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Strategic Goals Help South Bend, Ind., Achieve Accountability

The city has set publicly available, time-bound, and measurable goals to improve performance.

by / April 5, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

This article originally appeared as part of a paper on What Works Cities’ Certification program, and on Data-Smart City Solutions To download the paper as a PDF, please click here.

The city of South Bend, Ind.’s notable ability to set strategic goals has improved city government in a major way: helping Mayor Pete Buttigieg deliver on critical priorities and driving structural changes in the way the city addresses problems and services. By setting clear goals that drive work throughout the city, and reporting on those goals to residents, Buttigieg has created a high-performing government that is accountable for results. One outstanding example is the publicly-stated strategic goal of addressing 1,000 vacant or abandoned properties in 1,000 days, which started in early 2013. Mayor Buttigieg wanted to tackle the issue of blight, which residents told him was a priority during his campaign, in a visible way that allowed citizens to track the city’s progress.

The city’s commitment to addressing the vacant properties was measurable and available on the city’s website. Even when the process had issues, the public value was clear. Local media picked up on a bug in the progress tracking system that erroneously showed 100 pending properties as already addressed. The city’s Chief Innovation Officer Santiago Garces said this media revelation led to structural changes in the way that the city was tracking its progress with code enforcement. These changes, which included simplifying inspector checklists, requiring inspectors to take pictures of the properties, and assigning a central data analyst to do quality assurance, allowed the city to “improve the speed at which we were addressing the properties and we actually exceeded the goal that we had set,” Garces said.

By setting clear goals that drive work throughout the city, and reporting on those goals to residents, Buttigieg has created a high-performing government that is accountable for results.

Other strategic goals laid out by the South Bend city government include ensuring transparency and equity in policing, enhancing physical and technological infrastructure, and addressing mobility. In addition to addressing public concerns and creating action-driven strategic goals, the city consulted with the Drucker Institute to help with the framing of goals as well as the Center for Priority Based Budgeting, What Works Cities, and GovEx. Garces said working with outside groups was critical to build the “operational capacity and framework” and making tangible goals that address public concerns has been critical in building trust with residents.

A key thread running through the strategic goals is the emphasis on reporting progress and critical information to the public. The city is working to create transparency-oriented microsites on the open data portal that will report data and contextual information about specific goals to the public. The first such site, which is set to be released in Spring 2017, will focus on the strategic goal of “making sure the city has a 21st-century police department.” Garces added that these microsites will help the city better tell the story of what the city is trying to achieve and how it is progressing toward that goal.

This article was written in conjunction with Harvard Kennedy School's Eric Bosco, research assistant/writer.

Stephen Goldsmith

Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social Innovation; Governing by Network: the New Shape of the Public Sector; Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots Citizenship; The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America, and The Responsive City: Engaging Communities through Data-Smart Governance.

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