Kansas City Measures Performance through Online Dashboard

In a push for accountability, Kansas City has launched a public dashboard to demonstrate progress on city goals with live metrics.

To follow through on its commitment to provide more visibility into city performance, Kansas City, Mo., launched KCStat Dashboard on Oct. 22, an online tool that displays progress on city goals and objectives.

Developed by government data company Socrata, the dashboard is the city’s way of offering residents more information about government performance with real-time data, said Julie Steenson, a performance analyst for the city. Upon full implementation, the dashboard will display various statistics, from citizen satisfaction percentages to progress on maintenance and repair tasks.
“It’s been a real evolutionary project,” Steenson said. “We never had a way for the citizens or even the elected officials to see our data at a glance.”
Kansas City's KCStat program began in December 2011 as a data collection effort that focused on service areas that drew a significant number of public complaints: street maintenance, water line maintenance, water billing, customer service, code enforcement and animal control.
In January, the city council updated its 24 major priorities (developed with public input) into six key areas -- public infrastructure, economic development, public safety, healthy communities, neighborhood livability and governance -- and sought a way to make their ambitions both measurable and publicly available.
Answering this call, Socrata offered the city a platform called GovStat, a program it announced in March as a way for government leaders to integrate data to decision-making while engaging citizens at the same time.
Key features of the platform, according to Socrata’s March product announcement, include an easy-to-use interface (without the need for user licenses), and real-time dashboards that can be shared through a simple drag-and-drop system.
Mayor Sly James praised the tool for its benefits related to transparency.
“The KCStat Dashboard is the city’s way of helping residents see how we’re doing at our job of serving them,” said James in a city release. “Our residents deserve nothing less than a city government based on data-driven results, and KCStat is a great tool for benchmarking our results.”

Initial Hurdles

Yet, with any new tool, there is always a ramp up period. Steenson explained that with the dashboard, early challenges stemmed not from integrating the technology, but in choosing how to best curate the data.
Despite the city council’s list of priorities, data within those priorities required sifting. Sometimes, she said, data is not in its final form for the public to view. While there aren’t any secrets, Steenson explained, the city wanted to ensure all information was as accurate as possible before they selected it to be presented to the public.
Currently KCStat Dashboard only offers statistics on public infrastructure, yet in the months ahead, the platform will expand to publish data metrics from multiple city departments.
On Nov. 5, the city will add the next set of data to the dashboard, focused on economic development. Included in this release will be data on the reuse and sale of vacant property, convention activity, and the city’s airport.
“This dashboard is the layer on top of our data that we can curate,” Steenson said. “We’re using it as a storytelling device so we can say here is a high-level metric — whether it's citizen satisfaction or business satisfaction — and then in one screenshot show why it’s important to us.”

Long-Term Benefits

As more data is released, and the community becomes more aware of it, Steenson said she sees the program becoming an important tool not only for the public, but also for city employees who already rely on city data to do their jobs.
For a lot of the data, it will be the first time there has been an easy-access spot for it to be retrieved online.
Though still in its infancy, the program has received a few optimistic nods from the public. Steenson said when the program initially launched, it lit up the city's social media accounts.
“It seemed to be received really well. We received good feedback internally on it too,” Steenson said.
Others to adopt Socrata's GovStat platform include San Mateo County, Calif., the state of Maryland and the city of Edmonton in Canada.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.