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What Works Cities: An Overview and Benefits of Certification
What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government.
Lauren Su, the Associate Director of Certification & Community for the What Works Cities Initiative, oversees the What Works Cities Assessment process and helps manage the Certification program.
This program evaluates how well cities are managed by measuring the extent to which leaders incorporate data and evidence in decision-making. It helps all cities benchmark their current state of practice and develop a roadmap to use data and evidence to drive effective change and deliver results for residents.
Investing in city’s foundational data practices can lead to better results for residents. Additionally, there is tremendous value in building a data foundation and data capacity to support city efforts and the goals your city has set!
What is What Works Cities?
What Works Cities (WWC) was launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2015 to help local governments use data and evidence effectively to tackle their most pressing challenges and improve residents’ lives.
They do this work in three primary buckets:
- Set the national standard of excellence for what it means to use data and evidence to tackle these pressing challenges.
- Connect cities to world-class experts to build or advance data-informed government.
- Build a network of city practitioners and experts that serves as a learning community focused on sharing innovations, troubleshooting common challenges, replicating successful practices, and much more.
The initiative is also a consortium of five expert-partners that each support local governments in different ways. In their first three years, these partners have worked with over 100 mid-sized cities that touch over 31 million residents in total. These partners are:
- The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT)
- The Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School
- The Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University
- Results for America (RFA)
- The Sunlight Foundation
Why seek out a WWC Certification?
What Works Cities Certification is the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. The program evaluates how well cities are managed by measuring the extent to which leaders incorporate data and evidence in decision-making. It also gives participating cities the opportunity to benchmark their current state of practice and develop a roadmap to use data and evidence to drive effective change and deliver results for residents.
Example: Data-Informed Government in Action
A common challenge cities face is the lack of results, even when you dedicate additional funds and resources to combat an issue. This was the case with the City of Seattle, where in 2015, the Mayor declared a state of emergency because the city’s homelessness population continued to rise, despite increases in financial resources directed toward the challenge.
To start, Seattle teamed up with WWC’s partner Government Performance Lab, who decided to take a closer look at how the contracted dollars with service providers were being spent and if they could identify opportunities for improvement. They found that many of the city contracts were measuring success in outputs and that engagements were compliance-oriented instead of focused on outcomes.
To meet the overall goal of reducing homelessness, the City worked with WWC’s partners to transition from being compliance-oriented to outcome focused.
As of first quarter 2018, over 3,000 households transitioned to stable housing, an increase of more than 1,200 households relative to the first quarter of 2017, when the data-driven metrics and new contracts weren’t yet in place. Without the data practices in place in the city, Seattle would not have been in the position to use the data to address this strategic priority and use the data to help reduce the homelessness population in their city.
Perks of Completing a WWC Assessment
What Works Cities can help guide you on your data and evidence journey. And the first step you can take is completing the What Works Cities assessment. In doing so, you can achieve and receive the following benefits:
- Visibility into your city’s current practices
- Customized next steps for improvement
- Virtual and in-person training opportunities
- Targeted support opportunities
- Network of peers
To get started, complete the What Works Cities Assessment. Lauren’s presentation covers all the details and provides more background information about WWC and the certification process. And of course, reach out to our team if you have questions about how to track your performance in order to make data-driven decisions.