A Brand-New Honor Roll

The latest top performers from Equipt to Innovate made strides in addressing racial disparities and engaging residents.
June 5, 2019 AT 11:00 AM
Baltimore is the top-performing city in the resident-involved element. Shutterstock
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is greenebarrett.com.
Data-Driven Race-Informed Resident-Involved

Congratulations are in order for Chandler, Arizona; Corona, California; El Paso, Texas; Fort Collins, Colorado; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Louisville, Kentucky; Riverside, California; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California.

What does this group of seemingly random cities have in common? They didn’t all find pools of oil ready for drilling. But they are inclined to effectively use the resources they have to the best effect, as the overall top performing entities (in alphabetical order) according to the latest Equipt to Innovate survey conducted by Governing, in partnership with Living Cities. San Diego was singled out as the highest performing overall.

As regular readers of this column already know, these findings are supported by an annual survey that aims to identify and reward excellence in governance practices. Based on a total of 66 cities, reached via an online survey, this year’s report is a goldmine of benchmarking information that can be of potential use to every city we’ve ever encountered (and that’s a whole lot of cities).

We were fortunate enough to be chosen to act as judges in this year’s effort and were struck by the wide variety in the quality of practices represented across the spectrum. We would have thought that cities which were not likely to fare well would have been disinclined to participate. That turned out not to be the case. What’s more, at least one of the cities that did extremely well in last year’s results made the decision not to participate this year because, in the words of a high-level staffer, “we were afraid that we had no place to go but down.”

As in past years, the evaluations focused on seven distinct areas in which cities should do well if they are to hope for a successful future. The cities that ranked highest in this evaluation were: Dynamically Planned, Broadly Partnered, Resident-Involved, Race-Informed, Smartly Resourced, Employee-Engaged and Data-Driven.

Five of the more intriguing findings of this year’s effort include:

  • Improvement is needed in how cities use evidence-based approaches to inform policy
  • There is an increasing use of citizen feedback tools and concerted outreach efforts to hard-to-reach populations
  • More cities are addressing their history of racism
  • Nearly all cities want to have more data available to their residents through their open data portal
  • Innovation funds are being leveraged to explore experimental problem-solving solutions

One of the findings that we believe is hidden from citizens who focus on the six o’clock news is that, according to responding cities to the Equipt survey, police relations with people of color has improved since 2018. About a third of the cities report the relationship between police and communities of color is good; compared to one out of five a year ago.

To be entirely fair, some 23 percent of the cities indicated that relationship was worsening -- still a disheartening figure, despite the fact that it dropped from 30 percent in 2018.

Some of the survey findings that would appear to contribute to this overall phenomenon are that a majority of cities said they had taken steps to address their history of racism, more than half employ a racial equity office or officer, and most have completed or are in the process of completing racial quality plans.

San Diego, the city that stood out as exemplar in this element, uses data disaggregated by race to inform policy decisions. In a recent management column for Governing, we quoted Michael Leachman, senior director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as saying “Race is so important in our country that we need to have the breakdowns available so we can better come up with solutions.”

There is a solid correlation – though no real evidence of cause and effect – between the improvements in race relations and positive results in the cities for being resident-involved. It feels to us like more than a coincidence that, even as more attention is being paid to race, 64 percent of the cities now have follow-up mechanisms for public input, compared to 54 percent in 2018.

Baltimore, the top-performing city in the resident-involved element, used input from citizens and police officers to learn that the top three traits for the men and women in blue were strong interpersonal skills, honesty and integrity, and a commitment to service. As a city in which minority groups tend to be the most likely victims of crime, this information should help the city to move toward a transformation of its police force by better targeting recruitment efforts.

These monthly columns, authored by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, are in support of Equipt to Innovate, a framework for creating high-performance government, jointly created by the nonprofit Living Cities and Governing.