Kansas City Aligns Budget with Outcomes

June 24, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

Kansas City Aligns Budget with Outcomes

In Kansas City, Missouri, several key factors drive decisions: data, resident feedback, and the city's five-year business plan. Kansas City is so committed to data-driven decisions and tracking metrics that in February 2019, the city passed an ordinance codifying its data strategy.

Making data a cornerstone value is paying off. In April, the city achieved gold status in Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities Certification (a jump from its previous silver status).

How does a data-driven city operate? We spoke with Kate Bender, Deputy Performance Manager for the Office of the City Manager in Kansas City, who shared some of Kansas City's strategies.

Data-Driven Budget Decisions

When it comes to budgeting, data is part of the process every step of the way. In fact, the first dataset Kansas City released on its open data portal was a line-item budget.

Today, the city takes its financial data even farther.

"We want to put all that information out there and let people dig into it."
— Kate Bender, deputy performance manager, Office of the City Manager, Kansas City

Since 2013, Kansas City has worked off a five-year strategic business plan, which lays out what the city wants to accomplish and drives the annual budget. DataKC — the city's recently renamed Office of Performance Management — and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) collaborate closely to ensure the plan takes effect and that the budget supports its priorities.

"It's been great to have both of us in the room," says Bender.

OMB has insight into the city's financial model, five-year plan, and schedule, Bender says, while DataKC offers perspective on the plan's progress, including both setbacks and successes.

Collaborating together, and working with the same guiding strategic plan, leads to a consistent perspective on the city's priorities, says Bender.

"We're constantly reviewing the plan, which drives departments to include priorities in the plan," says Bender. "The things that are most important to the city keep getting integrated."

Driving Public Engagement

A government budget is not innately easy to follow for most laypeople — or necessarily a stimulating read.

"It's exceptionally hard to navigate a line-item budget unless you're a budget wonk," says Bender.

Through the city's Socrata-powered Open Budget and Open Data sites, Kansas City can engage with residents. Together, the two sites demonstrate the city's commitment to transparency.


"We want to put all that information out there and let people dig into it," Bender says.

The sites also allow the city to curate information and share interesting stories, says Bender.

"Open Budget is an opportunity for us to dig into areas and tell a story," she says.

Kansas City is open to innovative possibilities when it comes to engaging the public with data. In 2017, the city hosted "The Art of Data" exhibit, featuring original artwork creating using data as its inspiration. The exhibit drew thousands of attendees.

"Visitors to the art gallery talked about the city's murder rate, life expectancy by ZIP code, economic development along the streetcar route, and even citizen satisfaction scores," wrote Chris Hernandez, chief spokesman for the city of Kansas City in a Medium post.

The "A-ha" Moment for Department Leaders

Bender and her department make data compelling for department managers.

There's a lightbulb moment, she says, after demonstrating that departments can use data to inform resource allocation and make more compelling requests for funding.

DataKC is deeply engaged in working with departments to improve their data-driven capabilities, says Bender. That can mean improving data reporting within a department or offering support in other ways, including brainstorming strategies and taking on projects, she says.

With performance at the heart of budgeting decisions, DataKC is taking on a new project. The department with be working with OMB over the next six to eight months to review the key performance indicators tracked in the budget.

"We've been tracking a lot of measures for a lot of years," says Bender. This review will ensure that the correct ones are being tracked.

That's essential as Kansas City continues to align performance with budget and hosts quarterly reports devoted to reviewing how money was spent — and what results were generated.

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