In Arlington, a Can-Do City Connects and Communicates with Data

2019 Certification Level: Silver

What Works Cities
Apr 24 · 6 min read

By Kristin Taylor

Last year’s dry summer in Arlington, Texas, came as the City reached the halfway point in a 10-year project to install remotely read water meters throughout the community. Soon a controversy emerged, largely driven by posts on social media: Some households had been receiving higher water bills, and residents wanted to know if it was a result of the new technology.

The short answer was no, but officials knew that overcoming such speculation would demand a longer explanation. The City immediately set about to pull historical data showing that increased water use and, thus, higher bills were in alignment with seasonal fluctuations during warmer months. The City also ensured residents had a greater understanding of how their bills are determined, including that the cost of water per 1,000 gallons rises as residents reach higher levels of consumption.

The City’s Know Your H2O website connects residents to data on water usage

But Arlington didn’t stop with an explanation — it also looked to empower residents with information. The City launched the Know Your H20 website so that residents can view their billing history over the past two years, compare usage across temperature changes, and monitor their consumption on a daily basis. The City also released new data on its open data portal, allowing residents to see water usage by zip code and filter by the type of meter the information came from. And they got the word out about these new tools via a Know Your H20 communications campaign.

Arlington’s helpful video shows residents all the Know Your H20 website has to offer

Making Data Relatable

Director of Communication and Legislative Affairs Jay Warren doesn’t mince words when he says, “Just to be blunt, data can be boring.” But he and his team are undaunted as they turn to stories, graphics, and other digestible and engaging forms of content to make data interesting. Moreover, communications isn’t an afterthought in the City’s data-driven strategy; Communication Coordinator Susan Schrock sits on the City’s data governance committee, for example, and this integrated approach has great support from city leadership.

“When we talk about innovation and open data, a lot of people think this is rocket science, but it’s really not — it’s really basic,” explains City Manager Trey Yelverton. “So if we can take the data that come out of complex systems, simplify the messaging, then relate it on a human level to our residents, to me that’s what it’s all about.”

Arlington’s open data progress goes beyond both policy and portal to people.

Breaking Down the City Budget

The City’s budget portal allows residents to drill down into investments, and Arlington bolsters its transparency with efforts to help residents fully understand the City’s finances, such as the recent Budget in Action campaign. The campaign included assets such as a video inviting residents to get to know the 2019 operating budget and a Taxpayer Investment Value Guide that made the budget’s large dollar amounts relatable by comparing them to the average household’s expenses. By the end of the campaign, a quarter of the population had engaged with budget content in some way. And Arlington is continuing to provide regular updates on the five City Council priority areas outlined in the budget through newsletters, videos, social media, and more.

Arlington’s budget video invites residents into the City’s spendings through relatable comparisons

Public Transit Takes a Fresh Turn

An Arlington resident taking advantage of the City’s rideshare partnership with Via

Identifying a creative way to meet that need, the City partnered with Via, an on-demand rideshare company. Residents can use the Via app to instantly book a seat in shared vehicles with flexible routes that currently cover about one third of the city and are due to expand. (For residents without smartphones or who don’t wish to use a credit card, the service has alternate scheduling and payment options.) In one recent week, residents took more than 4,500 rides using the service. Because of the City’s ability to provide data collected with Via, Arlington is one of the only cities in the country receiving Federal Transportation Administration grant funding to support its Via public transit alternative.

Residents Using Data

“I’m 100 percent in favor of every city doing this,” says Taylor of Arlington’s open data initiative. “It could change how people live. If someone can find that one application that really does improve someone’s life, that can make a difference. And Arlington is supporting that.”

Kristin Taylor is Associate Director, Communications, for What Works Cities.

Arlington is one of seven cities to achieve 2019 What Works Cities Certification, the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. Read stories from other certified cities here.

Completing an assessment is the first step to receiving exclusive, pro bono support from What Works Cities to continue building a more effective local government. The program is open to any U.S. city with a population of 30,000 or higher.

What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. Learn more:

What Works Cities

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Helping leading cities across the U.S. use data and evidence to improve results for their residents. Launched by @BloombergDotOrg in April 2015.

What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. Learn more:

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