Federal efforts to increase the use of data to inform and improve services may soon cross paths with parallel efforts at the municipal level.
Smart City strategies have been gaining momentum worldwide. A Smart City uses information and communication technology to manage a city’s assets, such as public transportation or power systems. Using sensors and other infrastructure connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Cities can collect real-time data to improve efficiency. The intent is to use technology to reduce energy consumption, save money, reduce traffic, and overall improve urban life.
The City of Ottawa is currently considering the development of a Smart City action plan that would build on the existing fiberoptic infrastructure. For example, new residential developments could integrate technologies connected to the Internet to monitor service delivery, collect data and send back analytics to refine those services. The Plan would also include improving the processes of government and generating feedback through service delivery performance data.
Reliable and quality performance data is essential to Smart City initiatives.
Worldwide, cities are developing new data and methods to evaluate and improve programs and services, identify more effective ways to use resources to serve their communities; and address a range of social challenges—from tackling poverty to increasing citizen engagement.
In the U.S., the Bloomberg Foundation launched the What Works Cities initiative in 2015 to accelerate cities’ use of data and evidence to improve services, inform local decision-making and engage citizens. It is led by Results for America, a national non-profit organization that supports the use of evaluation, evidence and cost-based analytics to improve services and results. The initiative has four components: performance-based contracting, performance measurement for results, evaluation and open data. The objective is to develop a benchmark system to collect standardized data that will enable citizens to compare their services to similar cities.
In Canada, Municipal Benchmarking Network Canada (MBN) is a partnership of 16 Canadian cities who believe in the power of measurement to support continuous improvement of services to communities. Partner municipalities collect consistent and reliable data in 37 service areas and report the findings annually. The network is also used to discuss results and share best practices and strategies.
If these initiatives work, the impact will be felt not just by cities but by federal governments as well.
The U.S. Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking released its Final Report in September 2017 with recommendations on how to increase the availability and use of data to build evidence on the performance of government programs.
Infrastructure Canada launched its Smart City Challenge recently to challenge communities of all sizes to come forward with their best ideas to improve the lives of their citizens through innovation, data and technology. The federal government also has an Open Government portal that provides links to participating cities and initiatives and toolkits.
At both provincial and federal levels, governments have launched Open Government initiatives in an effort to demonstrate transparency and accountability. For years, of course, federal departments have been required to publicly report on performance through Departmental Performance Reports. In addition, the federal government recently established a results tracker related to government commitments and ministerial mandate letters.
These ‘report cards” could be improved by including more quantitative data and evidence that demonstrates effectiveness and efficiency of services and how they have had a real impact on the lives of Canadians. Contrast this to the Queensland Government in Australia, where open data sets are quantitative and performance-oriented – for example, activity-based costing of hospital services. Or the city of Seoul, South Korea which has been using data and analytics for years to develop sustainable growth. In 2016, Seoul became the fourth largest economy in the world after Tokyo, New York City and Los Angeles and ranked #1 in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Social Sustainability Index (e.g. crime, education, social influence, health).
There is much to be learned from municipal efforts in Canada and internationally on how data and evidence can be used to truly demonstrate service performance, cost-effectiveness and improvements to citizen’s lives.
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Municipal Benchmarking Network Canada is hosting a National Forum on April 18-19 in Toronto. For more information, go to http://mbncanada.ca/2017-mbncanada-national-forum/