Small to midsize cities across the country could get a boost in funding for data-related initiatives thanks to a forthcoming investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Monday that it is investing $42 million to create its “What Works Cities Initiative,” aimed at helping cities with between 100,000 and 1 million residents use data to improve municipal services. The program has several partners, including Results for America, the new Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University’s Government Performance Lab.
Helping cities invest in data-driven solutions will help them be more efficient and cut costs, the charity said.
“There’s very little data on the use of data and evidence in local governments,” Bloomberg Philanthropies’ government innovation program head James Anderson told the Washington Post. “Mayors are just hungry for tools and resources that help them use data more effectively. What we’ve found is there’s a gap between what they’d like to do and what they can do.”
Behind the enhanced focus on using technology and data to cut costs is the tight budget conditions that never really left cities after the recession in 2008.
“I don’t know of any government that’s not strapped financially right now,” Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, Ky., said at a gathering of civic leaders to discuss data opportunities. “The question is, how do you do more with less?”
In Louisville, the city has used data analysis to dig into restaurant inspection data to lower the rate of late inspections from 11 percent to 0.1 percent. City officials also tackled problems with asthma by outfitting 400 inhalers with GPS-tracking devices so that they could map where inhalers were used around town. The inhalers also collected information on time of day, temperature and other external factors that might cause asthma attacks.
For the initiative, the team from Johns Hopkins will assess cities’ data capabilities — including open data programs to enlist residents to help solve city problems — and push them to share their tools with one another.
“This isn’t just a funding network to get resources into cities,” Beth Blauer, the executive director of the Hopkins center said. “It’s actually a support network.”