A Champion for the Cities We Dream Of

Remembering Sharman Stein

What Works Cities
4 min readMay 17, 2018

Here at What Works Cities, we’re devastated by the loss of our dear friend and colleague Sharman Stein, our founding Director of Communications. Over the past three years, Sharman motivated more than 100 cities to embrace the importance of using data and evidence to make better decisions that improve quality of life for residents, and she encouraged city leaders to use their influence to engage their communities in realizing positive change.

A lover of cities through and through, Sharman visited city halls even while she was on vacation. Above: in Oslo City Hall.

Sharman came to the initiative with decades of experience working first as a journalist for newspapers across the U.S., then at city agencies and nonprofits in New York City. She drew on the depth of that experience in our work together by asking the difficult questions that urged city staff to re-see their work from the outside in, intuiting cities’ challenges and conceiving of possible solutions as only a former civil servant could, and unearthing the stories of change that cities too often left untold.

She was the voice ensuring we were solving real problems in cities, and amplifying those stories so that other cities could learn from them. Her talent, wit, and commitment to get to the heart of a matter made our work better, and made us all better. Around the country, cities are having more meaningful dialogues with their residents and better addressing their needs because of Sharman. As she herself had put it recently:

“If you talk about data, if you use data as part of your conversation with your residents, if you are transparent about publishing data of your progress, then you invite the public in to not only see what you’re doing, but to participate in using the data as a starting point.”

Sharman’s notable projects and accomplishments at What Works Cities were many. She helped us launch our Certification program, the first-ever national standard of excellence for data-driven local governments. She accelerated a national movement of cities committed to better serving their residents, and helped each of our 100 What Works cities build the communications skills to share that commitment with their own communities. She led the creation of our How Local Governments Are Changing Lives report, which showcased how cities are using “what works” practices to address homelessness and other issues, ensure equitable service delivery, allocate resources most efficiently, make homes safer and neighborhoods more livable, and much more.

Even while undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, she visited many of our What Works cities, going on the ground to see their work up close, then help them share their successes and tackle their pressing challenges.

In Kansas City, Missouri, she shared Mayor Sly James’ vision for aligning the City’s priorities with those of the community and for using data not only to measure results but also to update residents on progress.

Sharman and Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri

In Hartford, Connecticut, she captured the story of a formerly incarcerated teen who was getting a fresh start through a city program providing workforce readiness to at-risk youth.

In Corona, California, she donned a hard hat as the head of the Department of Water and Power explained how he is incorporating data and analytics in everything from more effectively responding to power outages to most efficiently managing the City’s water system.

Sharman at a water treatment plant in Corona, California

In Gilbert, Arizona, she captured inspiration all What Works cities can learn from in how the Town is fostering transparency and civic engagement and bolstering its open data program through its digital communications strategy.

Sharman speaks with (left-right) Gilbert’s Town Manager, Mayor, and Chief Digital Officer

In Boston, Massachusetts, she journeyed to a bike-docking station so she could capture firsthand how the City’s redesigned contracts are ensuring its bike share program are available throughout the city, and not just in more affluent areas.

The list goes on.

She imagined — and worked tirelessly to realize — a world in which local governments and residents converse and collaborate with each other and, together, make cities better places to call home.

We miss her dearly as we continue her legacy.

For more about Sharman’s work and life, read her obituary in the New York Daily News.



What Works Cities

Helping leading cities across the U.S. use data and evidence to improve results for their residents. Launched by @BloombergDotOrg in April 2015.