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CitiStat: 10 years of measuring progress

Everyone knows about the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry and Camden Yards, but many may be surprised to learn that one of Baltimore's hottest tourist spots is on the sixth floor of City Hall. During the last 10 years, a small government office there has attracted thousands of elected officials, foreign dignitaries and good government aficionados from all over the country and the world. To them, Baltimore is associated with one word: CitiStat.

This week is the 10th birthday of CitiStat, the data-driven, performance-based management office located in a loft formerly occupied by the city's curator. Through over a thousand meetings, CitiStat has helped three administrations streamline bureaucracy, improve city services, reduce employee absenteeism, cut costs and provide executive direction to Baltimore's major operational agencies. In short, CitiStat is at the root of Baltimore's management strategy: performance goals are set, managers and workers are held accountable, and results are measured — not yearly, quarterly or monthly, but week-to-week.

Since its first meeting 10 years ago, CitiStat's influence has spread far and wide. A dozen other cities have adopted its approach, with Washington D.C. and Philadelphia as two of the most recent innovators. IBM and the Center for American Progress have both produced studies covering the CitiStat process, and in 2004 CitiStat won Harvard University's prestigious Innovations in American Government Award – an Oscar for local government.

The idea of sharing accurate and timely data, measuring productivity, finding smarter ways to deploy resources and following up afterward may seem an obvious approach to management, but when we applied them to local government in 2000, it was truly innovative. It allowed us to know how many potholes each crew filled on any given week — and then push to guarantee a 48-hour response time. Over the years, CitiStat has tracked dead trees, cracked sidewalks, flooded streets and hundreds of other measures — and more importantly, CitiStat allowed us to follow up to ensure these problems were actually fixed.

What was once deemed pioneering has now become a Baltimore institution that continually evolves to improve municipal operations. In 2000, CitiStat provided the data and analysis for innovations such as the reconfiguration of our trash collection process, which had not changed since 1962 when the city population was significantly larger. Building on this foundation, we then redrew every city trash and recycling route, implementing a new type of collection that set the stage for the city's 53 percent growth in recycling in the past year.

In mid-February, the city marshaled its resources to respond to the seventh-heaviest snowstorm on record. After the storm, CitiStat addressed the massive amount of damage caused by the blizzard — potholes, damaged storm inlets and broken curbs — and the backlog of citizen service requests. We were then able to reduce that backlog to a normal level within weeks.

But "normal" still demands tremendous effort. During the past 10 years Baltimore residents have dialed the 311 call center more than 8 million times, making more than 5.5 million service requests — including 722,000 bulk-trash pick-up requests, 180,000 reports of damaged street lights, and 144,000 calls to remove abandoned vehicles.

We have applied the same principles to state government through StateStat. In 2007, the first StateStat meeting led to the closure of Jessup's House of Correction, a horrible place built in 1874 that endangered inmates and correctional officers. Through regular bi-weekly meetings with StateStat ever since, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has reduced overtime by 22 percent while reducing serious assaults on staff by 50 percent. StateStat has tracked our progress clearing an inherited backlog of 24,000 unanalyzed DNA samples that were literally sitting on a shelf and the loading of 82,906 DNA samples into a federal database; this effort led to 212 arrests, including 103 for sex offences and 16 for murder.

Like its counterpart in the city, StateStat meets weekly with state agencies to reduce overtime, improve public health outcomes, improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and make Maryland safer — in other words, make government work. StateStat's stimulus tracking website was named the best in the nation two years in a row by the Washington based think-tank Good Jobs First, it positioned Maryland to have the first shovel-ready project approved in the nation, and it ensured that Maryland was the first state to obligate all of its $132 million in water and waste water funds, stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

CitiStat is an effective tool to manage city operations, but we must do more to share data across jurisdictional lines to improve citizen outcomes. Building upon the collaborative model of GunStat, in which local, state and federal law enforcement coordinate to track violent gun offenders, the city will soon unveil ChildStat to strengthen the efforts of public, private and non-profit institutions focused on child welfare in Baltimore City.

Those of us who believe in the progressive power of accurate data believe that we can use information to strengthen our connections to one another. Through those connections we have the potential to change the course of a city's history, a state's history, a country's history — perhaps even our planet's history — parcel-by-parcel, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and most importantly, neighbor-by-neighbor. Today violent crime is lower, public schools are stronger and the Chesapeake Bay is healthier than at any time in recent memory. These accomplishments were not achieved by accident or in a vacuum. They have been achieved through the deliberate actions of dedicated individuals, non-profit leaders, conscientious businesses and elected officials. Together, through the connections made when ideas and information are shared, we will continue to move Baltimore and Maryland forward.

Martin O'Malley is the governor of Maryland. His e-mail is governor@gov.state.md.us. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of Baltimore. Her e-mail is mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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