Cat-flections on Municipal Data Maturity

When mySidewalk was asked to lead a roundtable discussion with the future city managers of Colorado about data in municipal government, we knew the topic of discussion should be data maturity. Data in government is a complicated and sometimes emotional topic. It holds both the promise of truth and efficiency, while also the fear of organizational change and brutal honesty. Such hard conversations require cats.

But who better to learn from than emerging managers? They are in the unique position of observing the successes and struggles of past generations while shaping their careers in bold new ways. Harnessing data to make decisions and policy is one of those ways. Their understanding of data, how it can be used, and how it can help cities function better, underscores the foundation of a developing model for the future of data’s role in governance. It’s important to ask them: Are our governments using data well and how do they see that changing in the future?

Our roundtable included leaders from cities with sphynx-like data maturity — who have been at the heart of improving data every day to scrappy, street cat-like managers that have struggled to make data a priority. To start the round table we asked participants to rate, from ad-hoc to optimizing, their organization’s data maturity across 4 categories: leadership, action, accessibility, and transparency.

*Levels of data maturity inspired by “   The State of Performance Analytics in Local Government   ” by Kevin Desouza, et al. 2017

*Levels of data maturity inspired by “The State of Performance Analytics in Local Government” by Kevin Desouza, et al. 2017

We brought the cat emoji to the conference to help emerging managers be honest about where they are with their data currently. Data provides a promise of insights, but are you at the top tier when it comes to using and sharing your data? Are you really optimizing? Does your work truly warrant a heart-eyed cat emoji?

heart eyes.png

1: Keeping departments on equal footing.

Two of our participants hail from organizations considered a national leader in using data to drive outcome — certainly an organized cat.


They’ve been informing their budget and city performance for years using centralized data programs, but they also recognize that access to insights and the level of data maturity of different departments in their organization is not equal. While their budget department has data and insights for days, departments like public works do not get access to the same resources and tools. Before our roundtable, there was little consideration for this disparity; nothing a quick data survey result can’t help highlight.

Meow What? It was time to distribute this data maturity quiz to the different departments to help assess data needs and uses by department.

2. Data is the next priority, we promise.

Another participant knew exactly how data could start to make an impact… but they weren’t so sure about how to fund or prioritize a data project. In some places, like small towns, the participant explained, “everything is a fire to put out. I’m working with personnel issues every day and then legacy issues on top of that. You have so many hurdles before you can get to aspirations.” How does an organization get to data maturity when there is no time, budget, or priority for it?

Meow What? The first step is making a transition toward data with a single project. If budget is where it naturally begins, that’s where you go. Proving that data can make an impact with a single project and documenting the results is what can lead toward a path of data growth. Data doesn’t happen overnight, but focusing in on one data-oriented project can start to set the scene for data in your community.

3. Bridge the gap, close the divide, ditch the data isolation!

o no.gif

You see that cat stuck in his silo? This is what isolation can sometimes feel like. One of our participants knew that their data challenge was to free themselves from their silos. Their Utilities department, for example, sits on a potential gold mine of data to help inform performance and improvement for the community, but they haven’t systematically evaluated what’s useful, what meets their strategic priorities, and how it can be measured in KPIs. Rather than seeing their data as the engine of an analysis and insight machine that could be reputably used to drive decisions and policy, it’s being used as a singular resource with narrow applications, project-by-project. Right now their data is reactive, a particularly angry cat emoji.

mad cat.png

Meow What? Put that utilities data to work! Start finding connections across teams to move to organized, or even optimizing, data maturity. You can do this by starting with your strategic plan and thinking about how KPIs can help you succeed.

Bottom line, leaders are starting to understand how data can impact them.

Our future leaders know that data is essential. The challenge comes when they have to coordinate, manage, and explain the importance of data before getting their departments and municipalities on board. The solution is taking it one step at a time and being an advocate for data, no matter the size of the municipality.

Implementing data requires some growing pains, but pays dividends in the long run. Getting people on board is the hardest part, but pushing through is easier knowing that the data will help everyone in the future. Making sure all departments are on the same footing, making data a priority, and breaking down silos can all help improve the ways municipalities are using their data. When we work together, we all improve.

mySidewalk has strategies to help you level up your data maturity. Reach out to our team to learn more about peer city comparison reports, KPI workshops, data maturity surveys, and dashboards galore.

About the Author

Brandon Gumm is a solutions architect (and cat lover) who joined the mySidewalk team in 2017 from the Port of Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority where he worked as a commercial development associate. After several years helping build communities from the ground up both at the local and regional level, Brandon now works with governments around the country designing tools that help track, analyze, and communicate their performance. Brandon works towards strengthening communities and celebrating their stories every day.