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Previously Certified Cities Rise to the Challenge of New Certification Standards

7 cities leveled up to Gold Level Certification
5 cities recertified at Gold Level Certification
2 cities recertified at Silver Level Certification

In August 2022, What Works Cities announced updated criteria for achieving What Works Cities Certification. Developed by a team of international experts, the new criteria bring an equity focus to evidence-based decision making and better reflect the evolving practices of data governance.

What Works Cities Certification provides cities with a standard of excellence that shows how investing in data and evidence practices can lead to tangible and equitable outcomes for residents. That standard is not static. It is intended to represent current best practices in data governance and the evolving needs and expectations of city residents. In August 2022, the What Works Cities Certification program announced updated criteria to bring a greater equity focus to evidence-based decision making and to tie data directly to improving the quality of people’s daily lives.

To receive What Works Cities Certification, cities must now demonstrate that they are committed to considering equity throughout the data collection, management and implementation process. This includes using and sharing disaggregated data, diversifying the pool of vendors doing business with the city, and seeking and considering resident experience in the decision making process. Cities must also show they are making real progress in policy areas that affect resident well being, such as air quality, accessible services, or other priority areas that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

For the 55 cities Certified before 2022, the new standards represent an opportunity to raise the bar. By recertifying and leveling up with the new criteria, cities are not only reaffirming their commitment to making decisions and allocating funding based on data and evidence, they are showing a focus on equity at every step in the process.

A new Certification Community Forum allows cities pursuing Certification to connect with and learn from data champions around the world. Through peer-led workshops and practice groups, cities can get perspective and feedback from those who have faced or are working through similar challenges. A participant directory lets staff and leaders connect directly to share ideas and offer support. The Forum also houses tools and resources, and is regularly updated with opportunities to learn more about building data capacity.

This year seven cities are leveling up to Gold Level Certification. Below are the cities and examples of the ways they are using data and evidence to improve the lives of their residents.

  • San Antonio, TX. Concerned about an uptick in the number of older homes being demolished, the City of San Antonio and community stakeholders gathered data on the impacts of demolition and possible alternatives. They found that over the past decade, $16 million worth of salvageable building materials and 170,000 tons of waste had been sent to landfills through the demolition of homes built prior to 1960. Demolitions were also releasing airborne toxic pollutants into neighborhoods with larger numbers of Hispanic households and households with lower incomes. In 2022, the City Council adopted a deconstruction ordinance to advance the City’s health and equity goals, create jobs and preserve affordable housing.
  • Scottsdale, AZ. 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.
  • Chicago, IL. In 2019, the Chicago Department of Public Health gathered data on the health and life expectancy of Chicago residents, and the social and institutional inequities affecting both. It then used this data to prioritize, plan and implement the goals and strategies of Healthy Chicago 2025, the City’s five-year community health improvement plan. The plan’s vision is for a city where all people and communities have power and equitable access to resources, environments and opportunities to promote optimal health and well-being. This includes making data available so that communities can use it in their own efforts to promote health equity. One way the City is realizing this vision is through a Data Academy. The Academy teaches residents how to access hyper-local data, to use data to prioritize resources, to effectively communicate data findings, and to learn to write research questions – all with the goal to “Empower communities, with data, to tell their story.”
  • Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati’s Emergency Communications Center historically has had three dispatchable tools for handling incoming 911 calls: the police department, the fire department and parking enforcement. But when calls involved mental health, homelessness and poverty crises, none of these tools clearly aligned with the need. In 2022, the City piloted a new public safety resource – Alternative Response to Crisis (ARC) – sending a Behavioral Health Technician and paramedic to low-risk calls rather than police. The CIty tracked the program’s progress on an ARC Dashboard. It found that over the first 12 months of ARC, the CIty was able to save more than 3000 hours of police officer time and freed up resources that could then be directed towards more high risk calls. Based on the data, the Mayor made ARC permanent and doubled its capacity.
  • Henderson, NV. Like much of Nevada, the City of Henderson is grappling with ongoing drought conditions. The City is taking two primary actions to reduce water consumption: mandating the removal of decorative-only grass from certain properties and converting non-recreational grass in all its parks to drought-tolerant grass by 2026. The City anticipates that the removal of decorative grass will save 10% of the community’s water supply, and that the conversion to drought-tolerant grass in parks will save an estimated 150 million gallons of water annually.
  • South Bend, IN. Since 2021, South Bend, Indiana has been leveraging data and performance management to support its struggling utility customers. By tracking utility payment behavior to understand household vulnerability, the City was able to design a post-COVID utility bill forgiveness program that impacted almost 5,000 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.
  • Syracuse, NY. 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.

Seven cities are also recertifying under the new criteria. They are:

Equally as important to achieving a certain data standard, the cities highlighted here have shown a commitment to continual learning and growth. Technology changes, best practices change, the needs of residents change – cities’ data practices must be nimble and evolve to meet those changes. What Works Cities Certification is proud to recognize the 14 cities above for the important progress they made this year in their data journeys.