November 13, 2013Policy Report

Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives

Local/ 2013/

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-4-49-29-pmResults for America, an initiative of America Achieves, and The Bridgespan Group released a new paper today highlighting the nation’s best cities at using data and evidence to get better results for their citizens. Called “Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives,” the paper reports on the data and results revolution taking place in local governments and analyzes how these handful of city leaders are radically transforming their city services by embracing “geeky” analysis of hard data and evidence to drive results.

Authored by Laura Lanzerotti, Jeff Bradach, Stephanie Sud and Henry Barmeier, the paper outlines how cities are building evidence about the most effective and efficient practices, policies and programs; investing limited taxpayer dollars in programs that demonstrate they work; and directing funds away from those that consistently fail to achieve measurable outcomes.

Based on extensive new research and a compilation of 45 interviews with leaders from America’s most innovative cities, the paper details how cities are using data and evidence to improve the lives of residents. The paper holds up six “Geek Cities” as examples worth emulating – those on the forefront of using data and evidence to improve outcomes and communities. The Geek Cities are: Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York, Providence and San Antonio. These six cities are setting the trends for how data and evidence are being used to increase efficiency, focus on programs that are achieving results and steer resources away from those programs that are not succeeding. The Geek Cities are leading the way, compiling an evidence base and setting a standard for use of data on issues including education, jobs, youth development and preventing infant mortality.

These cities are leading the way by investing in building evidence, using data and monitoring performance. They are comparing the level of evidence behind different programs and setting priorities and allocating funding based on that evidence. They are breaking down silos and experimenting and inventing their way out of problems.

Some of the winning examples include:

  • Baltimore completely upended its budgeting process to implement one that is outcome-driven and focused on hard data and, as one example, is shifting resources towards evidence-based interventions to eliminate infant mortality.
  • Denver embraced a data-driven approach to tracking and continuously improving its schools and is investing in an in-house “academy” to teach city employees how to innovate, measure performance and continuously track their data and improve results.
  • Miami revamped its education system by honing in on school performance data and regularly tracking that data on each child.
  • New York City chose to invest in data – trying out new methods of serving critical populations, but carefully tracking the success rates of each method. New York then made the tough decisions to shift dollars away from programs that – according to evidence and data – were failing to get results and towards programs with evidence of success.
  • Providence brought together community leaders across the board for an evidence-driven, community-wide approach to helping children. Providence is also democratizing the data, making it accessible to the public.
  • San Antonio used evidence to set city priorities and determine how best to invest limited public dollars in a way that would make the most difference for children and open up life-long opportunities.

On the release of the paper, America Achieves managing partner and founder of the Results for America initiative, Michele Jolin said, “Today, ‘geeks’ are driving the competitiveness and dynamism of our nation’s economy, and using creativity and data to transform society. The ‘Geek Cities’ highlighted in this report remind us of the extent to which city governments have become the incubators of innovation and the drivers of results in America. While Washington, D.C. seems to be stuck in unending partisan gridlock, these trailblazing cities are using evidence and data to change lives and deliver real results for their citizens.”

“The case studies presented here demonstrate that this is no longer a do-gooder’s dream, but a real possibility. Cities can work smarter for their residents, and indeed, they must, as they tackle big challenges and opportunities. The six cities in our paper prove that geek is good – that blending rigor and data with a passion for results and change can move the needle on big problems,” said Bridgespan’s Jeff Bradach.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro writes in his foreword, “Cities like the ones featured in this report are innovating their way into the future, creating models that can be adapted across the nation. If smarter use of data and evidence to improve lives makes us geek cities, then all I can say is: Join us! Because what we need is more geek cities in every corner of the country.”

In his foreword introducing the paper, CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation Patrick McCarthy highlights the importance of the cities used in the study, and how philanthropy needs to be involved as well, saying, “Taken together, the examples highlighted in these pages tell us a great deal about what municipal leaders can do and can achieve when they make greater use of evidence and more skillful use of data. But this is not government’s role alone. Those of us in philanthropy have a key role to play here.”

The Bridgespan Group concludes the paper with directions for city leaders and their federal, state and philanthropic partners on how to improve outcomes based on their observations from the six city examples. For more information on this paper, or to read it in its entirety please click here.

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