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Engaging the Community in Municipal Performance Management Efforts

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Dodd
August 3, 2018

Somerville, Massachusetts is a city of approximately 75,754 residents located next to Boston. In November of 2003, Joe Curtatone became mayor and began the process of developing SomerStat, a performance management program based on CitiStat in Baltimore, which in turn was based on CompStat in New York City. Like CitiStat and similar programs, SomerStat is a management program designed to set, monitor and achieve results, following four key tenets:

  1. Accurate and timely data;
  2. Rapid deployment of resources;
  3. Effective tactics; and,
  4. Relentless follow-up.

Now in its fifteenth year, SomerStat is also known as the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Analytics. The program focuses on analyzing issues important to the community, improving service delivery and effectiveness, and increasing the use of innovative approaches in city government.

A unique component of SomerStat is ResiStat, designed to engage residents in using data to discuss and provide input on decisions. While many cities developed programs similar to CitiStat and SomerStat, the ResiStat has not yet been replicated in many municipalities across the United States. This approach, while encouraging transparency and increased communications, also seeks to engage residents in the performance of their city’s government.

ResiStat, is a series of routine meetings which seeks to connect residents with their government, collecting feedback and using it to improve city services. Meetings occur twice per year, once in the fall and once in the spring, in each of the city’s seven wards. Typically, the mayor, aldermen and city officials attend meetings and interact with residents. Often, meetings include information on budget projections, crime statistics, and economic development figures. While each meeting includes a presentation, the meetings also include refreshments and opportunities for residents to interact with city staff and elected officials.

A recent ResiStat meeting in Ward three asked the question “How do we achieve our goals and stay within the budget?,” and provided a primer on the city’s budget process. City staff compared tax rates and operational costs to eight peer cities, dissected a $2,000 tax bill to inform residents how their tax dollars are spent, discussed the impact of adopted local option taxes and projected funding from pending development projects. The presentation also included resources residents could access, as well as the contact information for the city staff members who made the presentation. In most of the presentations, staff also suggested ways residents can get involved and assist in city efforts. In a recent presentation on the costs of recycling, staff suggested that, among other things, residents repair broken items, donate or sell items they no longer want, and buy items with less packaging, to keep down costs associated with recycling.

To keep residents engaged, including those who are unable to attend the meetings, the city runs a ResiStat website which includes presentations from each meeting, as well as a newsletter. The ResiStat email informs residents about city news, events, and information, and is sent via email on a weekly basis.

While requiring planning and staff time, ResiStat is a worthwhile approach to engaging the community in performance management. ResiStat should follow the four key tenets of CompStat, and present information, monitor results and engage residents on a routine basis.

Author: Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]

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