Capturing City Stories

A snapshot of the benchmark survey results from the inaugural Equipt to Innovate survey.
June 2, 2017
Nashville’s mayor recently convened over 100 community organizations to share their experiences and those of the people they represent through a series of conversations around racial equity and leadership. David Kidd
Broadly Partnered Data-Driven Dynamically Planned Employee-Engaged Race-Informed Resident-Involved Smartly Resourced

Cities have stories to tell. Outside of best practices, long-term plans and ribbon cuttings, there are the experiences of the people who work for and who live in our communities.

The mayor of Nashville, Tenn., is listening to these stories. Mayor Megan Barry convened over 100 community organizations to share their experiences and those of the people they represent through a series of conversations around racial equity and leadership. These stories touched upon important issues like workforce, criminal justice, immigration, public health, housing, education and community empowerment. They are also informing real policies, such as Mayor Barry’s racial equity framework that includes targeted strategies for increasing diversity and equity in city government hiring and operations.

Nashville is not alone. Sixty other cities joined Nashville in completing Living Cities/Governing’s first Equipt to Innovate survey, which benchmarks cities across seven key elements to help determine how effective they are in meeting the needs and challenges of their communities. To be a high-performing city, there has to be an intentional effort to recognize both challenges and opportunities, and to drive change through dynamic planning, engagement and leadership. Overall, cities embraced the use of data and fostered partnerships with the nonprofit and private sectors. In other areas, the results were mixed.

Here is a snapshot of the 2017 benchmark survey results across the seven elements:

  1. Dynamically Planned: High-performing cities have updated long-term plans that include solicited input from residents, city departments and other groups. However, cities agreed there was room for improvement when it comes to coordinating plans and programs across government and a need for more consistent data and performance metrics.
  2. Broadly Partnered: All cities surveyed are partnering well with business and philanthropic organizations and utilizing these partnerships to promote change. They are having a harder time working effectively with other levels of government, especially at the state level -- nearly half of the cities reported relations could be improved or are non-existent.
  3. Resident-Involved: Nine out of 10 cities incorporate resident feedback into their policies and have effective communication tools in place, ranging from the use of technology (websites, social media and apps) to more traditional community meetings and focus groups. Only 4 in 10, however, have ways to report results of feedback back to residents.
  4. Race-Informed: Almost all of the cities said they are taking intentional steps towards addressing racial disparity. Three-quarters of the cities believe they need to improve access to city services. There is also recognition that trust needs to be built with immigrant and minority communities and that educational gaps are persistent.  
  5. Smartly Resourced: Evidence-based budgeting is fairly new, but on the rise -- more than half of the cities reported using evaluation and performance data in how they make budgetary decisions. There appears to be a learning curve when it comes to actually using the data. Only 40 percent of the cities believe the process has yielded positive results.
  6. Employee-Engaged: Cities that are active in recruiting and retaining highly qualified employees are trying to break through the normally bureaucratic environment by offering training, providing flexibility, mentoring and focusing on employee well-being. Around 90 percent of the cities help employees connect their work to community impacts and help them understand the larger vision and goals of the city.
  7. Data-Driven: Cities know data is important. More than 75 percent of the cities have open data portals and deploy technology to help collect and analyze resident feedback, however, only one-third of cities reported that the data is easily accessible and useful to the public.

Download the full overview of the survey here.