Collective Insight: Three City Data Champions on the Power of Learning Together

What Works Cities on Tour participants

Two weeks ago, What Works Cities (WWC) brought together 60 participants from 10 cities for a daylong workshop in Downey, California, as part of our What Works Cities on Tour traveling workshop series. Attendees got to deepen their skills in behavioral insights, results-driven contracting, open data, communicating publicly about data and evidence work, and more.

We caught up with three of our participants on what brought them to What Works Cities on Tour, what they learned and will take back to their cities, and the value they find in cities coming together.

Tell us about your role in your city and why you wanted to attend What Works Cities on Tour.

Cita Longsworth (Corona, CA): I am the Purchasing Manager for the City of Corona. My role and responsibility entails overseeing all procurement transactions that acquire products and services for all city operations. As a team, we advocate for procuring with integrity and ensure all procurement transactions are performed within municipal regulations. Our responsibilities include supplier sourcing, managing bid solicitations, vendor negotiations, and post-contract-award supplier management.

My team and I attended What Works Cities on Tour to learn about all the different projects other cities have been working on and to learn about WWC methods and strategies for vendor contract performance. We also wanted to engage with other public employees to learn firsthand about their experiences and successes using data and evidence.

Alex Pudlin (Los Angeles, CA): As the senior data scientist for Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Innovation Team (i-team), I find, prepare, and synthesize data to understand and ultimately help create data-informed solutions to solve some of the major challenges facing Los Angeles. As part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies i-team network, my team regularly convenes with i-teams around the world to exchange ideas and experiences — these meetings are valuable and inform our work. What Works Cities on Tour builds on this approach by focusing on a single topic (in this case, data) and gathering participants from a common geographic region. Having a forum in which to learn about how other nearby cities approach data challenges, such as building the best metrics for a project, was the main draw of What Works Cities on Tour for me.

Lauren Vargas (Long Beach, CA): I am the Director of Innovation Delivery for the Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia. In this position, I am charged with bringing a more human-centered design approach to policymaking. At the end of the day, we want Long Beach to consistently try new approaches to improve the public services and goods we deliver to residents.

I wanted to attend What Works Cities on Tour because I know that issues we are working on in Long Beach are not unique to our city. Around the world, a lot of cities hear similar concerns from residents they serve. Talking with some of these cities gives us new perspectives to consider and allows us to better plan.

What’s one thing you learned at What Works Cities on Tour that surprised you?

Cita: I was so surprised and impressed with the various subject matter experts of the WWC team, including in the marketing, contracting, legal, and compliance fields. I value the approach WWC has taken to provide public agencies with such a vast array of expertise!

Alex: I often work with the i-team design strategist to integrate data and design and to develop a comprehensive narrative of our findings so that the projects we deliver are responsive to what the data tell us. What Works Cities on Tour reaffirmed how important communication and storytelling are to data governance. As a data practitioner, my responsibilities are not limited to data analysis and delivery — to produce positive results, it’s critical to understand the diverse needs of all stakeholders and be able to explain to collaborators and end-users what you have found, what the limitations are, and where to go next. With Mayor Garcetti’s leadership, the City of Los Angeles has addressed issues such as homelessness and public safety with a collaborative approach — our data insights have helped facilitate these collaborations.

Lauren: The “Building Strong Performance Measures” session was my favorite. I appreciated the discussion on how to talk about performance measures without complicating it. Often people with good data and information do not adequately glean the most important aspects for decision-makers. The session gave us the opportunity to work through a challenge and really get to the root of why and how we can improve it by providing tangible steps for deciding which performance measures matter.

What’s one takeaway you’re excited to start applying in your city?

Cita: One key takeaway is the mindset of understanding that the little wins are worth sharing and promoting in order to drive a “what works” state of mind. I learned this approach in our “Communicating with a ‘What Works’ State of Mind” session and realized that even the smallest success in improving our City’s results-driven contracting methods and vendor performance is worth talking about. Also, publicly acknowledging the contributors and our stakeholders during the road to success is just as important as doing so when we reach the ultimate goal together.

Alex: To always consider the user and acknowledge that simply publishing city data does not make it equally accessible to all. As we strive for equitable service delivery and use data to help inform how well we are doing in those efforts, we have to remove barriers to accessing the data itself — both in its collection and its public consumption. In 2013, when Mayor Garcetti took office, he issued an Open Data Executive Directive to promote a culture of data-sharing and cooperation among city departments; these data sets were later published on an open data portal to track the City’s goals and progress, and demand accountability. This is the type of leadership that makes my job a little easier, by laying the foundation for city agencies to experience the benefits of data-sharing.

Lauren: Many of the key points of the “Building Strong Performance Measures” session complement public policy analysis skills I already possess. I will keep driving conversations in Long Beach toward more data-driven decision-making by being better aware of my audience and their perspectives on city issues we are working to improve.

What is the value of cities coming together?

Cita: The power of cities coming together is priceless. The opportunity WWC provided through the sessions allowed us time to engage with one another, share our experiences, and learn to have a “what works” mindset. In one day, we learned how other cities operate within their respective departments, realized many of our challenges are not uncommon, and learned about each other’s successful projects. It was such a great way to network and so motivating to spend time with people who are just as passionate to drive positive change within their cities.

Alex: Los Angeles is a global city, and that’s why Mayor Garcetti has established a culture of collaboration with cities across the board. From leading on infrastructure through the U.S. Conference of Mayors to bringing the 2028 Olympic Games to Los Angeles County, and our work with the Bloomberg i-team network, Los Angeles is a shining example of the fruits of collaboration. By bringing together cities, experts can share approaches and exchange lessons learned in a variety of contexts, and improve our capacity to collectively glean insights from data and turn those insights into action.

Lauren: My favorite part of cities coming together is that, although our cities vary demographically, we encounter many of the same challenges and opportunities. Hearing counterparts from elsewhere share some of the same concepts and ideas we are both working on, as well as their approach to understanding what the challenge is, always helps drive forward my work in Long Beach.

Continue reading: Check out the top lessons we’ve learned from building our Community of Cities learning network.