When it comes to cities, “What Works” is a question — not an answer

  • Where will it work? Solutions that are successful in one city, or even in one neighborhood, might not work the same way elsewhere. Think of bikesharing: A useful tool in areas with flat terrain may be less useful in places that are hilly. In other words, context matters. That’s why programs that work in one city almost always need to be modified in some way to work in another. For example, take Providence Talks, an innovative idea from Providence, R.I., to increase childhood learning that came out of our Mayor’s Challenge. It’s showed some genuinely exciting results — so exciting, in fact, that Bloomberg Philanthropies is working over the next year to share the model with other cities. What we’re not doing is telling these cities that they should implement the model in the exact way that Providence implemented it. Instead, we’re encouraging cities to adapt it based on local feedback and conditions, get resident input early and often, and customize it as needed.
  • For whom will it work? What clicks for some of a city’s residents doesn’t always work for all of them. And all too often, the residents who complain the loudest or have the best political connections are the ones whose needs are most fully met. One answer to this problem comes from Tulsa, Okla., which has begun systematically surveying residents on their satisfaction with city services. The sophisticated survey tool allows city leaders to get a nuanced picture of how views vary by neighborhood or by different demographic groups. The goal, according to a recent Gallup report, is to ensure “that everyone in the city has input on local governance.”
  • Finally, which parts work? To really understand what works — or doesn’t — city leaders need to dig deep into their data to understand what stories the numbers tell. That’s what Memphis, Tenn., did recently with its trash removal services. An enterprising city employee analyzed 311 data and surfaced a valuable insight: A single waste hauler serving about one-fifth of the city’s customers was responsible for the vast majority of complaints about trash removal. Upon learning this news, Mayor Jim Strickland acted swiftly to remove and replace the vendor. City leaders didn’t stop there, though. They stepped up regular reviews of each vendor’s performance, to make sure that when it comes to this service, Memphis invests in what’s working and stops investing in what doesn’t.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store