Better, Faster, Cheaper

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

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

The Power of Partnerships in Economic Rebirth

In South Bend, Ind., new buildings housing high-tech startups are being built on the site that once housed the Studebaker automobile factories. This construction is a fitting symbol of the progress toward rebirth of the struggling rust-belt city's economy, which once relied on traditional manufacturing and is now benefitting from the knowledge and technology industries. This economic pivot is mirrored by an internal city-government shift to better use of data and evidence.

I spoke with Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently, after South Bend was named as one of the latest 16 cities to join Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities initiative, about the factors that enabled this growth and the way innovation is coming to permeate the city's government. This economic-development strategy, the mayor emphasized, "is all about taking what we have and finding new value in it." READ MORE

Innovation in Education: Unleashing the Talent

It is no secret that talent drives success. Winning sports teams are made up of great players, the best technology companies have the best engineers and the finest cuisine does not come without top-notch chefs. Education is no different. But all too often, efforts to improve K-12 education focus on imposing expensive, highly prescriptive approaches on even the most talented education leaders. It's a recipe for stifling innovation.

The key ingredient behind the kind of innovation that drives success in education is attracting and investing in quality, talented leaders and teachers and then giving them the necessary accountable discretion to perform. This focused approach has been implemented over the last decade in Indianapolis, and it has delivered quality results. READ MORE