Case Study – Montgomery County, Maryland’s CountyStat
An Established National Leader in Transparency and Data Driven Government
- Full-time MoCo staff: 3 – 5
- Launched: December 2007
- Leadership oversight: Offices of the County Executive
“I initiated the CountyStat program because I feel strongly that our residents have the right to expect every County department and employee to be responsive and accountable for every aspect of the services they are providing,”
Since its inception, CountyStat has earned consecutive International City/County Management Association’s Center for Performance Measurement Certificates of Excellence from 2013 through 2015, the 2014 American Society for Public Administration Center for Accountability and Performance’s Organizational Leadership Award. Additionally, it has contributed to the county being consistently recognized as a top performer in Government Technology’s Digital Counties Survey, where it earned the top spot in 2010 and 2013.
CountyStat develops, monitors, and reports on performance metrics grouped under eight priority areas, ranging from “safe streets and neighborhoods” to “a responsive and accountable county government” and convenes weekly public meetings to address the performance of the county’s 22 principal departments and several important cross-departmental initiatives. With such a robust program, how does the CountyStat continue to improve and evolve?
A Strong (not necessarily large) Team
“You can’t do the job from behind a computer screen,” says Dave Gottesman, who became CountyStat Manager in 2012.
Gottesman credits much of the program’s success to the strength of his analysts, citing a blend of necessary skills: a solid grasp of technology and data (large spreadsheets, disparate data sources), a calling to public service, solid interpersonal communications skills to build healthy relationships with people (regardless of their position on an organizational chart), and most importantly, curiosity. Over the years, the majority of incoming analysts have held a master’s degree, and some experience in academia or public service.
In Montgomery County, each analyst monitors six to eight departments plus a variety of issues and ad hoc projects. It’s up to each analyst to get out in the field, ask questions, and make complex information simple.
Build and Maintain Trust
After a few years of success, CountyStat encountered a challenge in deciding how to evolve. While practical, some of the routine departmental meetings were becoming stagnant, and it was important to stay relevant and engaging. CountyStat reviewed their portfolio and prioritized. Hot issues were given more frequent meetings. Departments with little change in reporting or fewer metrics would work with CountyStat outside of meetings, saving department staff time and resources. More importantly, CountyStat wanted to let departments know that they were available for support, not just filling the classic oversight role associated with Stat programs.
It’s easy to imagine a department’s reluctance to voluntarily reach out for help with a problem to the office that provides oversight and accountability. The CountyStat team worked to earn and maintain trust with departments; education and follow-through were needed to update the program’s identity among the county’s 10,000-person workforce.
More than Meetings
CountyStat delivers. Among its successes, the program has helped save $46 million in overtime cost avoidance. CountyStat staff function as “internal consultants,” helping departments find creative solutions to improve the quality of life in Montgomery County. In addition to the traditional meetings, chaired by the County’s Chief Administrative Officer, the team helps identify potential issues through ongoing analysis of 311 data, one-on-one communications with department managers, and responses to departmental requests for assistance.
Gottesman and his team are continuing to look for new ways to serve. Next up, they’re identifying county government data stewards in hopes of creating an affinity group to recognize the importance of their work, and identify skills and gaps in a way that can drive professional development and increase collaboration.
Success Story: Pedestrian Safety
The most important responsibility of any government is protecting its people. When CountyStat took on the challenge of reducing pedestrian fatalities, it didn’t look to one department to fix this issue. CountyStat brought together enforcement, engineering, and public information staff to identify high incident areas. The county focused resources on troubling intersections and reduced fatalities by 68 percent.
Recognizing that even one death is too many, the county went on to target pedestrian fatalities in parking lots and garages. The county launched a public education campaign to encourage drivers and pedestrians to change their attitudes and behaviors in these spaces to save lives.
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