Stats Surge Continues in Cities and States

Cincinnati, Ohio

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Cincinnati hopes to “leapfrog to the front of the class” of municipal stats programs. Here’s how they’ve worked in Louisville, Baltimore and Somerville, Massachusetts.

The latest ambitious effort employing data to improve local public services is getting underway on the banks of the Ohio River, as the Buckeye State’s third-largest city stands up CincyStat to track the activities of 18 municipal departments.

The move by Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black to institute a statistics-driven effort gained momentum late last year when Chad Kenney was hired to run the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics. A veteran of the pioneering Baltimore CitiStat office, Kenney carries the title of chief performance officer.

Cincinnati is building not one but two special facilities to advance the effort: The first is to hold regular “stat” meetings between department heads and the city manager and his staff; and the second is an innovation lab where week-long sessions will address thorny obstacles to more effective governance practices.

In an interview, Black, pictured here, said he hopes to “leapfrog to the front of the class” of municipal stat programs around the country.

The Cincinnati effort is part of a second generation of stat programs whose ambitions reach beyond monitoring of bread-and-butter municipal activities such as pothole, sidewalk and streetlight repair, tree trimming, trash collection and snow removal.

To be sure, such activities remain at the core of municipal stat programs, addressing as they do services important to citizens, who have learned to use 311 and other services to report problems they see.

In Louisville, a new Office of Performance Improvement is working with LouieStat both to monitor city services and to train hundreds of municipal workers in modern management techniques such as Lean and Six Sigma.

With the training, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is hoping to create a new culture of management excellence in the city’s 18 departments, his performance adviser, Theresa Reno-Weber, said in an interview.

Just outside Boston, officials in Somerville are also reaching for second-generation goals, by assigning a stat analyst to examine such big-picture objectives as childhood obesity and student achievement.

Stat programs have largely been the province of mayors and cities, although they have also been used in some federal agencies and a handful of states.

Among states, Maryland has been a pioneer with its StateStat office, and Pennsylvania’s new governor, Tom Wolf, recently took a step in this direction by creating a new Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency.

Matthew Gallagher, who oversaw both Baltimore’s CitiStat and Maryland’s StateStat while working for then-Mayor and later Gov. Martin O’Malley, said in an interview that statistical analysis “is very much out there in the bloodstream of public management” some 15 years after CitiStat began.

‘PeformanceStat’ in Action

It takes Harvard University Professor Robert D. Behn more than 400 tightly packed pages to cover the landscape of public sector “stat” programs in the United States in his without-a-doubt-comprehensive book titled “The PerformanceStat Potential” (Brookings Institution Press, 2014).

From the early CompStat program in the New York Police Department to the pioneering CitiStat program in Baltimore to narrower uses in federal agencies and municipal departments, Behn covers it all. The subtitle of his book conveys a core finding of his exhaustive research: “A Leadership Strategy for Producing Results.”

PerformanceStat is Behn’s coinage to describe the commonalities in all these programs. He attempts a definition with one long sentence:

A jurisdiction or agency is employing a PerformanceStat leadership strategy if, in an effort to achieve specific public purposes, its leadership team persists in holding an ongoing series of regular, frequent, integrated meetings during which the chief executive and/or the principal members of the chief executive’s leadership team plus the director (and the top managers) of different subunits use current data to analyze specific, previously defined aspects of each unit’s recent performance; to provide feedback on recent progress compared with targets; to follow up on previous decisions and commitments to produce results; to examine and learn from each unit’s efforts to improve performance; to identify and solve performance-deficit problems; and to set and achieve the next performance targets.

As Behn’s subtitle and definition indicate, use of statistics to identify and track problems is not sufficient to improving public services; only if leadership follows up on the findings and holds agencies accountable for improvement can a stat system ensure progress.

His book probes the first and most famous of the stat programs, the NYPD’s CompStat. Behn, who teaches at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, observes that the steep decline in crime in the 1990s was the result of many factors, with CompStat and “broken windows” policing only pieces of the solution. Its originator, former NYPD official Jack Maple has observed that it “is just a tool. In the hands of the mediocre, it’s useless. In the hands of a great leader it can be Excalibur.”

In the hands of then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore’s CitiStat program was widely credited with successful extension of the CompStat program to a wide array of city services.

Rapid repair of potholes, replacement of broken street lights, removal of graffiti and clearing of snow from city streets are among the most basic of city services, but they were not getting done in timely fashion, O’Malley and his staff concluded.

On the principle that what gets measured gets done, they established complaint systems for citizens and set goals for improving the timeliness of requested services. They set up a war room, where they’d regularly grill department heads on how they were meeting targets for improvement. A focus on crime helped drive trends in the right direction. Under the spotlight, agencies also realized significant reductions in absenteeism and overtime pay.

