Connecting state and local government leaders
The new ‘CityScore’ dashboard ‘recommits us to our pledge of transparency and delivery of excellent’ services, Mayor Walsh says.
Providing one-number scores that show how well the city of Boston is doing delivering basic municipal services, like policing, trash collection and pothole repairs, is the thrust behind a new data-driven initiative that Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office unveiled there last Friday.
Dubbed CityScore, the initiative features metrics meant to offer both residents and public officials in Boston an easy-to-interpret snapshot of the city's performance across departments and overall. The scores, said to be inspired by the analysis of baseball statistics, are displayed in an online “dashboard,” which is styled to look like the fabled “Green Monster” scoreboard at Fenway Park—home of the Boston Red Sox.
“The City of Boston is using data in a way that no city has ever done before,” the mayor said in a statement on Friday, touting CityScore’s rollout. “I am proud to launch this data platform that recommits us to our pledge of transparency and delivery of excellent city services.”
The scores were designed with the intention of making performance trends easy to spot, without having to pore over loads of data.
“One of the biggest issues these days is not necessarily not enough data, but too much data,” Daniel Koh, Walsh’s chief of staff, said by phone last Friday. “If the mayor had the time, he’d sift through it, he’d correlate it,” Koh added, referring to the city’s data. “But he just doesn’t have the time to do that, and no municipal leader does.”
With the CityScore system, a score of 1 indicates that the city is meeting its targeted goals, or maintaining historical performance levels in a given area. A score greater than 1 indicates it is exceeding those benchmarks. And a score less than 1 indicates that it is falling short.
“The formula is very, very simple here,” Koh said. “It’s actual over expected.”
Various crime trends, library users, on-time parks maintenance, and emergency medical service response times are some of the 21 categories currently displayed on the dashboard. Scores are shown on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and are based on data that is updated automatically. If a score is below 1, it’s shown in red font as opposed to white.
The individual metrics are combined to produce an overall score for the city which, as of Monday, was 1.27 for the month.
During his time as mayor, Walsh, a first-term Democrat who took office in 2014, has stressed the importance of using data to guide the city’s operations.
“The idea is not only to have the data available, but to make it front and center in what everyone is doing every day,” Koh explained.
As of late last week, the CityScore metrics were among the information displayed on four data dashboard screens that Walsh has in his office, according to Koh.
“I’ve already seen the mayor look up and say ‘hey, that number is red, go call that department and ask them for more information,’” he said. Koh added: “It allows us to see in near-real-time, where issues are arising, and to address them before they become serious problems.”
Going forward, the city will look to expand the number of metrics featured on the CityScore dashboard, and to make it possible for users to click and see the calculations used to produce scores, Koh said. “The grand vision, further down the line,” he added, “is that people can create their own data dashboards based on what they really want to see.”
It took between six and seven months to develop and launch the initiative, according to Koh.
He noted that the idea for the scoring system has roots in an approach to analyzing baseball statistics known as “sabermetrics.” Hence the online dashboard’s Fenway motif. “We wanted to make sure we paid a little homage to baseball and the Red Sox,” Koh said.
Christopher Dwelley, the city’s performance manager, said that variations of CityScore could easily be carried out by other local governments, even using basic spreadsheet files.
“You don’t necessarily need to have a large data infrastructure,” he said, “if you want to incorporate this into your own municipality.”
Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.