The 4 Stages of Data-Informed Local Government

What Works Cities
3 min readOct 31, 2022


Getting started building a data culture is no small task. But city staff across the country know how important data-informed decision-making is to make progress on strategic priorities and drive equitable outcomes. At What Works Cities, we equip and empower city leaders to develop a data culture that delivers for residents. But what does the undertaking actually look like?

Here’s four steps of the data journey ⬇️

1. Envision

  • Define your vision. How your city can deliver better services with data?
  • Secure buy-in from city leaders, including — and especially — the mayor.
  • Reiterate the vision in reports, strategic sessions, or other high-visibility events and written materials.
  • Create template language for talking points, internal documents, and more.

“Each one of your jobs contributes to the success of the whole. Therefore, I am asking every employee to learn about the Council priorities and identify with your department how your job helps to accomplish these goals.”
— City Manager Andrew Ching

In Tempe, AZ, City Manager Andrew Ching sent an email to all city employees — and then did so again — articulating the “new direction” for the city, how it aligns with overall strategic priorities.

2. Build

  • To implement your vision, recruit a data team to leverage cross-functional knowledge and share responsibilities.
  • If your city isn’t able to hire new staff or create a new department, don’t fret! Find potential team members by surveying department heads, asking for volunteers and seeking out high-performing staff.
  • Once your team is assembled, foster an environment of continuous learning and improvement.
  • Schedule time for team members to take courses or build skills.
  • Task a team member with collecting free or inexpensive resources to learn from.

3. Act & Invest

  • Once your data program is up and running, how do you grow the program and invest real dollars in this work?
  • Invest in your team — and the infrastructure needed to realize your data vision — as the city’s needs grow.
  • Double down on data in times of crisis.
  • Learn from the past to invest in the future.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, seen here looking at the Silver-Certified City’s coastal infrastructure, has prioritized investments in data to more efficiently respond to flooding in historically underserved neighborhoods.

4. Maintain & Sustain

  • Talk about (and repeat!) the value of data-informed government simply and clearly.
  • Explain how data impacts things people care about: clean sidewalks, working streetlights, etc.
  • Cultivate a coalition of data users inside City Hall and in the community.
  • Codify the citywide use of data and consider creating a data operations team or department.
  • Keep track of the wins (and the learning experiences): Publishing and updating this list is a measure of accountability. It ensures that your team is consistently delivering results.

The What Works Cities Certification program, launched in 2017 by Bloomberg Philanthropies and led by Results for America, is the first-of-its-kind standard of excellence for data-driven, well-managed local government. What Works Cities Certification recognizes and celebrates local governments for their exceptional use of data to inform policy decisions, allocate funding, improve services, evaluate the effectiveness of programs and engage residents.

Cities begin their What Works Cities Certification journey by completing a self-Assessment to benchmark their progress on data-driven governance. They then receive a customized roadmap with next steps and join the What Works Cities Certification Community. The Certification Community includes exclusive access to expert partners who lead learning opportunities, peer connections, a resource bank, how-to sprints, coaching and more. Together, the Assessment and Certification Community support cities in their efforts to achieve Silver, Gold or Platinum Certification.



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.