In 2004, CitiStat won the prestigious Innovations in American Government award from Harvard’s Kennedy School and the Ford Foundation.

CitiStat became a hot property and Baltimore a frequent destination for municipal leaders nationwide. Thousands of people visited the CitiStat offices, Gallagher recalls; one week witnessed the arrival of 11 groups from 11 different countries brought to Baltimore under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In his book, Behn lists 21 cities, from Buffalo to Atlanta to San Francisco that have attempted versions of the Baltimore system. Cincinnati thus joins in a continuing stat surge.

Behn documents its spread among higher levels of government.

O’Malley’s StateStat office was an early example, and in the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration, the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency established stat-type programs. Congress, in the 2010 GPRA Modernization Act, required agencies to conduct quarterly “priority performance reviews.”

In an interview with GovExec State & Local last fall, O’Malley reflected on his experiences with stats analysis over the years, first at Baltimore City Hall and later, in Annapolis.

“What’s changed at this level is the importance of the concept of delivery—making sure that everyone that’s a partner in achieving our goals is aware of what role they play and the critical link that they have in delivering better results.”

Some of the techniques have changed as well, O’Malley said. “The analytics continue to evolve and we’ve made great use of those, especially when it comes to reducing homicides, better supervising parole and probationers, identifying juvenile offenders early—the ones who are at the greatest risk of harming themselves or others— so we can intervene before things become tragic.”

But there are some differences in stats analysis experiences going from the local to the state level.

Just as local government is most accountable because it is closest to the people, higher levels of government are generally less amenable to rigorous performance reviews.

The success of an education or social services program, for instance, is often dependent on many factors beyond the purview of government managers, and the farther they are from the clients, the less they can be held accountable for results, Gallagher said.

Those sentiments were echoed in an interview last fall with Abigail Ross Hopper, who served as director of the Maryland Energy Administration in the governor’s administration.

Meeting O’Malley’s energy-use reduction goals, for instance, was something that depended on working not only with private utility providers but also the state’s energy consumers, both out of direct jurisdiction of the state government.

“It can be stressful to be evaluated on things that are not in your control,” Harper said, noting that those challenges can also be motivating. “I like that external pressure to being accountable.”

And there’s certainly a lot of pressure sitting in a room being quizzed by your colleagues on your agency’s performance in a group session, far more so than if your performance was simply assessed in a submitted report that might gather dust or sit unread in an inbox.

“Having an annual review or even weekly reports is not the same as sitting in a room with all your colleagues and looking at where you are,” Hopper said. “If you’re coming to the table wanting to solve problems, it doesn’t have to be stressful.”

New Approaches

When Republican Larry Hogan upset O’Malley’s lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, in the November elections, the future of StateStat was cast into doubt.

Some said Hogan has viewed it as little more than a public relations play by O’Malley, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid and has talked up his stats-focused experience with governance.

But it is apparent that Hogan will continue the office. The new governor has retained some of its staff, and a Hogan spokeswoman, Erin Montgomery, told GovExec State & Local that Maryland’s new lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford “has taken a very keen interest in StateStat.”

So Rutherford could provide the leadership these efforts require. Such leadership was lacking in Baltimore during some of the eight years since O’Malley’s mayoralty ended, and not much has been heard from the program of late, although the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently appointed attorney Mark Grimes to head up the office.

The most advanced next-generation CitiStat program is probably found in Louisville. The city’s mayor, Greg Fischer, was a businessman and community leader before his election in 2010. He was reelected last year.

At age 25, Fischer co-invented the SerVend automated ice/beverage dispenser used to this day in convenience stores and restaurants. His business, SerVend International employed more than 300 people by the time it was sold to another company. Fischer has been in the leadership of other business and nonprofit institutions since then.

Fischer got behind the stat program, launching LouieStat in 2012. He required departments to develop key performance indicators, to answer two questions:

  • What results are we trying to achieve?
  • How would we know if we were achieving them?

As in other cities, the mayor also used the process to seek government-wide workplace efficiencies, to reduce unscheduled overtime, sick time usage, work related illness and injury, and to improve responsiveness to citizen concerns. He holds periodic meetings, especially with departments overseeing such important and visible functions as public safety and economic development, to track progress toward their goals.

Louisville City Hall (Photo by Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com)

About a year into his tenure, Fischer found an ideal candidate to run a new Office of Performance Improvement that has proved key to next-generation advances. She is Theresa Reno-Weber, a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy—among the first of the sea marshals appointed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks—who served as an officer in the Persian Gulf and also in drug interdiction work based in Miami.

