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‘Imagine Boston 2030’ Dashboard Seeks to Bolster City Government Accountability

Platform condenses 472-page plan into simple progress metrics that cover all of the goals within Boston’s first citywide project in 50 years.

In crafting a long-term plan for Boston’s future, city officials spoke with more than 15,000 residents about issues that ranged from housing costs to education to how walkable its streets are — and the result was Imagine Boston 2030, a thorough and highly publicized set of civic goals culled from that feedback, and from Mayor Marty Walsh’s own priorities and research.

Imagine Boston 2030 includes benchmarks aimed at improving quality of life throughout the city, and this week it launched an accompanying online dashboard to monitor the progress that is being made toward all of its goals. Kayla Patel, a data and performance analyst with Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology, said the team behind Imagine Boston 2030 wanted to create a public-facing dashboard to both spur civic engagement and keep the city accountable.

“[Imagine Boston 2030] had a lot of information, and they wanted a way to display it visually so the city could have a tool to hold itself accountable and to empower the public to hold the city accountable toward achieving the things laid out in the plan,” Patel said.

The first significant citywide plan in 50 years, Imagine Boston 2030 is concerned with nearly every facet of life, including housing, education, the economy, open spaces, transportation, art and more. The dashboard uses existing data collected by various city departments to show residents where the city stands in terms of these goals.

For example, Boston wants to increase the number of people who bike, walk or take public transportation to work in order to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Using existing data sets, the dashboards display the percentage of people who currently fit into one of those three methods of transit, subsequently charting increases and decreases over time.

Much of the data visible through the dashboard has been available to the public through Boston’s comprehensive open data efforts for some time. The new platform, however, compiles it in one place and contextualizes it in terms of Imagine Boston 2030’s long-term goals.

“We wanted a place that people could come to and get an easy understanding of where we’re at in terms of metrics for the city and what we’re planning to do about it,” Patel said.

Measuring the performance of municipal government through tech isn’t a new concept. Cities across the country have been active in this arena for years, cities like Kansas City, Mo.

Boston, however, is one of a growing number of cities connecting performance-monitoring platforms and dashboards with highly publicized city planning, seeking to foster interest among residents along the way. Cincinnati has also recently launched a series of dashboards aimed at highlighting its own progress toward a set of strategic priorities.

Boston’s dashboard comes complete with multiple links that go straight back to the online version of the plan, which clearly lays out where the city’s goals are, what trends look like over the past 15 years or more, and where Boston wants to be in the future. Civic engagement has been a part of the plan from the start, with the city even using a story map to help draft it, and so ensuring that the public can now track its progress is part of a natural progression.

“Imagine Boston 2030 offers a citywide perspective of Boston’s future that ties together our many planning initiatives already underway to guide strategic growth and expand opportunity for all residents,” said Mayor Walsh in press release when a draft of the plan was first unveiled last year. “I am excited to launch a draft plan that identifies ways to strengthen neighborhoods and support growth for years to come. This plan represents the voice of thousands of residents who shared their thoughts, and I look forward to continuing the conversation so together we can build the future of Boston.”

Check back later this week for a broader look at Boston's ongoing efforts to engage residents with open data, storytelling maps and other new functionalities. 

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine