Building Connections for Success

November 07, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

Key Takeaways from ICMA

Building Connections for Success

“Building a culture around data helps us deliver better services to our customers – the public.” This insight from Laura Shearin of Henderson, Nevada, was just one of many meaningful and memorable moments in two recent ICMA Conference sessions.

In Shearin’s Henderson, the city saved millions of dollars by creating an enterprise-wide willingness to view and trust data. In Fulton County, Georgia, officials connected the dots between fluctuating appraisal rates and taxes on infrastructure to overcome community distrust.

What steps can you take right now towards data-driven decision making even on a small budget? Can city-county partnerships help? Below are the key takeaways from the ICMA sessions that addressed these and other questions.

Big Leaps with Small Budgets: Actionable Steps for Using Data to Increase Public Trust

The Mayor of Henderson, Nevada, has been known to give out plaques stating, “If you don’t have data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Laura Shearin, Henderson’s Office of Performance and Innovation manager, views her biggest data win as the “real, substantial change in culture” in the organization. Moving from a siloed structure in which people were protective of their information to making decisions in a collaborative way has made lives easier on the job and in the community. Here are some top thoughts from Shearin and Bristol Ellington, Henderson’s deputy city manager and chief operating officer:

  • On performance management across departments
    “We report out on strategic and operational measures, we measure employee engagement and customer satisfaction; we even measure the effects of our improvement efforts. We use the nationally recognized Baldrige framework, which includes all of these elements, to help us integrate measures and data into everything we do so that we become a higher performing organization. Data is at the heart of it and sharing data to make decisions that are more effective has become second nature to us.” –Bristol Ellington
  • On managing data sharing between 17 departments
    “We have uniquely classified our data so that the right data gets in front of the right decision makers. A department head doesn’t necessarily bother themselves, for example, with how many potholes are filled in a day – that’s data a supervisor needs to do his job. The data is in the system if the department head wants to look, but their decisions are probably not based on that data. Likewise, it’s overwhelming for front-line staff to be looking at numbers that they feel they individually cannot affect, for example, our financial reserves. So we’ve tiered our data into tiers 1, 2, and 3.” –Laura Shearin
  • On securing buy-in of data culture
    “At first, there was a lot of suspicion about measuring things. Why do you want to know? What are you going to do with the data? Am I in trouble? Reinforcing that data is a flashlight and not a hammer, that we only want to improve and get better and that we are all in this together, helped alleviate some of those fears.” –Bristol Ellington

Read more about how Henderson, NV, increases efficiency through data here.

Laura Shearin
Business Administration Manager
Henderson, Nevada
Bristol Ellington
Chief Operating Officer/Deputy City Manager
Henderson, Nevada
Mike Rowicki
Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer
Fulton County, Georgia


Capitalizing on City-County Partnerships

Mike Rowicki, assistant to the chief financial officer, Fulton County, and Tyler Technologies’ Data Academy Director, Oliver Wise, held an informal discussion on how the county achieved better analytics and smarter resource deployment through modernized communication between agencies and across jurisdictions. The city-county connections include a cloud-based capital projects management system to oversee the countywide Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) program. This offers city and county employees, along with residents, transparency and insights into costs, spending, and complete timelines of transportation and infrastructure initiatives. Below are some key thoughts from Rowicki that surfaced during their chat.

  • On the investment in city-county partnerships
    “With a recent move to a full municipalized county structure that’s unique in Georgia, we need to make sure we maintain meaningful relationships with residents and our cities. To do that, the cities must see us as a partner they can work with in terms of sharing data, creating efficiencies, and working to build trust with our citizens by sharing good data with them.”
  • On the employee skills needed to maximize these partnerships
    “We see a need for a variety of skills at varying levels. We need people who are technically skilled from an IT perspective, people skilled in understanding how to message around the data, and, perhaps most important, we need to make sure that even non-technical employees know how to collect and work with our data. We’re holding a four-day “train the trainer” event that will include a general data overview as well as three days of intensive work around maneuvering in our systems, working with, and visualizing our information. I should also note that we tie data to performance bonuses at the start of every fiscal year. That’s a great influencer for leadership and staff buy-in on understanding and working in our data.”
  • On improving communication and data sharing across agencies
    “We’ve created the “Share Fulton” website for internal data sharing that gives employees at all levels up to date information on where their performance is. Custom dashboards have unique designs for each program, which enable staff to compare their performance against others. These also help in terms of improving data sharing across agencies. People can look at the dashboards and understand why some budgets are bigger than others, based on the number of people they serve, for example. The dashboards further help the cities understand how our internal processes work. By sharing data with them, we can help export our information into communications for the public, which helps them better serve their constituents. We can use the visualizations to help frame data to what is useful and understandable.”

Learn more about Fulton County’s transparency dashboard here, which helps tell the story of its multi-year tax roadmap.

Thanks to these leaders who shared their stories and experiences with ICMA members. Their innovative ways to create connections are solving problems for improved communities.

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