If you call the fire department in Mesa, Ariz., chances are it won’t respond with a big ladder truck. That’s because you probably don’t need one. Odds are that what you really need is medical attention, and if you do, the department will get it to you – in the form of a smaller truck staffed by a firefighter and a nurse’s assistant from a local hospital.
The ladder trucks still roll out to actual fires, but saving them for that purpose and not sending a fully staffed one to every fire call that comes in have saved the city money and improved the quality of care for the people it serves. Those improvements are the result of a deep data analysis the city conducted several years ago, which found that 80 percent of its fire calls were actually medical issues.
Cities across the country would love to emulate that formula: better service for less money. But at a time when data-driven government effectiveness research is having a moment in Washington – most recently, in a bill introduced last week by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) – most local governments are just waking up to its possibilities.
Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable arm of former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is making a big bet that it can accelerate that process. It will announce on Monday that it is spending $42 million to create the What Works Cities Initiative, which is aimed at helping 100 mid-size cities make better use of data and evidence in their policymaking.