The City of Syracuse has just launched an on-line dashboard designed to let the public monitor how the city is performing. The website uses data to measure progress toward goals such as delivering services effectively and increasing economic investment in the city.
Mayor Ben Walsh says it is an exciting challenge for the city to lay bare information that reveals where improvements are needed.
“The purpose of this program is not to pat ourselves on the back,” Walsh said. “We have set it up in a way that sets the bar high and as we get close to that bar, or reach that bar, we are going to raise the bar. We want the goals to get tougher and we want to continue to address new challenges.”
Director of Innovation Adria Finch says they have met with department heads to set goals based on common concerns.
“We actually sat with DPW [Department of Public Works], and we said ‘What do you think we could be measuring?’ Can it be potholes? Can it be sewers? Can it be snow removal? What do we have data for? What do we want to start to collect data for?’” Finch said. “Then we brainstormed, we identified what those were going to be, and then we set the metrics associated for them.”
Users will see the website is set up like a traffic light, showing green for progress, yellow for getting there, and red for a ways to go. A glance at the top of the main page shows the city facing a 46% budget variance, the difference between what was budgeted starting July 1 and what’s been spent so far. Chief Data Officer Sam Edelstein says the user-friendly site allows for expenditures to be subdivided down to a paperclip.
“You can then see by department how much are they varying, and then you can actually click on each of these departments and it breaks it down by their division,” Edelstein said. “Then you can click in again and you can look at it by the account type. You can look at overtime, or wages, or salaries, or office supplies.”
Mayor Walsh says the seemingly large budget variance might be a factor of the timing of city spending rather than spending more than they should.
Director of Code Enforcement Ken Towsley sees the performance program as a challenge to improve his department, and in turn, spur investment in the city.
“First step for a lot of investment is our permit desk. Let’s try to get those permits out to star that development earlier,” Towsley said. “Those numbers are challenging. But, we are working internally to change our process, to ensure that these developers that are walking into our city are getting a good experience to start off with and hopefully start their projects earlier.”
As of this week, the city issued 84% of its permits on time, toward a goal of 95%. Mayor Walsh says none of this is aimed at embarrassing or penalizing departments or staff; rather it is meant to show the city is striving for improvement, accountability, and transparency. He hopes residents take some time to familiarize themselves with the website and consistently monitor it.
“While the data itself may be difficult to get your head around, the quality of life issues that are impacted by this data matter to everyone,” Walsh said.
The performance data can be seen at dashboards.syrgov.net.