Commentary

11/26/2012  by Alexandra Bjerg

Civic startup shows real-time performance of city governments


Chart from the Compass web-based, government performance app. (Chart courtesy of Revelstone).

Over the last few years, cities of all sizes have had to do more with less. The economic downturn has forced local leaders to cut staff, reduce expenditures and become more efficient. As a result, the public sector is slowly turning to performance analytics as a way to increase the cost-effectiveness of programs. For the most part, though, only larger municipalities have been able to pay for these expensive data-driven initiatives.

This is where the civic startup Revelstone comes in.

Revelstone developed a web-based performance analytics and benchmarking platform for local governments to manage resources better and increase accountability. The software, Compass, provides municipalities with the information required to answer the following:

  1. How are we doing?
  2. What can we be doing better?
  3. What can we learn from our peers?

California cities have been tackling Questions 1 and 2 for years. Los Angeles and Concord, CA have dipped into using performance-based budgeting. Redwood City, CA created an "economic dashboard" to display the economic health of the city to citizens and increase transparency and accountability.

Into this space is where civic startups, like Revelstone, and civic accelerators, like Code for America, are putting some Silicon Valley innovation and know-how into making government work better, without creating cumbersome custom software for each city.

Back to Question 3: To top it off, local officials can collect, track and analyze real-time performance data using Compass and compare service delivery performance with peer cities. For example, local governments can track police response times and compare their metrics to response times in similar cities nationwide.

“Only by benchmarking your performance to self-selected municipalities who deliver “like” services can you truly understand your own performance,” said Mark Nelson, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Revelstone, in a statement.

The opportunity to collaborate with other communities around how to improve results is a key element of the software. This social networking component of the platform fosters the sharing of best practices regardless of location.

No California city has yet adopted the software, and it’s too early to tell how effective it will be, but what we can say is that Revelstone is attempting to push local governments in the right direction, toward data-driven decision making.

California Forward has long endorsed outcome-based managing. The only way governments can determine whether programs are working or services are being delivered efficiently is to take a dive into performance metrics and adjust programs not hitting goals and benchmarks. This is most important in an era of tight budgets and looming city bankruptcies.

Finally, a robust system of transparent, performance-based management should help city halls work more efficiently while also helping to strengthen accountability and restore the public’s trust in their local government.

Categories: Government, Accountability, Transparency

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