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
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
Note: Cities that make the Certification Honor Roll maintain their status for the year that they assess.
2020 Honor Roll Cities
Like many cities across America, the City of Austin is faced with the pressing challenge of reducing homelessness and ensuring that those who are homeless receive the services they need. At the beginning of 2019, over 2,000 people in Austin were living without homes. For those experiencing homelessness, accessing support can be difficult across Austin’s terrain. In a fairly expansive city where services are concentrated downtown, people who need social service support face the burden of navigating a dispersed and often confusing ecosystem.
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.
The City of Baltimore is leading the way in using data to manage and improve city services. This work is driving the City’s response to COVID-19 and its communications to the public during the pandemic response. One aspect of this is Baltimore’s COVID-19 city operations data tracking. The City developed a series of new data tracking systems to support the City’s management of service delivery and emergency food access during the early days of the City’s coronavirus response.
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.
The City of Portland is building capacity to use data and evidence with an eye toward advancing transparency and collaboration with local communities. For decades, Portland has published performance data in the City budget, and brings that information into independent budget and performance reviews issued each year. The City has been working to make its data even more accessible to the public, as it did with the results of its 2019 Portland Insights Survey.
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 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.
The City of Syracuse has committed to ensuring that being a data-driven government is baked into the city’s culture. From standing up an Office of Accountability, Performance and Innovation, establishing a well-run performance management program and an open data program, and embedding the data perspective into high-level decisions made by the Mayor’s strategic planning committee, the city is moving toward a citywide culture of data-driven decision-making and management.
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 2019, Bellevue, WA and Tulsa, OK (2020 Silver Certified) were both recognized for their leadership and innovative approaches to incorporating data-driven decision-making into their respective local governments and made the What Works Cities Honor Roll.
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
In 2018, the Certification program welcomed its first class of Honor Roll cities, with many having gone on to achieve What Works Cities Certification. The inaugural group of cities was Las Vegas, NV; Providence, RI; Scottsdale, AZ (2019, 2020 Silver Certified); South Bend, IN (2020 Silver Certified); and Topeka, KS (2020 Silver Certified).
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.