With UK councils under more pressure to make efficiency savings, new data governance systems used in the US hold out the prospect of even more efficient and effective local government.
On a recent trip to the US, I met Maryland’s Governor O’Malley to see how his administration has driven dramatic improvements to public services in the state.
Under Governor Martin O’Malley’s leadership, violent crime in Maryland has fallen 27 per cent. Over 97 per cent of jobs lost since the recession have been recovered, and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen almost 10 per cent. He has also made huge steps in cleaning the Chesapeake Bay, linking up homeland security to local police, and creating a state-wide health IT system.
Governor O’Malley and his administration achieved these successes through a system called StateStat. The programme uses data to identify where government services do not meet public needs. Government departments then work together to fix the problems.
Interestingly, Governor O’Malley created Maryland’s first data governance system – CitiStat – when he was elected Mayor of Baltimore. This got me thinking: most councils have reached the breaking point of efficiency savings, so could a CitiStat-style system be the answer to more efficient and effective local government in Britain?
Through my visit to StateStat and the current Mayor’s CitiStat programmes, I identified five key components to make a CitiStat-style programme work in the UK.
Data collection. CitiStat and StateStat use internal data (payroll, finance, procurement and other departmental metrics), public services call centre data and new statistics collected from individual departments. There has been a lot of talk about open data in the UK, but councils will need to identify which metrics to track and develop new systems for collecting data to make a CitiStat programme work, and this may include sharing data with Whitehall departments, like DWP.
Contact with citizens. The Citi/StateStat programmes rely on open lines of communication between citizens and government. The CitiStat programme used a “311” call number in which citizens could access a wide range of public services. Importantly, this system must do two things: first, match citizens with experts in each field under one roof and second, use data to track the system’s speed and effectiveness and customers’ satisfaction.
Departments working together. At Citi/StateStat meetings, representatives from each government department listen to each other’s progress updates to the Mayor or Governor, respectively. Thus, each department head understands what other others are doing, and many work together to solve problems that cross over departmental remits. Local government departments have to break down the silos to make the programme work.
Upfront investment to reduce long-term costs. Implementing the Citi/StateStat systems required time and money up front. Additional planning time and resources were used to identify what data was needed and to start collecting it, to reorganise services and become more citizen-centric. But, in the long-term, it is reducing costs across departments. In order for British cities to make the same investments, though, they will need some instrument to pay the money back. Right now, there is not a clear mechanism to do so (like the Troubled Families Initiative reimbursement scheme).
Committed and accountable leadership. Leadership is essential for two reasons. First, the leader needs to openly engage with the public to be held accountable for his commitments. When Governor O’Malley took office—both as Mayor and as Governor—he made a public pledge to citizens to reduce crime, improve the economy, provide better public services and clean up the Bay. He opened up the data so that anyone could see at any time how he and his government were performing against the goals he had set. Second, leaders must be able to commit to making change happen through convening the influencers in their administration. Governor O’Malley drove change by getting the right people on board and sharing responsibility with them to meet their goals.
Overall, the CitiStat model offers a lot of promise for UK cities to reduce costs in the long-term, improve public services and drive better outcomes. But it will require stronger and more public leadership than is already in place, and cities will need a new way to pay for the up-front investments in the system. Without those two key components, the system is unlikely to ever gain any footing.
Senior Consultant, City Economics at Arup
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Very interesting read. Luckily, this sort of option has been around for over a decade and the UK has its own free StateStat called LG Inform, provided by the Local Government Association, that is already helping councils to improve their efficiency and re-design public services.