Better, Faster, Cheaper

The Nexus Between Data and Public Health

In the not-so-distant past, government's involvement in community health generally was limited to providing services for treating illness. Today, we increasingly define public health in terms of improving wellness. Guided by data-driven insights, cities and counties are moving as never before to address the root causes of illnesses that disproportionately affect their jurisdictions, allowing for more focused prevention and treatment.

Some policymakers have already had notable success with wellness-based approaches to public health. Oklahoma City famously went from the "fattest" to the "fittest" list in 2012 when its residents, led by the once-portly Mayor Mick Cornett, collectively shed a million pounds and recorded their progress on a website devoted to the project. In 2014, Austin, Texas, worked with Children's Optimal Health, an Austin-based nonprofit, to map body mass index and cardiovascular fitness scores and convene educators, health experts and community members. Other interventions in communities around the country -- such as soda taxes, calorie "nudges" and bike-sharing programs --- have shown tremendous promise for improving public health. READ MORE

Why Big Data Is a Big Deal for Cities

We hear a lot about "big data" and its potential value to government. But is it really fulfilling the high expectations that advocates have assigned to it? Is it really producing better public-sector decisions? It may be years before we have definitive answers to those questions, but new research suggests that it's worth paying a lot of attention to.

University of Kansas Prof. Alfred Ho recently surveyed 65 mid-size and large cities to learn what is going on, on the front line, with the use of big data in making decisions. He found that big data has made it possible to "change the time span of a decision-making cycle by allowing real-time analysis of data to instantly inform decision-making." This decision-making occurs in areas as diverse as program management, strategic planning, budgeting, performance reporting and citizen engagement. READ MORE

The Chief Operating Officer That Every State Needs

As state governments respond to increasing demands for accountability and efficiency, a new job title is popping up in the capitol. More and more, governors are drawing on the experience of the private sector and creating the position of chief operating officer (COO). For advocates of effectiveness in government, it's a trend that ought to be welcome.

So what can a COO do to justify adding another layer of executive management? READ MORE

Federal Inefficiencies that Stifle Innovation in Infrastructure

President-elect Donald Trump and incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer share a common goal of fixing our nation's infrastructure. That's a welcome note of bipartisanship, given the obvious state of disrepair of our public works: roads and bridges deteriorating, water and wastewater systems requiring billions of dollars in new investments, and ports, waterways and schools in need of major capital infusions.

What Trump, Schumer and other federal elected officials will need to understand is that the only way to truly fix our infrastructure will be to combine any new appropriations with reforms of federal regulations that retard investment, penalize efficiency in construction and operation, mute innovation, inflate overhead costs and neglect project maintenance. Current procedures built in large part around tax-exempt borrowing favor a uniquely inefficient method of governmental construction involving sequential RFPs for design and build, often ignoring maintenance costs and obstructing the efficiencies of private management. READ MORE

7 Likely Technology Breakthroughs in 2017

I've been involved with local government for 30 years, and I've spent much of that time trying to identify technologies that would help to dramatically improve service delivery and lower costs. To some extent, everything has changed during those three decades. But if there's one thing I'm confident about, it's this: The advances of the past have only set the stage for ever more sweeping transformation.

Twenty-five years ago, as a young district attorney in Indianapolis, I wanted our office to lead the country in child support enforcement; it turned out that putting a few smart public employees in a room and giving them access to a wide variety of local and state data would help us increase collections from $900,000 a year to $38 million. We followed with "JUSTIS," the country's first totally integrated criminal justice system, which improved results by coupling cross-agency, easily accessible data with clear system-level metrics. READ MORE