6 Lessons for Improving Performance Management from Kansas City, Missouri

May 22, 2017 10:10 am PST | Effective Governing

The city of Kansas City, Missouri, has been a pioneer in open data and performance management for many years. Indeed, Kansas City’s government has embraced a truly data-driven culture for a decade, starting with the launch of its 311 service in 2007, which focuses on the demand for, and timeliness of, city services. Since that launch, Kansas City, with a population of nearly 500,000, has won praise from residents in an annual survey for its innovative open data portal and online performance dashboard, KCStat, which Socrata helped develop.

KC Stat

KCStat zeroes in on solutions to big issues such as crime prevention and emergency services, and increases public engagement by making sure that Kansas City’s government is accountable and tracking with its Citywide Business Plan. This business plan provides KCStat with a framework to help city departments collect, manage, and distribute relevant data in a deliberate and disciplined way.

Always seeking continuous improvement, KCStat’s structured and focused success raised the stakes for Kansas City’s performance management staff.


Applying Data to Internal Operations

Unlike KCStat, Kansas City’s performance management programs and meetings were primarily concerned with internal, in-the-weeds operations, efficiencies, and process improvements. Kansas City’s performance management efforts also allowed a good deal of unstructured data exploration. And, because performance management initiatives weren’t tied to Kansas City’s business plan, as KCStat was, initiatives sometimes drifted. The central issue, and the desired upgrade, for Julie Steenson, the team’s Deputy Performance Officer, and her colleagues was finding ways to bring the same kind of KCStat-like relevance and discipline to Kansas City’s performance management efforts. This move was critical in order to add greater and more useful value to the city’s departments.

“Develop strategies and supporting policies to identify and provide data that is most valuable to the community.” —KC Digital Roadmap

Steenson and Kansas City’s performance management staff worked long and hard on this issue, and, about 18 months ago, they achieved their objective with a new DeptStat model. As a result, performance management programs and meetings in Kansas City are now more fully aligned with city department’s goals. But there are a handful of vital lessons here, learnings that can help any government bring this much-needed citistat approach to its departments. Here are six essential lessons that can be gleaned from Kansas City’s performance management journey and experience:


Lesson #1: A Framework Is Crucial

Performance management efforts must be anchored. If they float without a framework, like Kansas City’s Citywide Business Plan, they will deliver sub-optimal and non-relevant results and value for city departments. A framework grounds and guides performance management initiatives.


Lesson #2: Don’t Try to Do Too Much

Staying focused on the specific needs of city departments is a must. Losing focus almost always means losing relevance and effectiveness in the departments. Before it anchored and focused its performance management efforts, Kansas City asked department personnel just how important performance management meetings were for them. The survey results were telling — over 25 percent of the respondents said the performance management meetings were minimally important.  


Lesson #3: Re-Scope to Maximize Impact

Less may be more here. Kansas City’s performance management team reduced the number of departments it served from 12 to four, and it is now delivering on a series of Bold Goals. As Steenson says, “Scoping down…helped us focus attention on areas that needed specific process improvements and further data analytics.”


Lesson #4: Make Each Department Your Partner

Kansas City learned that moving to a DeptStat model is about pushing the principles of data-driven management back into the departments themselves. This decentralized approach leads to much more active and constructive collaboration because, when they get to share priorities, goals and metrics, department personnel get into the performance management conversation earlier, and stay there. Partnership leads to greater performance management innovation.


“Scan your environment: Who are the data nerds that are already out there?” —Julie Steenson, Deputy Performance Officer, Kansas City, Missouri

Lesson #5: Find the Data People in Each Department

Build and nurture a network of data fans across city government to enrich and enhance your performance management efforts over time. “My first piece of advice is to see what you have available to you,” recommends Steenson. “Scan your environment: Who are the data nerds that are already out there?” This network will help sustain performance management initiatives if and when there is a change of government administration. Kansas City has taken meaningful steps in this direction by establishing a Data Academy as well as a process improvement academy.


Lesson #6: Never Stop Improving

In the name of continuous improvement, Kansas City started applying some of the knowledge acquired from its DeptStat program to KCStat in order to keep it relevant to the city’s departments.


Learn More About Kansas City

Curious to hear more details about Kansas City’s journey to an open performance leader? Listen to Deputy Performance Officer Julie Steenson’s talk titled “Bringing a CitiStat Approach to the Department Level” from Socrata Connect in DC.


Start Your Own Performance Initiative

Socrata has created a suite of apps, platforms, and dashboards that help organizations track their progress on all kinds of initiatives, both within departments and for the public. Are you interested in finding out how your organization can become more data-driven?

Reach out to a Socrata representative by emailing info@socrata.com