September 22, 2015Policy Report

Seattle: Measuring Outcomes to Improve Outcomes

Local/ 2015/

On February 17, 2015, Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle announced the launch of a government performance dashboard and an open budget website to improve the city’s accountability and transparency efforts. During his 2015 State of the City Address, Mayor Murray recognized Seattle’s on-going need to measure and improve government performance given the city’s expected growth pattern. His commitment to the use of data and evidence supports his vision for Seattle as a “Safe, Affordable, Vibrant, Interconnected and Innovative City for All.” He stated, “If Seattleites are to have confidence that City Hall can meet today’s challenges they must be able to measure the city’s performance….”[1] Following the mayor’s public commitment to using data and evidence rather than traditions, Seattle has taken several steps to implement his vision, including two key initiatives:

  • Performance Seattle, the city’s performance dashboard, which displays real time data to capture the city’s progress on achieving 81 performance standards and goals outlined in performance plans developed by city departments[2]; and
  • Open Budget Seattle which is a part of the mayor’s commitment to improving transparency in the city’s budget-setting process reflecting the mayor’s policy agenda for basing budgetary decisions on measurable outcomes.[3]

Taken together, both of these efforts encourage the city to set more targeted goals, improve tracking of progress, leverage performance with fiscal resources, and ultimately, achieve better outcomes for its citizens.[4] This case study highlights how these initiatives are improving city services for Seattle’s citizens.

The success of these efforts to date is clear. For example, the evidence and data-driven approach taken by the Seattle Department for Early Learning and Education has reaped significant gains. The Families and Education Levy demonstrates the potential performance improvements reflected in data-driven approaches. Seattle’s Levy has accomplished the following[1]:

  • Increased the number of students served by a Levy summer learning program to 1,500 students served by July 2015[2];
  • Increased the percentage of 4-year-old children in city-supported preschool classrooms on track to meet kindergarten readiness expectations[3];
  • Provided health services to 1,500 students through Levy-funded school-based health centers[4]; and
  • Increased attendance at Homework Help sessions by 10 percent over the 2014 academic year for a total of 12,400 attendees[5].