Kansas City, Louisville, and Washington, DC, Level Up

2019 Certification Level: Gold

Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; and Washington, DC, are all taking home gold. Among our inaugural group of cities to achieve What Works Cities Certification, these trailblazing local governments have refused to rest on their laurels. Over the past year, they’ve doubled down on their commitment to build the most well-managed local governments possible and have increased their performance on average by 32%.

A map of all 13 cities to achieve What Works Cities Certification to date

So what does that mean for residents? Better, safer streets, more efficiently responding to 911 calls, and ensuring data-driven progress will be sustained in the future, to name a few examples. Keep reading to learn about a notable win each of these cities have achieved over the past year.

Kansas City, Missouri: Cementing Progress to Survive Change

In 2018, we recognized Kansas City for using data to make decisions, set priorities, build trust, and engage residents.

Kansas City is on the precipice of a leadership change as Mayor Sly James — a vital champion of the City’s data-driven work — is set to leave office later this year. Too often a city’s data-driven accomplishments and priorities shift amid changes in city leadership. Undaunted, Kansas City saw in this inevitable transition an opportunity to sustain its progress via a more formal champion: city law. Earlier this year, Kansas City passed an ordinance that codifies its commitment to data-driven governance and ensures the longevity of the City’s robust culture around transparency.

The DataKC Team, from left to right: Eric Roche, Julie Steenson, Jean Ann Lawson, Bo McCall, Kate Bender, and Ekiasha Ruff

Alongside this new law, Kansas City’s Office of Performance Management has also undergone a significant rebrand, underscoring the City’s commitment to doing data-driven work as well as communicating about it. Having outgrown its humble beginnings in the City’s 311 call center as an unofficial data initiative, the Office is now formally Data KC and ready to embrace its mission of helping departments across City Hall build their own data skills.

As the team puts it: “Our new name is not just symbolic. DataKC is how we move forward as a city together.”

Keep reading: Bloomberg Cities recently caught up with Deputy Performance Officer and Senior Performance Management Analyst Julie Steenson and Deputy Performance Officer for the Office of the City Manager Kate Bender.

Louisville, Kentucky: Sharing Cost-Saving Solutions for Better Streets

In 2018, we recognized Louisville for its commitment to transparency and engaging approach to open data.

Cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to conduct traffic studies. For Louisville, paying for these studies and analysis resulted in static reports. And since traffic is anything but static, the findings weren’t particularly helpful. Staff took matters into their own hands, creating a platform that uses real-time congestion data freely available to governments through the Waze CCP (Connected Citizens Program), paired with other information like built environment data and collision reports, to drive transportation improvements.

Louisville now performs on-demand traffic studies, allowing officials to make data-driven decisions that positively impact residents while saving taxpayer dollars. By publishing all of the city’s road closures and construction data online, Waze can sync that data with the Waze app, giving more than 50,000 Louisvillians who use the app the ability to navigate the city more quickly and safely.

This map shows the signals affected by the coordinated traffic signal timing plan along the Westport Road corridor off Interstate 264. It carries up to 40,000 cars per day, with a 15% increase in Average Daily Traffic counts over the past decade. After re-timing, Westport Road saw a 30% drop in the number of Waze jams.

Then the City kept going, determined to offer up its cost-saving creation to other cities to use — for free. Louisville’s Innovation Department brought cities across the nation together to collaboratively create an open-source, cloud-based system called Waze WARP (Waze Analytics Relational-database Platform). Now more than 900 government entities are able to take advantage of the ability to run both historic and real-time querying and analysis to improve mobility, pedestrian and bike safety, road conditions, and emergency response. And in the process, they’re saving the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they would traditionally pay a vendor to build a similar service.

This project is just one success story coming out of Louisville’s Open Government Coalition (OGC), a network of governments at all levels pooling their technical talents and collaborating on projects that are helping save time and money. Other notable projects include a nationwide digital inclusion crowd-sourced map, an open data and performance dashboard product, a street quality analyzer using cameras, and more.

Keep reading: With the support of Mayor Greg Fischer, the team of more than 50 employees in Louisville’s Office of Civic Innovation also focused their efforts in 2018 on creating the first public data inventory, increasing engagement with residents on open data, and writing new policies around data quality. Check out the Data Governance page on the City’s website to learn more.

Washington, DC: Answering the Call to Conserve 911 Resources

In 2018, we recognized Washington, DC, for using data to run rigorous evaluations that test whether government services are delivering the best results for residents.

While high volumes of 911 calls is a national crisis, Washington, DC, has one of the highest per capita 911 call rates. In 2017, the District received upward of 166,000 calls. Historically, an ambulance has been sent to respond to every 911 call, but as a result, the District was experiencing an ambulance shortage. To better understand the situation, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (DCFEMS) turned to its call data. That’s when staff realized that one out of every four callers did not require emergency care, and would have been better served by a visit to a primary or urgent care clinic.

Washington, DC fire and EMS vehicles on a city street

To help alleviate the tremendous stress placed on the City’s resources and capacity, Washington, DC, launched a pilot program called Right Care, Right Now. When the DC Office of Unified Communications receives a 911 call, the operator now transfers callers with non-life-threatening conditions to an EMS-trained nurse, who then determines the most appropriate type of services needed and guides callers on the available next steps. For callers who want to be seen by a healthcare professional, the nurse schedules a same-day appointment at a nearby urgent or primary care facility and coordinates transportation with the rideshare company Lyft.

The process behind DC’s nurse triage line, Right Care, Right Now. Image courtesy of DCFEMS, 2018

For the 130 people transported during the first 90 days of the pilot program, their average wait time for transportation was 15 minutes, and surveys showed a 100% satisfaction rate with the service they received. This is a promising start, but the District is staying true to its track record of rigorously evaluating programs as it determines whether to scale the program. To get the most accurate measures of the program’s effect on health outcomes and 911 usage, Mayor Muriel Bowser charged the District’s in-house scientific team, The Lab @ DC, with embedding a low-cost randomized controlled trial into the program. The test period ended on March 1 of this year, and results will be analyzed using administrative data and released over the course of the next year.

Keep reading: What Works Cities partner Results for America’s recent case study took a deep dive into the pilot of the City’s 911 nurse triage line and resulting efforts to increase the quality of care for callers.


Kansas City, Louisville, and Washington, DC, are three 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.