June 30, 2021Policy Report

Closing the Data Gap: How Cities Are Delivering Better Results for Residents

Local/ What Works Cities/ 2021/


The Monitor Institute by Deloitte, in collaboration with What Works Cities, released a new report – Closing the Data Gap: How Cities Are Delivering Better Results for Residents – that analyzes the data-driven transformation of city governments over the last several years.

Better services. Smarter and more efficient use of tax dollars. Greater transparency and civic engagement. These are the results from the data-driven transformation in city halls across the country. The movement that began in just a handful of cities six years ago has now spread far and wide. Hundreds of cities, both large and small and in every region of the country, have embraced a new approach to local governance. Moving beyond old practices based on precedent or instinct, city leaders and staff are instead using data to make more effective operational, programmatic, and policy decisions. And residents are reaping real benefits, from improved services to greater visibility into how their local government works.

Consider the progress that cities in the What Works Cities (WWC) community, launched in 2015 by Bloomberg Philanthropies and now the leading national network for data-driven city leaders, have made across four foundational data practices in the last several years:

  • Performance management: The percentage of cities monitoring and analyzing their progress toward key goals has more than doubled (from 30% to 75%)
  • Public engagement: The percentage of cities engaging with residents on a goal and communicating progress has more than tripled (from 19% to 70%)
  • Releasing data: The percentage of cities with a platform and process to release data to residents has more than tripled (from 18% to 67%)
  • Taking action: The percentage of cities modifying existing programs based on data analytics has more than doubled (from 28% to 61%).

The results: greater transparency around how and why decisions are made, more effective and efficient operations, and improved services. For example, 60% of city officials surveyed in the WWC network reported improved emergency response times, and 70% reported that their cities are systematically using data-informed decision-making to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. More than half of survey respondents also reported improving their use of data to make budget decisions, award city contracts and/or shift procurement dollars, and deliver city services more efficiently, effectively, and/or equitably.

This kind of progress builds residents’ trust in government, produces better outcomes, and reflects the broad culture shift underway in city governments across the country — demonstrating that an evidence-informed approach is possible for all U.S. cities. Today, more than 250 municipal governments across the country are changing how they do business and tackling local challenges by putting into place critical data infrastructure and/or improving data skills.

Through insights drawn from WWC program data, dozens of interviews with city leaders, staff, and external experts, and a survey of officials from 44 cities in WWC’s network, the report draws a national picture of how cities have progressed since WWC’s inception, detailing important changes across the local governance landscape while also underscoring cities’ appetite for further progress. The achievements over the last six years are substantial—but in so many ways, cities are just getting started.