How What Works Cities Is Empowering the Data Community

By Rochelle Haynes and Molly Daniell

When data practitioners in cities across the country are telling you they want the same thing, deciding to build it becomes a no-brainer. In her seven years working closely with local city officials, Molly heard that data advocates in cities felt alone, both within cities and across the broader field. City leaders wanted to connect with and learn from their peers in a space that was informal, inclusive and supportive. On the other side, Rochelle’s experience as a local government leader underlined the value of peer connections to build capacity and sustain progress. City staff also desired a more open door to the thinkers and experts who develop the best practices in the WWC Certification program. The inevitable question became: can we develop a candid, open and tactical community where municipal staff give and take essential lessons (not to mention operational documents), spread new ideas and best data practices, and most importantly, support each other in the ups and downs of adopting a data culture.

From the beginning, What Works Cities Certification has been a trailblazer in recognizing cities for their exceptional use of data and setting a standard of excellence that other cities could follow. Since 2017, 55 cities have achieved Certification. Yet, the work of using data and evidence is continuously evolving and achieving Certification is a critical milestone in a longer journey — not the end of it. Our team’s core goal is to empower cities to use data and evidence across the full continuum of that data journey.

Former Mayor of Silver-Certified Topeka, KS, Michelle De La Isla

That’s where the newly launched What Works Cities Certification Community comes in. It’s your one-stop-shop to get the resources, training and encouragement needed to turn data ideas into data practices.

As the Director of the Community and Implementation team at Results for America, which runs and manages What Works Cities, Molly leads an insightful and solutions-oriented team that collaborates directly with city staff who seek to advance their data practices and be competitive for What Works Cities Certification. The team has worked on the ground with city staff across the country at every step of their city’s data journey: from those who are starting to think about building the foundations for a well-managed, data-oriented city to those setting an example for leading-edge application of data practices. We know it’s not just large metropolises like Chicago and Los Angeles that are paving the way in using data and evidence — cities such as South Bend, IN, and Cambridge, MA are equally impressive leaders in the data movement. (Molly’s hometown, Leverett, MA, can toot its data horn. It changed the status quo on high-speed internet by building its own broadband network. Leaders relied on community engagement to mobilize its 1,800-person town to vote for a tax increase for high-speed Internet.)

Last month, we announced an exciting new phase of What Works Cities Certification. We’ve opened the program to cities in Canada and Latin America, updated our Standard to reflect the best in data-informed decision-making, and unrolled the red carpet for a brand new Certification Community, including a new online Forum. We believe in supporting a deep bench of skills within city government. Once a city has access to the Community Forum, we encourage them to invite as many colleagues as participants in the Community Forum as desired.

The homepage of the new Community Forum.

Our conversations with city leaders didn’t only produce the idea for this new Community Forum, they were instrumental in its design and build. All of the Forum’s functionality was built directly on feedback from city officials; every aspect is from someone raising their hand with a need. One of the first needs we heard seemed simple: folks wanted a directory so that people knew who specifically to connect with in other cities. We made one (with a messaging system). But that’s just one piece of the puzzle — the Forum has peer-led workshop sessions, tactical resources and operational plans, practice groups where participants can go deep on data topics most relevant for them, and more. Another feature we’re especially excited about is the Leaderboard, which is exclusive to members of this Community. It shows how you stack up against similar peer cities across practice areas so city staff can reach out to the right people who can shed light on their area of interest (plus, a little bit of friendly competition is always fun.)

Beyond the Forum, we support cities as they make progress on their data practices through customized 1:1 coaching, online sprints led by world-class experts (take a look at what’s coming up), Ask Me Anythings, and more. While there is a lot going on in the Certification Community and Forum, Community members can pick their own adventure and select resources that best meet their needs.

Additionally, the Certification Community and Forum are built with the updated Certification Standard in mind, which includes two new priorities. The first is making community engagement more than just a checkbox. Integrating community engagement into policy requires being able to routinely and robustly handle qualitative data in the form of resident feedback. The second foundation of the new Standard is embedding equity into data and the decision-making process. Cities need to know more than just if their policies are making an impact, but where they’re making change, and for whom. This means a new focus on disaggregating data to get a more pinpointed view of their policies. For some cities, these are novel data practices, so we have customized resources that focus on equity and community engagement and are eager to work hand-in-hand with city leaders as they engage their communities and challenge inequities.

Ideas don’t spread on their own, and data implementers are no longer alone. We’re here to support your city’s journey. Our team at Results for America is honored to create and develop this Community. We know that cities are strongest when they learn from each other — it’s the city leaders in the Community who will grow, energize and inspire this movement. Join us!

Ready for a tour?

Rochelle Haynes is the Managing Director at What Works Cities.

Molly Daniell is the Director of Community and Implementation at What Works Cities.

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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.