- Sixteen cities earned certification Wednesday honoring their use of data to improve city services, increase transparency and improve civic engagement.
- What Works Cities, an arm of the nonprofit Bloomberg Philanthropies, recognized Austin, Texas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Detroit; and Gilbert, Arizona with gold certification. Meanwhile, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Bellevue, Washington; Fort Collins, Colorado; Glendale, Arizona; Irving, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Norfolk, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; San Antonio; and Syracuse, New York, all received silver certification. Cities are awarded the prizes based on their level of data sophistication based on 45 criteria the organization says are foundational for data-driven governance.
- What Works Cities said data can be useful in various areas, including by helping to reduce carbon emissions, increasing access to broadband and moving more people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. The use of data has also helped drive effective responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2018, 40 cities have achieved What Works Cities Certification.
Cities have been relying more heavily on data in recent years to help them make decisions and engage with residents, a practice that has accelerated since the start of the pandemic, said Jennifer Park, founding director of certification at What Works Cities. The growth in data use has come as cities have increasingly sought to learn from each other and cooperate on shared issues, while boosting investments in professional development for public sector employees and create more analyst positions and job titles like "chief data officer," said Park.
The number of cities that use data to help in areas like performance management and public engagement jumped dramatically over the past five years, a report published last month by Deloitte's Monitor Institute in collaboration with What Works Cities, found. Those data-driven efforts have led to all manner of improvements, including sidewalk management and waste collection, and Park said it will continue to grow.
"At the start, there were a handful of cities that were saying, 'Let's build an open data portal, let's start to think strategically about our goals,'" Park said. "As more and more cities have joined these networks or have been connected with each other, I think there's been an increase of cities that have realized, 'Wait, if we invest in this, which is relatively low cost, we can actually transform our city and deliver better services that are more equitable and more efficient to our residents.'"
The pandemic has made those efforts more important, Park said, and cities have responded by using data to get information out about infection rates, vaccine availability and how services will be affected through a slew of dashboards. Cities have also used data to try to ensure their now-digitized services continue to reach those most in need even in the midst of the pandemic, while a greater reliance on digital communications has helped engage residents, Park said.
"The last year has elevated the need for use of data in government like we've never seen before," she said.
Those lessons learned around data use during the pandemic will be crucial as cities transition into a post-COVID future and wrestle with how to balance potential budget shortfalls with the need to maintain services. Park said data will also help city leaders continue to share real-time information and communicate with their residents, while the types of community surveys seen during the worst of the pandemic can be an effective way to monitor public sentiment.
"Many cities went directly in to survey families and residents to understand kind of what services are essential and where additional services and support can be provided to during the time of COVID," she said. "That type of surveying, I think, should continue. The constant engagement and understanding through surveys is one way to collect qualitative data and really understand how they can continue to build better services and programs."