Santa Monica's New Performance Program

July 15, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

Santa Monica's New Performance Program

Photo credit: Pedro Szekely/Flickr

Nestled on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica is a small-sized city with outsized goals.

For example, it's the first city in the world with a sustainable city plan focused on climate changes, notes Tim Dodd, Santa Monica's chief performance officer.

"The city has always focused on achieving huge outcomes," Dodd says.

The key is breaking them down into operational projects (e.g., ensure that every kindergartener in the city can read, repair potholes within three days of a citizen request, and reduce the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030) then determining what support the government can provide.

Putting Performance Management at the Center of Operations

The city's leadership lays out a biennial document known as "Framework for a Sustainable City of Wellbeing," which provides strategic direction for Santa Monica, and focuses on outcome areas (such as health, place and planet, and economic opportunity).

These outcomes build on priorities set out in the city's Sustainable City Plan and Wellbeing Index. Each outcome is then further divided up into smaller, measurable goals (as in: "Develop, protect, and maintain city-owned infrastructure").

This focus on measuring outcomes is relatively new for Santa Monica, points out Debbie Lee, chief communications officer.

"Traditional datasets measured how much we've achieved, but not how well we've achieved it. We're looking to shift to measuring overall impact on our community, versus measuring how much we're doing," says Lee.

As an example, she says, that means assessing if streets are safe and a good mode to get around the city — not simply counting how many have been newly paved.

That's a complex project.

Here to help: SaMoStat, the city's newly launched performance management site powered by Socrata.

By turning to performance management — and launching SaMoStat — the city wants to spread its goals throughout the organization.

"Performance management has evolved tremendously in the past decade," says Dodd. "Now Socrata is a tool that can help you identify what you want to be as a city: the friendliest city, the tourist city, the green city. Performance management will help you get there, and the Socrata dashboards are the tools that go along with it and help bring people in."

Performance management is a critical piece of how the city functions operationally, says Lee. It's the epicenter of how the city allocates resources, maintains efficiencies, and learns and improves.

"The whole reason we're doing this is not just to highlight what's working but find out what's not working and why," says Lee. "If we're constantly measuring, learning, and digging deeper, we can provide better services for all."

A Change to City Culture

Santa Monica is focused on user experience over departments.

"We're taking a step back and looking at how the combined effort, the holistic service delivery, achieves the greater outcome," says Lee. "It's a big shift in the way we're approaching our work. We're providing a customer-first experience whether it's online, in person, or in service delivery."

Santa Monica, like other cities, is structured into departments — fire, police, and so on.

Each department facilitates a goal or provides a specific purpose, but that's not how residents think of the city. As a resident, the departmental structure is beside the point. Residents evaluate the city based on their experiences with individual departments they encounter.

"What performance management does is force us to work together and standardize the ways in which we're providing those services," says Lee.

Performance management is also a way to help understand and define a city's identity, points out Dodd.

"Performance management and visualizations, and transparency of it, is an incredible tool to help you reflect on who you are as a city and to get to where you want to be," Dodd says. 

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