatest innovations is happening in the Information Services department. These are often agencies that serve a back-office function, such as ensuring that computers are in working order. Not at all content with the status quo, Mike Rodriguez — an ex-FedEx tech executive turned City Chief Information Officer — is charting a new path by leading the City’s first open data policy with the ultimate goal being to visualize the entire city. Rodriguez disparages the conventional wisdom that cities should embrace the Internet of Things, with sensors everywhere, and instead is creating “situational awareness,” or clarity of all the factors impacting an event. To do this, the City is installing cameras that will soon provide video analytics for most everything from trash collection to potholes.

Rodriguez explains his approach: “Everyone wants little sensors on everything. For what? Put a sensor on a garbage can, and it may tell you when it’s full, but with video I can tell you a hundred other factors about the trash, the neighborhood, and the surrounding environment — and for less money.” But as with every other official in Memphis, Rodriguez stresses that these efforts are nascent, and there is far more to learn.

As Memphis rewrites the rules, it’s reminding us that momentum starts where you make it — like with the basics, or in a windowless conference room.

Read more about Memphis’s data journey here.

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Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville: A Data-Savvy Approach, from LouieLab to LouieStat.

Project Type:
Community Engagement, Health & Wellness, High-Performing Government, Public Safety, Technology, Transportation

At a Glance

Created LouieLab so city employees, members of the civic tech community, and other innovators can come together to collaborate on how to achieve shared goals.

Evaluated and shared city departments work and progress with residents via Louiestat, their performance management data program.

Launched a data-driven program to ensure that former inmates were paired with social service providers upon release, lowering reincarceration rates.

Crowdsourced data on internet speed to assess the extent of the city’s digital divide and developed a digital inclusion strategy to remove the barriers keeping residents from jobs and resources.

Louisville’s Approach to Data

A loft-inspired space with exposed brick and a startup vibe isn’t what typically comes to mind when one thinks of a municipal building, but that’s exactly what the Louisville Metro Government has created in its LouieLab. The space is a hub where city employees, members of the civic tech community, and other innovators can come together to collaborate. It’s also a physical manifestation of the City’s efforts to open itself up to residents and strategize, together, on how to achieve shared goals for Louisville’s future.

Mayor Greg Fischer has a term for this: building social muscle. He believes that transparent communication fosters trust with the community. He’s embedded that philosophy throughout his approach to using data, from signing an open data executive order that considers public information to be open by default to launching the City’s LouieStat performance management program, which evaluates departments’ work and shares progress with residents.

Mayor Greg Fischer speaks at LouieLab, a hub where city employees, members of the civic tech community, and other innovators come together.

Chief Data Officer Michael Schnuerle knows firsthand the benefits of a strong social muscle. Cofounder of the local Code for America brigade, the Civic Data Alliance (CDA), he remembers, in the early 2000s, trying to articulate an idea. “I didn’t know what to call it yet,” he recalls. “I was making FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests, but I wanted a website where I could access information.” Years later, when such a tool still didn’t exist, he tweeted that, if the civic tech community had opened 311 data in real time, it could see where people are reporting downed trees and help the city more quickly assess storm damage. Mayor Fischer saw the tweet, liked the idea, and teamed him up with Louisville’s IT Services Department to help develop the City’s open data portal.

Soon after, Schnuerle found himself being hired as the twelfth chief data officer in the country. Since then, he’s worked to expand the City’s open data efforts both internally and externally, and cultivate the civic tech community he came from with data requests and hackathons. The City’s Innovation Team also collaborates on CDA projects like helping visually impaired residents access open data through voice-automated smart-home systems like Alexa. “We are so data-driven,” says Schnuerle. “The Mayor always emphasizes analytics. Whenever I talk to him, he always wants to know what the data is and how are we collecting it.”

For Chief of Performance Improvement Daro Mott, who oversees LouieStat, analytics are practically a way of life. His team has trained a staff member in every city department on how to embed the use of data in their work and then to report on their progress. Fundamental to this work has been responding to Mayor Fischer’s call for a culture of “weakness orientation” that focuses on where to improve. Mott explains: “It’s not just data show-and-tell. It’s about asking: ‘How do we use this data over time to fundamentally get better?’”

At a recent LouieStat meeting, the Department of Corrections turned to its numbers to discuss, with Mott’s team, strategies for reducing overcrowding in facilities and unscheduled overtime expenditures. These were complex challenges, and the solutions wouldn’t come easily, but the data were already helping to outline a path forward. Amid the troubleshooting, Mott made sure there was also time to recognize a key win: when data previously revealed high rates of recidivism among certain vulnerable populations, the Department launched a program to ensure that former inmates were paired upon release with social service providers. Now they were beginning to see declines in reincarceration.

“It helps set the tone for what citizens should expect.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer

Now entering its seventh year, LouieStat is one of the nation’s longest-running CitiStat leadership strategies, and has 26 departments involved. His team trains hundreds of employees each year on how to use a data-driven, seven-step problem-solving process to improve. LouieStat is empowered by a Learn and Grow series, Louisville’s own version of Denver’s Peak Academy. The City’s goal is to make LouieStat the data-driven management system, not merely a series of forums or a program.

Mayor Fischer says that part of the City’s job is to celebrate success, but also to say where it can do better and then invite residents to be part of the solution. The City’s Innovation Team is finding creative ways to involve residents in tackling tough problems, sometimes by bringing them into the data-collection process itself. In one project, placing GPS-enabled sensors on asthma inhalers is helping to pinpoint areas throughout the city where low air quality is likely to induce asthma attacks. In another project, built at a CDA hackathon, crowdsourcing data on internet speed is helping the City assess the extent of its digital divide and develop a digital inclusion strategy to remove the barriers that are keeping residents from better jobs and other opportunities.

In Louisville, every staff member one talks to seems to share the belief that, with residents at the core and data to guide the way, there’s nothing they cannot accomplish. “We’re small enough to get things done but big enough to matter,” Mott says. A guiding philosophy of the Fischer Administration is the theory of the job: the job consists of daily work, continuous improvement, and breakthrough (innovative) work. “Our data-driven transformation starts and ends with all aspects of measuring the job, and we have a big job to do,” says Mott.

“What gets measured gets done, especially if you take action to improve it.”

Chief of Performance Improvement Daro Mott
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