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Bloomberg's 'What Works Cities' Initiative Targets 100 Mid-Sized Metros

The $42 million, three-year program will provide expertise and time to cities that want data-driven solutions for their biggest challenges.

Cities want to do new and exciting things with their data, and now they’re getting some extra help to do just that.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced on April 20 the launch of What Works Cities, a $42 million, three-year initiative that will assist mid-sized American cities in developing data projects that improve life for their residents. The initiative now seeks 100 cities with populations between 100,000 and 1 million residents to receive guidance from program partners like The Behavioural Insights Team, Harvard Kennedy School of Government Performance Lab, Johns Hopkins University’s new Center for Government Excellence, Results for America and the Sunlight Foundation.

“While cities are working to meet new challenges with limited resources, they have access to more data than ever – and they are increasingly using it to improve people’s lives,” Michael Bloomberg said in a press release. “We’ll help them build on their progress, and help even more cities take steps to put data to work. What works? That's a question that every city leader should ask - and we want to help them find answers.”

The program intends to provide technology-minded mayors and IT leaders with comprehensive support in their pursuit of projects like a travel planning app in Albuquerque, N.M., that reduced transit-related 311 calls by 25 percent; New Orleans, La., data coordination software that reduced urban blight by 10,000 residences; or an Atlanta, Ga., performance management system that reduced backlogged housing code violation complaints by 70 percent.

The four weeks prior to the official launch were spent piloting the initiative with about a dozen cities, inlcuding Chattanooga, Tenn.; Seattle; New Orleans; Tulsa, Okla.; and Mesa, Ariz., said Jim Anderson, head of Government Innovation Programs for Bloomberg Philanthropies – and they hope to hear from many more. Bloomberg will invite 285 cities to participate, and those interested will respond on the initiative website.

“The criteria are pretty broad,” Anderson said. “We’re looking for cities that have leaders that are committed to using data to improve results for residents. We’re looking for cities that are data pros and data novices alike. There’s something here for any city that wants to go deeper and build on existing efforts.”

Results for America will coordinate the program, Anderson said. “They are coordinating all the partners and working to ensure a really good customer service experience for all of the cities that participate,” he explained. “Results for America is also responsible for driving a robust conversation around the opportunity that better using data provides.”

The Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University -- led by Executive Director Beth Blauer -- will work closely with city leaders to guide them through their projects, Anderson said.

Blauer, who most recently has worked for Socrata as its director of open performance, shared her news with Twitter followers on April 20.

Very excited to announce my new role as the Executive Director of the @centerforgov based out of @JHUKSAS and our @WhatWorksCities work! — Beth Blauer (@biblauer) April 20, 2015

The team being assembled, Anderson added, will "provide coaching, mentorship and hand-holding to city officials around open data and data-driven performance management. So, really spending time with cities, sharing best practices with cities and making sure that things that are working in one city are known about by other cities and that cities have chance to show lessons learned.”

The Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School will also support cities in improving their projects, while the Sunlight Foundation will provide guidance and policies for each city’s data transparency efforts.

City leaders interested in learning more or applying for the initiative can visit the program’s website at whatworkscities.bloomberg.org.

Editor's Note: Names of pilot cities were added to this story on April 21, 2015.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.
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