Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black will tell you in no uncertain terms that his mission to make city government run smarter has been working. Shortly after taking the reins as the city’s chief administrator in September 2014, Black, with the backing of the mayor and council, began to build a data analytics and performance monitoring framework into the fabric of daily operations.
Now, some three years on in this process, he has released a retrospective paper on the methodologies behind the efforts and just what they have meant to Cincinnati government. The paper, published April 18, is, as Black detailed, a look how the municipal government went from missing opportunities for public service to improving efficiencies and holding departments accountable.
And Black said the Cincinnati story differs from many others trying to make a go of measured governing. The support of the mayor and council in moral and budgetary matters has made all the difference in effectively breaking down the stovepipes of city operations.
“The supposition is that the Cincinnati performance management story is unique based on our approach and methodology,” the city manager told Government Technology. “A lot of places, you might have an innovation lab and that is it. You could have a [statistics] process, but it may not talk or relate back to the [innovation lab] process. It’s a stovepipe approach.”
The support of city leaders also allowed for the restructuring and integration of new city functions that took the form of the CincyStat, the Innovation Lab within the Office of Performance and Data Analytics.
Metrics-based performance agreements with all city department heads ensure accountability to the overarching mission and timely identification of deficiencies. “We have moved away from level of effort management orientation to a performance and outcomes orientation to everything that we do,” Black said.
In addition, the charge of and strategy behind the office is tied directly to the city budget to make sure the appropriate funding is provided to the various initiatives.
“The bottom line is that we are able to provide service better and faster and in a more transparent way for our customers.”
The result of these efforts has been substantial, according to Black. Where once departments like public works grappled with substantial work request backlogs, personnel are better equipped and better able to address issues in shorter order.
“We went from what might have taken 30 or 40 days to turn a request around on average to maybe six days today,” Black explained. “We’re generating significant cost savings of at least $4 million since the inception of the program. We’re looking at cost avoidance, and we’re looking at significant productivity efficiencies.”
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who identifies as the tech-focused council member, said the way the city has been doing business should be the norm in 2017 — a time when data analytics and openness are more accessible than ever.
As he sees it, local government should follow the lead of the private sector when it comes to embracing more efficient tools.
“Too often in government, there is this sense that it is acceptable for there to be a gulf between how we do things in the public side and how a tech company in California might do things, I don’t buy that and I don’t think it needs to be that way,” Sittenfeld said. “We need to be making decisions with maximum transparency and maximum visibility, and we increasingly live in an age where we have the tools to do that.”