What Works City Feature: Oklahoma City, OK

Using data to improve road quality

The Opportunity
Oklahoma City leadership has remained committed to transforming the City, particularly downtown, over the last 20 years and is committed to using data and evidence to improve service delivery. However, one of the biggest challenges for leadership has been keeping up with the increased demand for services in the wake of narrowing revenue streams.

This disconnect was most apparent in the declining resident satisfaction with the quality of Oklahoma City roads. To address this, the City went to voters, who approved, in September 2017, $550 million in bonds for streets and bridges. Voters also extended a sales tax that will raise about $240 million for street resurfacing and other road enhancements. These measures comprise the City’s Better Streets, Safer City initiative.

Then-Mayor Mick Cornett asked What Works Cities to help the City enhance its use of data and evidence and its procurement processes to ensure the best outcomes for the infrastructure projects.

Our Work Together
What Works Cities experts at the Behavioral Insights Team, the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Results for America worked with the City both to improve the process for procuring street construction vendors and to incorporate the use of low-cost evaluation into standard operating procedure.

What Works Cities and Oklahoma City worked together to use data to deliver better, safer streets for residents.

Summary of Key Accomplishments
This work in results-driven contracting and low-cost evaluation lays the groundwork for the City to incorporate data and evidence in further aspects of its decision-making. What Works Cities and Oklahoma City worked together to accomplish the following:

1. Improved the outcomes of the City’s street reconstruction projects.
• Increased the quantity and quality of bids for street resurfacing contracts by developing strategies aimed at increasing vendor outreach, making requirements clearer for bidders, improving contract management, and enhancing the ability for vendors to best produce the outcomes the contract is targeted to achieve.
• Streamlined the contracting cycle for public works projects, which could save upwards of six weeks per project.
• Cultivated support for system-wide performance reviews and identified options for implementation.

2. Demonstrated the value of low-cost evaluation and behavioral science in improving services.
• Introduced leaders and staff to the fundamentals of behavioral science and helped them implement randomized controlled trials in the City.
• Demonstrated that communications to residents with a more official appearance could increase enrollment in the City’s EMSAcare program, which allows residents to add a nominal fee to their utility bill in order to cover the out-of-pocket emergency costs that most insurance companies assign to their members for ambulance rides. The formal letter led to 44% more EMSAcare signups than the control flyer, suggesting that expanded outreach could lead to approximately 1,200 to 1,530 more signups.
• Developed a strategy for the ongoing use of low-cost evaluations to promote continuous improvement and support better outcomes for residents.

What’s Next
With this work, Oklahoma City has made significant strides toward using data and evidence to deliver improved results for residents. The City should continue to build on the success of these initial forays into low-cost evaluation and results-driven contracting to set clear goals for how it will continue to run evaluations and to implement ongoing reforms to ensure the “Better Streets, Safer City” program achieves the best possible outcomes for residents.