- Data-driven decisions have helped cities build community among residents and among employees, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Tulsa, OK Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday at an event to coincide with the end of a fellowship by Results for America.
- The pair said that while it can be difficult to build trust in the use of data, that trust can pay dividends. Bynum and Pugh pointed to areas where data has helped their cities, including on code enforcement, providing opportunities for street vendors, and helping bridge political divides.
- "There is so much philosophical disagreement and partisan disagreement, but when you can give people clear data that shows what a problem is, what different solutions might be and how those solutions perform in addressing that problem, you take a lot of that hot air out of the discussion and you allow people that would otherwise be yelling at each other and fighting on social media just sit down and help fix the greatest challenges in the community," Bynum said.
Cities have grown ever more reliant on data to help them make decisions, with Pugh noting it is "hard to deny data." She reflected on how government can feel "separate" from its people, so getting people who work with data in the private sector together with data analysts inside city hall can be a good way to build community and trust.
Bynum recalled a civic innovation fellowship Tulsa hosted recently that had six people look at code violations and find new ways to enforce the law. The city has around 7,000 code violations a year, but two-thirds of those come from people that own buildings but do not live there, Bynum said, and violators are notified by mail. Instead, the fellows experimented with notifying property owners of violations by text message and giving them an opportunity to fix them before further action is taken. Compliance is now up 15%. "Collecting the data is one thing, but it's also about creating sustainable solutions," Bynum said.
Data has even helped amid the tension and pressure of a citywide election. Bynum, a Republican, was accused by some during his 2016 campaign for mayor of fraternizing with Democrats. To combat this, he urged residents to use data to hold him accountable on issues including education and income growth, which he had worked on since joining the Tulsa City Council. Bynum won that race by 18 percentage points.
"Think about that: the tough, ugly elections that we've seen over and over, but data and evidence being the shining knight that rides in and can turn elections around," Melody Barnes, chair of The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund and a Results for America Senior Fellow, said in a speech.