After leaving the service in 2006, Reno-Weber, pictured here, earned a masters degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and then worked for nearly five years for McKinsey & Co., the highly regarded consultancy.

As chief of performance and technology, Reno-Weber is helping Fischer drive what he hopes will be profound culture change among the city’s workforce. Fischer is a follower of various management disciplines, including lean process improvement, Six Sigma and quality management practices, and he hopes to cascade knowledge of these disciplines through all of the city’s agencies.

Reno-Weber heads a nine-person Office of Performance Improvement, whose staff includes several “performance coaches” assigned to work with agencies to develop strategies, to unlock data to analyze current performance, and to identify metrics that can measure progress. The staff also has organized training in the management disciplines Fischer espouses. So far, 10 to 15 percent of the city’s 6,000 employees have undergone the training.

Culture change is one facet of what Reno-Weber sees as next-generation changes in the traditional stat programs. The second, she says, is an effort to enlist outside partners in a six-year effort Fischer has outlined to improve jobs, wages, educational achievement and other aspects of life for Louisville’s 600,000 citizens.

“We cannot be just internally focused, and need partnerships to meet these goals,” Reno-Weber said.

To bring problem-solving efforts directly to the public, city officials organized quarterly evening meetings bringing together officials dealing with vacant and abandoned properties. Public turnout was low, so now the meetings are held during regular work hours and are filmed for airing on the metro TV channel.

O’Malley, looking ahead, noted that the true success of stats analysis will increasingly depend on how government encourages citizen engagement.

“The next iteration of this new way of governing will come when more and more citizens start to participate and appreciate the access they have to the information that their governments have,” he said. “We strive to make this information more intelligible to every citizen.

From Somerville to Cincinnati

The Louisville ambition is matched on a smaller scale in Somerville, population 78,000, whose four square miles encompass Tufts University.

Somerville’s stat website uses data-driven graphics to map the quality of life in the city, covering everything from birth rates to housing affordability to maps charting complaints about rats, noise and graffiti by neighborhood. Some of the data comes from the records of the city’s 311 call center, which boasts a staff of 11 full-time and some part-time workers.

Six-term Mayor Joe Curatone was an early adopter of stat techniques, having visited Baltimore’s CitiStat shortly after his election in 2003.

Today, the SomerStat office is run by Skye Stewart, pictured here, whose staff of three analysts, she said in an interview, act as “internal management consultants” to city departments, making recommendations for improvements to department heads and to the mayor.

Curatone wants to stretch to ambitions of his analytical staff, and has assigned one to what Stewart described as “systems thinking” on big issues reaching as far as affordability and quality of life in the city.

Cincinnati, population 300,000, was one of the first cities in the country to adopt the strong city manager form of municipal government. Together with the city council, City Manager Black has set five priority goals for the city: safer streets, a growing economy, healthy neighborhoods, innovative government and fiscal sustainability.

As chief performance officer in the Office of Performance and Data Analytics, Kenney, pictured here, is now working to craft performance agreements, emphasizing four to five priority goals, between Black and the heads of Cincinnati’s 18 departments.

Soon, in the new CincyStat facility, Black will start up a biweekly meetings with the most important half-dozen departments, in what he said will be “relentless pursuit of results.”

The Innovation Lab will play host to what Black has labeled “Kaizen”—Japanese for positive change—events, the three-to-five day deep dives aimed at untying procedural knots that are holding back progress on important issues. Kenney said early targets will include permitting, inspections and other aspects of real estate development. The hope is that the lab will soon be sought after by department heads as a tool for progress in their portfolios.

Within 18 months, Black and Kenney hope to unveil new data-based programs addressing cross-cutting issues, perhaps under the rubric of “results-stat.”

Next Generation?

There’s little question that data-driven analysis and performance improvement programs are here to stay.

At the federal level, President Obama’s recently unveiled fiscal 2016 budget’s management initiatives include new efforts to encourage use of data to assess and improve programs, and to fund  “idea labs” in the departments and agencies.

At the state level, it’s too early to say if Maryland’s Rutherford, whose office did not respond to inquiries, will give StateStat much influence in Annapolis, or if Wolf’s new innovation-and-efficiency executive order in Pennsylvania will take hold.

But in cities and states across the country, elected officials and managers seem increasingly determined not only to improve services through data analysis and performance tracking but also to expand their programs, seeking next-generation advances in managing toward better quality of life in their jurisdictions.  

Timothy B. Clark is Editor at Large at Government Executive and is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. His son Samuel A. S. Clark served as deputy director of CitiStat in Baltimore and then worked for O'Malley on Maryland StateStat until 2013. Michael Grass, Executive Editor for GovExec State & Local, contributed reporting to this article.

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