Open Performance: Powerhouse Panel

April 6, 2015 11:38 am PST | Data as a Service

The Socrata Customer Summit brings together the State of Maryland and Kansas City, MO, two governments incredibly committed to open data. Beth Blauer, Socrata’s director of StateStat, talks performance management with Kate Bender and Julie Steenson, senior management analysts with Kansas City, and Matt Power, director of Maryland’s StateStat. 


Transparency Boom in Kansas City 

Bender starts off the discussion by championing data visualization. “I probably should have subtitled it, “What Jonathan Schwabish Said,’” she jokes, referring to Schwabish’s enlightening Customer Summit talk. Then she gets serious, digging into how visualization affects equal access to information.

“When we got started we spent a lot of time on the analysis,” she comments, and discusses how visualization became just as crucial. “Performance management has such a diverse audience,” Bender explains, from elected officials to community groups. “We have to think really carefully about who’s in the room,” to create visualizations that make the data accessible to all.

Resurrecting the Citizen Survey

Kansas City’s citizens’ survey is, “at the core of our performance management program,” Bender says. “We have spent a lot of time building a culture around it.” She describes how the survey spent years as a dusty afterthought, until she and her colleagues rewrote it. They obtained direct feedback from city employees on department operations and citizens’ perceptions. Then collection and analysis took off, and the team started quarterly data deliveries. “At every performance management meeting, we’d say, ‘and here’s the latest citizens’ survey.’” Accessible, meaningful survey data became part of the internal culture.

The city council then, “grabbed it as being a core indicator,” explains Bender. Now Kansas City showcases the data in its open government dashboard, and the survey is now, “our highest level outcome measurement.” 

Delving into the Dashboard

Then Steenson steps in to discuss the city’s Socrata dashboard. When Mayor Sly James took office in 2011, Steenson says, he wanted an open, visual, and flexible performance management system. “We set about implementing that for him,” including making all stats meetings public.

The dashboard showcases the city council’s target areas for performance metrics, explains Steenson. For, “12 of the 19 areas, citizen satisfaction is the highest priority,” she emphasizes. The dashboard, though, uses citizen satisfaction as, “one point that tells a story, then we move down from there,” into the minutiae of department operations, “to make sure we’re telling a complete story about what’s going on in our departments and divisions.” 

Maryland’s StateStat Success Story

Power, Director of StateStat for the State of Maryland, starts off by giving Socrata’s Blauer a friendly pop quiz: Does she remember the four tenets of StateStat from her days helming it? No problem there: Blauer shares, “Timely and accurate information, shared by all; effective tactics and strategies; rapid deployment of resources; and relentless follow-up.”

The tenets capture the hard work behind Maryland’s consistently successful open government initiative, Power contends. He shows how open performance can be more challenging at the state level: “You’re so much further from the end use, you’re so much further from service delivery.” Yet, he points out how that distance combined with the power of the state makes transparency vital to good government. 

Secret Ingredients: Process and Consistency

Maryland’s cabinet-level departments produce monthly data memos for review by the governor and key cabinet members, such as Power and the chief of staff. Then, agency secretaries meet with those stakeholders, with no advance knowledge of the agenda. They’re expected to be ready to speak knowledgeably about any of their agency’s StateStat data. “That’s the data that you should be looking at on a daily basis,” to evaluate agency performance, Power explains.

“Every meeting begins exactly where we left off at the last meeting,” Power continues, and includes new analysis from the governor’s team. In addition, cabinet staff consistently provide information to agency heads on open government trends and innovation from around the country. “That’s a value-add we bring,” to time-pressed agency secretaries, Power notes, “and we do it incredibly consistently.”

“It’s also collaborative,” Power emphasizes. “We can use the power of the governor’s office to raise issues,” as well as force agencies to work together. “We’re that constant cadence of accountability.”

Up Next: Q&A

Look for the next post on the Kansas City and Maryland panel, when Bender, Steenson, and Power tackle audience questions.

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