What Works Cities Certification Honor Roll: The Who and the What

Meet the cities that are on the path to data-driven excellence and What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities
Jun 29, 2020 · 8 min read

The What Works Cities (WWC) Certification program was launched in April 2017 to provide a path for cities that are striving to bring data-driven decision-making into their local governments. One of the critical aspects of the program asks cities to get their “data-check up” by taking the time to evaluate themselves and their current use of data across foundational practice areas.

Cities across the country have benchmarked their data practices against the program’s national standard of excellence and to date, 24 cities have been recognized for achieving Certification. Although Certification is awarded to cities that have met a level of data sophistication, the program focuses on the hundreds of cities committed to and working towards a stronger data foundation to effectively make decisions, and ultimately, provide better services for residents.

For the cities that are up-and-coming leaders in embedding data and evidence use across departments, the WWC Certification Honor Roll status recognizes and celebrates these cities that are on the path to Certification. While cities that make the Honor Roll have not yet met the WWC Standard to be certified, they have reached a threshold and have demonstrated a commitment to prioritizing the use of data, evidence, and innovation in their decision-making, and are on their way to becoming certified.

Be sure to keep your eyes on the following cities as they continue to improve services and outcomes for their residents by cultivating data cultures that get results.

Meet up-and-coming leaders in data-driven governance

2020 Honor Roll Cities

Austin, TX

The City of Austin used Tactical Data Engagement methods to find how open data might supercharge existing efforts to reform services for people experiencing homelessness. Image courtesy of The Roadmap to Informed Communities. Image courtesy of the City of Austin.

But the City took the challenge head-on and has since put significant resources toward better supporting those experiencing homelessness. With support from the What Works Cities Open Cities team, Austin turned to explore how open data might help the City’s service reform efforts, as well as empower and engage those experiencing homelessness in the decision-making processes.

As a result, individuals who are unhoused or housing insecure in Austin are now at the table helping to shape the quality of the services they receive and the providers with which the City contracts to deliver these services. You can learn more about how Austin leveraged open data to increase community engagement in this case study.

The City of Austin has also demonstrated its commitment to transparency and open data through its public communications. In addition to providing residents with interactive dashboards to explore the City’s budget and capital projects, Austin recently launched a new performance dashboard to measure and track progress towards achieving goals set in its citywide strategic plan, providing the results and insights City leaders need to prioritize spending and manage needs across the City.

Baltimore, MD

Critical information is kept up-to-date on Baltimore’s COVID-19 Dashboard.

The City’s data transparency during COVID-19 is exemplified in the City’s user-friendly public-facing COVID-19 Data Dashboard. The City’s dashboard and central information page includes total counts of cases, critical information around demographics — mapped down to the zip code, and information connected to the City’s response such as a map of food distribution sites, as well as resources for parents, older adults, and caregivers, making it easy for residents to get access to critical information in one central location. Baltimore’s dashboard can be translated into seven different languages — including Spanish, Arabic, and Korean — helping to ensure that language is not a barrier to residents’ access to updated information.

Baltimore continues to develop new ways of communicating progress and performance around public safety, youth services, and city cleanliness, and residents can monitor the city’s progress via the Office of Performance & Innovation’s website.

Portland, OR

After passing a new Open Data Policy with support from WWC partners the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University (GovEx) in 2017, the City established a data governance committee that is working to expand the data inventory begun by the Portland Bureau of Transportation in partnership with GovEx. Wanting to also improve collaboration with local businesses, Portland streamlined its process for technology procurements in 2019. With support from WWC partner the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School (GPL), the City adopted a more strategic approach to contracting that found immediate application around housing and active transportation.

The City has also worked with WWC partner the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) on over 10 projects to improve city communications and test what works using randomized controlled trials. In a recent project, they designed a poster to encourage grocery shoppers to keep a safe, 6-foot distance from store staff and other shoppers, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

After testing 8 variations of the poster, Portland and BIT ran a randomized controlled trial to determine which poster design would be the most effective. Image courtesy of the City of Portland’s website.

After testing multiple versions of the poster, City staff and volunteers distributed the most effective poster to culturally specific grocery stores throughout Portland and received positive feedback from store owners and staff.

You can learn how the poster was designed and what Portland learned through testing here.

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh leads a weekly meeting with department heads and reviews city performance data.

Through this culture, Syracuse has been able to make progress in a variety of areas, from using data to make the case for, and securing, parental leave for all city employees to proactively identifying and enforcing housing code violations that affect tenant health and safety. Indeed, the city is applying a data lens to its decisions both large and small — to its residents’ benefit.

For example, the City turned to its data on salt purchasing patterns and historical snowfall patterns (Syracuse is one of the snowiest cities in America, receiving an average of over 100 inches of snow per year) to make budgeting and purchasing forecasts. By predicting salt usage and purchasing when the commodity is cheaper, the city was able to reduce its salt budget by over $800,000. The city also utilized a variety of data collected from multiple agencies, from traffic safety data to road quality and congestion patterns, to identify data-driven routes for sidewalk snow removal.

In 2018, the City launched its Performance Dashboard, a publicly available tool that allows the Mayor and City leaders to communicate key city objectives, use data to measure the City’s progress toward those objectives, and inform decision-making.

2019 Honor Roll Cities

In Bellevue, the City used data to align its budgeting priorities with the needs of its community to create a cross-departmental budgeting process called Budget One. You can learn more about the City’s work and how they did it in this Data-Smart City Solutions Case Study.

In Tulsa, the City led the way in reimagining community participation through its inventive Urban Data Pioneers program that turned everyday Tulsans into the City’s data analysts to investigate and address pressing issues in Tulsa. In 2020, Tulsa achieved What Works Cities Certification at the silver level. You can learn more about the program and how to stand up a similar community engagement effort, in this Data-Smart City Solutions Case Study.

2018 Honor Roll Cities

Follow the links to learn more about each city’s approach to data-driven governance!

Feeling inspired by the work and accomplishments of these cities? Cities that take the time to complete a What Works Cities Assessment will join a community of their peers to collaboratively work to find data-driven solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing challenges. Completing a What Works Cities Assessment is also 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.

To date, 24 cities have achieved What Works Cities Certification. Learn more about the achievements of the 2018, 2019, and 2020 cities.

What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of…

What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. Learn more: http://bloombg.org/2o72SzG.

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: http://bloombg.org/2o72SzG.

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