What Works City Feature: Scottsdale, AZ

Using data to drive a region


The Opportunity
Scottsdale has taken a lead in a region of data-driven municipal leaders. The City sits to the northeast of Phoenix, in a ring of cities within Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. Mayor Lane, the City Council and the City’s executive team have crafted an ambitious agenda for the City of Scottsdale that includes revitalizing a key commercial corridor, supporting tourism, promoting economic development, and anticipating future transportation needs.

In looking to bring in new tools to drive their work forward, Mayor Lane and the City Council asked What Works Cities (WWC) to help make municipal data more consumable and scalable for agencies and residents. They also asked WWC to help the City increase the effectiveness of day-to-day operations through low-cost evaluations based on behavioral science.

Our Work Together
Scottsdale partnered with WWC experts at the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University, Results for America, and the Sunlight Foundation. Together, they developed the policies and processes to inventory, prioritize, release, and maintain public data through the City’s open data program. They also piloted four low-cost evaluations, a tool that the City hopes will become a standard practice of governance. The pilot evaluations attempted to increase donation rates for the Scottsdale Cares utility bill donation program, increase employee retirement savings, diversify the police force, and increase the number of residents who receive paperless utility bills.

What Works Cities and Scottsdale worked together to make data more accessible for city agencies and residents, and to help increase the effectiveness of day-to-day operations through low-cost evaluations based on behavioral insights.

Summary of Key Accomplishments
This work in open data and low-cost evaluation lays the groundwork for the City to incorporate data and evidence in further aspects of its decision-making. Together, WWC and the City of Scottsdale worked together to accomplish the following:

1. Facilitate the proactive release of open government data
• The City crafted and adopted an open data resolution, using Sunlight’s open data policy guidelines.
• Stakeholders from a cross section of city government were convened to review and approve foundational data governance decisions. This team is scheduled to continue meeting on a regular basis.
• Data coordinators from key pilot departments related to revitalization were identified, and a process was created to take stock of and periodically update a census of Scottsdale’s data assets.
• Scottsdale renewed efforts to improve its open data portal, including identifying and developing a new way of releasing data to the public and gathering a draft list of data sets to release.

2. Use low-cost evaluations and behavioral insights to improve delivery of programs and services
• Increased City of Scottsdale employees’ attendance at appointments with a retirement advisor by 76%, compared to the control group. The ultimate goal is to increase rates of voluntary contribution toward retirement plans.
• Doubled rates of Scottsdale residents making donations to the Scottsdale Cares utility bill donation program, compared to the control group; if recipients who never opened the utility company’s email are excluded from results, the experimental message tripled the donation rate.
• Increased applications to the Scottsdale Police Department through a low-cost evaluation. Overall application rates more than doubled, compared to the control group. Among people of color, the application rate more than tripled.
• Expanded the number of people who signed up to receive utility bills paperlessly by including an insert in residents’ monthly bill. People receiving an insert were 56% more likely to go paperless, saving around $6 per person who signed up. If brought to scale, this tactic could save nearly $200,000, which is the equivalent of 200 Scottsdale residents’ utility bills for one year.

In addition, Scottsdale took the lead in building a regional approach to data, spreading the tools it acquired to neighboring cities by hosting a series of workshops and trainings featuring WWC partners and staff from across the Valley.

What’s Next
With this work, Scottsdale has made significant strides toward using data and evidence to deliver improved results for its residents, and the residents of the region. The City should continue to build on this work by expanding efforts to make its open data program as internally useful and relevant as possible, incorporating it into the City’s data and performance strategy, and focusing it on the strategic goals of the City. The City ought to build on its work using low-cost evaluations by ensuring all departments can avail themselves of the tool, making behavioral insights a permanent fixture of city governance.