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The CitiStat Model: How Data-Driven Government Can Increase Efficiency and Effectiveness

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Read "Governing by the Numbers: The Promise of Date-Driven Policymaking in the Information Age"

When Martin O’Malley took over as Baltimore mayor in December 1999, the city gov­ernment suffered from rampant absenteeism. In the Department of Public Works, for example, one in seven employees failed to report to work every day on average. This absenteeism required other employees to pick up the slack, which produced high overtime costs and a huge burden on the city’s finances.

O’Malley decided to tackle this problem by implementing a data-tracking and management tool called CitiStat. This program enabled the mayor’s office to monitor overtime and sick leave in real-time, providing ammunition to crack down on chronic absenteeism. In Citi­Stat’s first year of implementation the city saved $13.2 million—$6 million in overtime pay alone. Outside of the police department, overtime fell by 40 percent within the program’s first three years, and absenteeism plummeted by as much as 50 percent in some agencies.

Baltimore now uses the data-driven CitiStat system to manage all city programs and ser­vices. Information is gathered on an array of performance indicators, including response times for things like pothole abatement, trash collection, and snow removal, as well as the prevalence of problems such as illegal dumping, vacant buildings, and sewage overflows. This information is analyzed with the assistance of computerized databases and geographic mapping to zero in on areas of underperformance. Managers from each city department then meet with the mayor’s office every two weeks to answer questions about their results.

This approach has produced dramatic improvements in city services and efficiency, with savings of $350 million since its inception. As a result of this success, at least 11 other U.S. cities have adopted the CitiStat approach, with Washington, D.C., under new Mayor Adri­an Fenty, the latest addition to this list. Although O’Malley was recently elected governor of Maryland, his successor, Mayor Sheila Dixon, continues to employ CitiStat.

As Maryland’s new governor, O’Malley is now beginning to apply the CitiStat approach to state government. This brings hope that Maryland will set an example for other states, as Baltimore has for other cities.

Washington state has already adopted a CitiStat-inspired system. Gov. Christine Gregoire implemented the Government Management Accountability and Performance initiative, or GMAP, after her staff visited Baltimore and attended a CitiStat meeting. Like Citi­Stat, GMAP demands systematic analysis of data and regular review sessions with agency heads to assess performance. GMAP, however, employs thematic review—as opposed to departmental review—around specific issues, such as “vulnerable children and adults,” to promote collective problem-solving and cross-departmental collaboration.

This focus on the numbers, not surpris­ingly, has produced dramatic improve­ments in government performance. Gregoire has relied on GMAP to, among other things, improve responsiveness to reports of child abuse, facilitate faster decisions on environmental permits, and reduce highway fatalities.

These gains (as well as those achieved by CitiStat) have required little extra expense. Both GMAP and CitiStat use affordable, off-the-shelf software and rely on a small staff to analyze data and oversee depart­mental implementation. The GMAP staff numbers nine analysts, while CitiStat has never had more than eight full-time staff.

Nor have these programs been especially complex to implement. Gregoire and O’Malley launched their programs almost immediately after taking office. In both cases, departments and agencies were al­ready collecting data sufficient to get started (though additional data have been collected as the programs have matured). GMAP and CitiStat simply unlocked this information and put it to use for decision-making.

This never would have happened, however, without commitment at the top. Gregoire and O’Malley placed top deputies in charge of presiding over review sessions, while sometimes attending sessions themselves. This hands-on attention has signaled to managers of agencies and departments that data must drive their decision-mak­ing—and that they will be held accountable for results. The insight here is that data alone will not change behavior and improve performance. Rather, good data must be coupled with committed leadership.

A CitiStat session is shown above. Then Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, sworn in as governor of Maryland in January, is at the center of the table facing the podium.

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