Better, Faster, Cheaper

A Streetcar Named Confusion

"Good management requires good information," says Drummond Kahn, director of Portland, Ore.'s Audit Services Division. His agency's recent audit of the city's streetcar system demonstrates why a healthy democracy also relies on good information.

The audit found that 82 percent of the system's trips were on time, not 98 percent as Portland Streetcar had previously reported. It also found that estimated ridership, which the system's operators had previously pegged at 5.6 million for fiscal 2014, was actually more like 4.5 million (though the revised number still represents a 500,000-passenger increase over the previous year). READ MORE

Doubling Down on the Innovation-Team Model

You see it again and again in cities that are struggling to meet big challenges: Local governments often lack two of the essential ingredients for innovation. The first is manpower -- resource-strapped city employees can hardly find the time to keep the trains running and react to emergencies, much less to creatively rethink processes. The second is organizational structure -- local governments are traditionally siloed, leaving little support for the cross-agency collaboration required to tackle the most ingrained urban problems.

This week, Bloomberg Philanthropies doubled down on its commitment to an ambitious model for helping cities overcome these two thorny obstacles to innovation. The foundation announced the 14 latest cities that will receive funding for up to three years to adopt its "innovation team" approach. Under the model, each city will hire a team of in-house consultants dedicated to helping city workers and leaders tackle problems ranging from affordable housing to public safety to customer service. The innovation teams, or "i-teams" for short, will provide the missing manpower and organizational structure that many cities sorely need. They'll help city leaders and staff leverage data to understand challenges, come up with effective new ways to solve them, and follow through on results. READ MORE

A 5-Part Test for Public-Private Partnerships

Like it or not, public-private partnerships (P3s) for infrastructure are here to stay in the United States. The recent openings of two Florida projects, the I-595 Express highway and the PortMiami Tunnel, as well as Texas' North Tarrant Express highway -- projects with a total cost of $4.9 billion -- are high-profile success stories that provide a demonstrable proof-of-concept boost for the U.S. P3 market.

But P3s have not fared well in some places. The Philadelphia City Council, for example recently refused to vote on Mayor Michael Nutter's proposal to sell the antiquated Philadelphia Gas Works to UIL, a publicly traded company, for $1.86 billion. The failure of that transaction and earlier P3 proposals such as those involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Chicago's Midway Airport raise a fundamental question. What does it take for a P3 to succeed and reach the public-policy finish line? READ MORE

The Growing Focus on the Dismal State of Teacher Preparation

Both a national nonprofit organization and the U.S. Department of Education have recently turned their attention to education schools that long have failed to produce teachers equipped to improve student achievement. The same focus that highlights just how grim the current situation is will be needed on an ongoing basis if we are to solve the stubborn teacher-preparation problem.

A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rates 1,668 elementary and secondary teacher-preparation programs at 836 colleges and universities using criteria including content preparation, practice teaching and student-admission requirements. Sadly, a majority of the programs fall into the lowest of four categories. READ MORE

Can’t Afford a Chief Digital Officer? Here’s How to Fake It.

Cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia have been hiring chief digital officers to tap technology to create more efficient processes and happier citizens. Not every local government has the resources to institutionalize innovation through a centralized CDO's office, but there are other effective ways to accomplish much the same thing.

The rise and affordability of technology has brought accessibility to strategies such as easy-to-administer online programs, tools and educational resources to help foster conversation and bring more "community" to communities. And governments do not have to go it alone. Many of these programs can be implemented through public or private partnerships, taking much of the burden of implementation and planning off of government staff. READ MORE