A growing number of cities are performing well in the essentials of fiscal responsibility, racial equity, resident engagement and evidence-based policymaking.
Cities have come a long way in using data to inform decision-making, but progress can still be made.
An entrepreneurial spirit and the right information can help communities make sound investments.
Top Performer: Las Vegas, Nevada
Staying focused and flexible is possible when cities have a clearly stated long-term vision that goes beyond the next election cycle and is supported by an enterprise-wide strategic plan. This plan is backed by city leadership and individual department plans that tie back to the same goals. Cities should be able to easily track progress toward stated goals and that progress should be transparent to everyone, from residents to internal and external government stakeholders.
Top Performer: Seattle, Washington
The heart of a community is its residents, which is why a resident-involved city pays special attention to the people who choose to live within its borders. This includes using effective engagement tactics — supported by data and technology — to reach all residents, especially those who are harder to engage and underrepresented. Once engaged, resident input is incorporated into the decision-making process and residents are kept informed of if and how their feedback is used.
Top Performer: Fayetteville, North Carolina
While the heart of a community is its residents, the heart of a local government is its employees. In an employee-engaged city, all employees — from elected and appointed officials to frontline staff — contribute to goals, drive innovation and constantly work to improve operations. Employees feel empowered to problem solve and take appropriate, calculated risks — and they are recognized for their successes. Finally, the staff composition in every department reflects the talent and diversity of the city itself.
Top Performer: Louisville, Kentucky
The Equipt framework stresses the importance of reaching all populations in a community, especially those that are often underrepresented, which is why being race-informed is an essential element of a high-performing city. A race-informed city intentionally addresses racial disparities in policy and practice and constantly works to close gaps. Employees and other stakeholders are educated and informed about the impact of racial challenges on city outcomes, as well as how city policies have historically added to disparities. And data is used to understand the evolving landscape and effect change.
Top Performer: Olathe, Kansas
Going it alone will not get cities where they need to go. Instead, Equipt cites freely collaborate internally and externally to achieve better results for the community. This involves participating in cross-sector initiatives, whether or not they originate within the city, and empowering staff to collaborate across departments and with external partners. It also means progress is continuously communicated to stakeholders to inform them where the city stands in terms of reaching specified goals.
Top Performer: San Antonio, Texas
Equipt cities use their scare finite resources strategically to achieve the best outcomes for the community. They also forecast financial planning activities far into the future and base budget allocations on evidence. Smartly resourced cities aren’t afraid to decommission programs that aren’t achieving desired results. They are also leveraging private and philanthropic capital and taking risks to support innovation and benefit populations in need.
Top Performer: San Diego, California
A data-driven city effectively uses data to drive performance, innovation and engagement. Data allows a city to track its progress toward desired goals and outcomes, and analytics are used to proactively support better outcomes. Most importantly, data is easily accessible and transparent to all stakeholders, especially the public.
Equipt to Innovate® is an integrated, collaborative framework for building your community's future. To be equipt, a city must build capacity and competence in seven essential elements that define high performance government. The new framework also is an invitation for cities to work together, learn from each other and help create communities that are better places to live for the people who live there.
For 25 years, Living Cities has pursued a new urban practice that gets dramatically better and faster results for low-income people. A quarter century later, it is time to pull it all together. This is our moment.