Adieu to 2020: A Letter to the WWC Community

Simone Brody, Executive Director of WWC, shares her reflections on how data-driven cities rose to the challenges of 2020

Dear What Works Cities Community,

2020 has challenged all of us in extraordinary ways. For the city leaders and staff who have faced tremendous loss and have been stretched to the limit in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: your perseverance, dedication, and decisive leadership are inspiring. We at What Works Cities (WWC) are grateful for you. The unwavering commitment you showed to your residents has confirmed my conviction in what dedicated local leaders can accomplish when it matters most.

Over the last year, cities continuously used data-driven strategies to provide their residents with food and basic service access, meet testing needs, and now effectively manage vaccine distribution — undoubtedly saving lives in the process.

One highlight of this trying year has been witnessing cities lead as hubs of innovation. As lockdowns began, transforming communities overnight, mayors and their teams nimbly created new solutions to confront the public health and economic crises. They crowdsourced ideas and relied on each other, sharing ways to help residents hardest-hit by the pandemic to stabilize housing, food and other essential needs. And they leveraged data-driven governance capacity built in recent years to create new tools and resources to communicate and act on key public health information to the public.

This year marked the five-year anniversary of WWC. Since our founding in 2015, we’ve supported nearly 250 cities in building a more data-driven and outcomes-focused government through our technical assistance, Sprints, and WWC Academy learning opportunities. We’ve collaborated with over 50 cities to identify and replicate powerful solutions that address issues such as gaps in early literacy, driver’s license restoration, housing quality and stability, and economic mobility. And we have doubled the number of cities achieving WWC Certification, the national standard of excellence in data-driven local governance, with 24 Certified cities and another four cities making it to the WWC Honor Roll.

2020 Certified cities

Five years in, our mission remains to support cities in using data and evidence to tackle their most pressing challenges. So this year we created a dozen COVID-19 specific learning opportunities and produced resources specifically to help cities navigate new challenges and prioritize communities most in need. We also launched a new City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery program to ensure equity is at the forefront of the critical fiscal decisions cities are making as they manage the fiscal crisis brought on by the health crisis.

And, as part of the WWC Economic Mobility initiative, we are proud to share our new Economic Mobility Catalog, which highlights nearly 200 evidence-based programs and strategies that have been proven to help advance economic mobility for residents and provides case studies about how communities across the country have implemented these strategies.

Our WWC team is grateful for the opportunities to partner with all of you, and we hope that you will continue to tell us how we can best support you.

From WWC’s inception, helping cities to better serve residents has been core to our work. In 2020, as local governments grappled with the disparate effects of the pandemic that became a backdrop for sweeping protests over racial injustice, reversing course on these stark inequalities have become an increasingly urgent and visible priority.

I am hopeful that 2021 will be a year of bold leadership and inclusive partnerships across local communities, between public and private sectors, and with residents — that is what this historic moment demands. More than ever, our ability to use data in order to put people at the center of decision making will be key to building a different, better future.

The past five years have been about bringing data to city halls by building capacity to address problems big and small, and it would not have been possible without our expert partners: The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), The Government Performance Lab (GPL), The Centers for Civic Impact (GovEx), and Results for America (RFA). While this past year has created a powerful urgency to re-engineer our government structures, it has also shown that a foundation of smart, data-driven governance is in place, and that cities are critical drivers of change. Whatever 2021 holds, know that WWC will continue to support your efforts to build a more equitable future.

Best wishes for the holidays and a brighter new year!

Your Partner,

Simone Brody

Executive Director of What Works Cities at Results for America

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