Fourth Annual What Works Cities Certification Commends Excellence in Using Evidence and Data to Improve City Services, Increase Transparency, and Promote Civic Engagement
Bloomberg Philanthropies today announced that 16 U.S. cities have achieved 2021 What Works Cities certification, which evaluates the degree to which city leaders are using data to inform policy and funding decisions. Data-informed strategies have enabled these newly Certified cities to increase resident satisfaction, reduce carbon emissions, address homelessness, and more.
Since 2018, 40 cities have achieved What Works Cities Certification. “During the pandemic, using data to inform decision-making was more important than ever for cities – it helped them respond directly to the needs of their residents and deliver essential services as the situation on the ground constantly changed,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the 108th mayor of New York City. “By putting data at the center of their COVID-19 response efforts, these cities saved lives and helped residents recover – and they now have a chance to come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for the next one.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies and its What Works Cities partners – Results for America, The Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, The Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, and The Behavioral Insights Team – launched and supported the certification program to support U.S. cities in using data to improve services, create operational efficiencies, and engage residents. All U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 and higher are eligible to participate. Cities are awarded silver, gold, or platinum certification depending on their level of data sophistication.
The 16 newly certified cities this year include four cities at the Gold level – Austin, TX; Chattanooga, TN; Detroit, MI; and Gilbert, AZ – and 12 cities at the Silver level: Baton Rouge, LA; Bellevue, WA; Fort Collins, CO; Glendale, AZ; Irving, TX; Little Rock, AR; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Norfolk, VA; Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; and Syracuse, NY.
Three cities that had previously been certified advanced to the next level of certification: Cambridge, MA (Silver to Gold); Memphis, TN (Silver to Gold); and Phoenix, AZ (Silver to Gold). Four cities were re-certified at prior levels of excellence: South Bend, IN (Silver); San Jose, CA (Silver); Tempe, AZ (Gold); and Topeka, KS (Silver).
These newly certified cities are among the 254 local governments that have participated in What Works Cities since Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the initiative in 2015.
Each city that participates in certification receives a customized city assessment that highlights their unique strengths and opportunities for improvement. What Works Cities partners then provide coaching, training and technical assistance to help city leaders improve their data and evidence capabilities, embrace new practices aligned to the certification standard, and drive outcomes for their community.
Over six years, What Works Cities participants have benefited from more than $84 million in training, coaching, and technical assistance to enhance their use of data and evidence in decision making.
“City leaders are using data to understand and support the needs of residents like never before,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder of Results for America, the lead partner in the What Works Cities initiative. “Throughout the COVID crisis and a historic reckoning with racial injustice, mayors have relied on data to identify and narrow racial gaps, and to make smarter investments that increase opportunity for all their residents. These cities are testing new solutions and measuring what works, rebuilding trust in government by engaging with their residents, and using evidence and data to drive faster progress on their toughest challenges.”
What Works Cities Certification assesses cities based on their data-driven decision-making practices, such as whether they are using data to set goals and track progress, allocate funding, evaluate the effectiveness of programs, and achieve desired outcomes from contracts with outside vendors. The program also measures whether cities are publicly and transparently communicating about their use of data and evidence. The certification standard was developed by a team of experts from Results for America in close consultation with the What Works Cities Certification Standard Committee.
“Since certification was first introduced, cities have made tremendous progress in their ability to build the data capacity and skills needed to drive their decision-making with data and evidence,” said Jennifer Park, founding director of What Works Cities Certification. “This year, cities used data and evidence to guide their response to COVID, address budget shortfalls, reimagine public safety, advance equity, and much more. Data wasn’t just a valuable tool for city leaders – it was a necessity.”
A new report released by the Monitor Institute by Deloitte, in collaboration with What Works Cities, found that since 2015 the percentage of cities tracking progress toward key goals has more than doubled (from 30% to 75%), the percentage of cities engaging with residents on a goal and communicating progress has more than tripled (from 19% to 70%), the percentage of cities with a platform and process to release data to the public has more than tripled (from 18% to 67%), and the percentage of cities modifying their programs based on data analytics has more than doubled (from 28% to 61%). These are several of the data practices assessed as part of What Works Cities Certification.
Cities that have achieved certification in previous years include: Arlington, TX (2020 Gold); Boston, MA (2020 Silver); Boulder, CO (2020 Silver); Cambridge, MA (2020 Silver); Charlotte, NC (2020 Silver); Cincinnati, OH (2020 Silver); Kansas City, MO (2020 Gold); Los Angeles, CA (2020 Platinum); Louisville, KY (2020 Platinum); Memphis, TN (2020 Silver); Mesa, AZ (2020 Silver); New Orleans, LA (2020 Silver); Philadelphia, PA (2020 Silver); Phoenix, AZ (2020 Silver); San Diego, CA (2020 Silver); San Francisco, CA (2020 Gold); San Jose, CA (2020 Silver); Scottsdale, AZ (2020 Silver); Seattle, WA (2020 Gold); South Bend, IN (2020 Silver); Topeka, KS (2020 Silver); Tulsa, OK (2020 Silver); and Washington, DC (2020 Gold).
The program has inspired a movement of cities that are doubling down on their commitment to building the most well-managed local governments possible and using certification as a roadmap for doing so. More than 200 cities have completed a certification assessment to have their practices benchmarked against the national standard. The assessment is the first step to receiving exclusive support from What Works Cities to continue building a more effective local government.