A Data Driven City


WRITTEN BY: Julie Steenson
PHOTOS BY: Karen Lim

DATA TEAM, L-R: Eric Roche, Julie Steenson, Jean Ann Lawson, Bo McCall, Kate Bender, E’Kiasha Ruff

In 2007, the City deployed its centralized call line – 311 – to provide better customer service for residents. The 311 call line offered residents of Kansas City, Missouri, a more accessible way to report a problem or request a city service.

The ancillary benefit, however, turned out to be the aggregate data coming from these service requests. While the City tracked performance metrics for many years prior to this, the addition of such a large centralized dataset ushered in a new era for data and performance management for city departments.

With this new dataset in hand, the City began investing in other resources, like software systems that helped report data and analysts to collect, manage, analyze and visualize data.

Over time, the Office of Performance Management evolved out of the 311 Call Center to become an autonomous unit of the City Manager’s Office that is charged with data analysis, transparency and business process evaluations.

The field of performance management in local government, which is often associated with “stat” programs, is growing steadily across the world and is considered a best practice in professional government administration. Kansas City was an early adopter of this management style and has run its KCStat program since December 2011. KCStat serves as a report-out on the progress being made on the City Council adopted Citywide Business Plan. In addition, internal meetings are held weekly to discuss data with various city department leaders and the city manager as a way to apply data to the challenges the City faces.

Kansas City has been widely recognized for its commitment to data informed decisions. Most recently, Kansas City was honored as one of the first cities certified under the What Works Cities initiative. What Works Cities is a program funded and overseen by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation created by former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.

This What Works Cities certification is a validation for Kansas City’s efforts to use data and make it available to the public through the Open Data portal, which is managed by Chief Data Officer Eric Roche.

“City data should be accessible to our residents because it is a powerful tool to help understand city government. It can be used by anyone interested in knowing what is going on in their neighborhoods,” Roche says.

In addition, the certification recognized Kansas City’s work in performance management. An important factor in this recognition was Kansas City’s commitment to data that comes directly from residents, such as 311 call service requests and resident survey results. The resident survey has served as the backbone for many of the City’s recent investments. Survey results in 2016 validated what neighborhood leaders had told the City about the need for a citywide demolition program for dangerous buildings. The resulting $10 million program will have demolished 884 dangerous structures in Kansas City by the end of spring 2018.

“One of the primary goals of the citizen satisfaction survey has been to push out the results to the public and as many stakeholders as possible, like the mayor, city council, city manager, city staff, etc.” said Kate Bender, deputy performance officer. “The survey ultimately set the stage for the concept of GO KC to many stakeholders.”

The resident survey, along with other important data like infrastructure condition assessments, played a large role in helping to understand the need for the recently passed $800 million General Obligation Bond that is the funding source for the 20-year GO KC program that is focused on maintaining the City’s streets, bridges, sidewalks, flood prevention and buildings.

“As data becomes ingrained systemically in your operation, you can use facts and data to create, tweak, sustain, and perfect programs that will provide a real benefit to people, and it’s verifiable by the numbers,” Mayor Sly James said.