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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Williamsburg Joins New System to Compare Performance with Peer Cities Nationwide

City of Williamsburg logoWilliamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle loves data.

The bookshelves of his office are full of data tables and government reports — including his 1978 public administration master’s thesis titled, “Productivity Measurement and the City of Pensacola” — with each item carefully organized and categorized.

Tuttle said he believes understanding data can make government work better, and it is that belief that makes him excited for Williamsburg’s latest actions in performance management.

For the last two months, Williamsburg has been one of 10 cities participating in the beta test of the International City/County Management Association’s latest performance management system. The computer program, called ICMA Insights and engineered by SAS Institute, allows municipalities to collect, visualize and analyze data on different government services, such as public satisfaction with libraries, or police, emergency and fire response times, in order to improve those functions.

While most localities, including Williamsburg, collect their own internal data on government services, ICMA Insights adds another level of analysis to certain “benchmark” sets of data. By collecting data from localities across the country, the system allows governments to compare their own performance with peer municipalities. For other data, the system provides additional analytical tools that allow localities to better understand their internal trends, and improve their performance.

“What SAS brings is a whole lot of ability to analyze data and to do all sorts of mapping techniques and data presentation techniques to put this piece of data with that piece of data and show you a much more complex relationship,” Tuttle said.

According to Randall Reid, director of the ICMA Center for Performance Analytics/Southeast Regional Director, such data collection and analysis lets localities discover ways to improve and compare their statistics to national peers.

ICMA has been in the business of performance management and analytics for nearly 100 years, but Tuttle said its earlier reports were not always helpful. Previously, the organization collected data and issued reports to localities annually, limiting the usefulness of the information. ICMA Insights, however, collects and makes data available to localities on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.

The system will be available in five tiers: Measure, Compare, Explore, Analyze and Transform. The cost of the system increases for each tier, ranging from $795 at the Measure tier for ICMA member localities to $12,695 at the Transform tier for members. Tuttle said Williamsburg, an ICMA member, planned to enroll to the highest tier, but would receive a half-price subscription due to the city’s participation in the beta test.

Localities can enroll in the system now, though the official launch would be Sept. 14 — ICMA’s 100th anniversary. James City County and York County have not yet subscribed to the ICMA Insights program.

“We all hope [the new system] results in better government in the end,” Tuttle said.

Both Reid and Tuttle said Williamsburg’s participation in the beta-test was due to the city’s longstanding embrace of statistical analysis in government functions. In particular, Reid said the city’s Public Dashboard system, launched in 2010, placed Williamsburg in the “upper tier” of localities in terms of analytics.

The dashboards allow both members of the public and city employees to view different metrics of government performance. According to city Director of Information Technology Mark Barham, the system allows employees to customize their dashboards with metrics related to their job functions. The metrics available to employees are also open to the public, and are accessible from any computer.

According to Tuttle, that kind of access to data aligns with Williamsburg’s focus on statistical analysis. City spokesperson Kate Hoving said the dashboards have led to improvement in some of the city practices.

Both Hoving and Tuttle pointed out changes in police procedures and training as specific benefits to emerge from the use of dashboards. After recognizing that Williamsburg police response times were consistently the fastest among city emergency personnel, Tuttle said the city decided to dispatch police to medical emergencies and require certain paramedic training for officers.

“I know I [would] appreciate it when the police get there first and they know how to take care of me,” Hoving said.

Ultimately, Barham and Tuttle said they hoped ICMA Insights and the dashboards would form a complementary system of data collection and analysis for the city. The dashboards collect and visualize data specific to Williamsburg, while ICMA Insights will allow the city to compare that internal data with similar data from peer localities.

“Most people are interested in the outcomes,” Tuttle said. “If analytics causes the city to be better at what it does, that’s what people are truly interested in.”

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