Nine American cities are revolutionizing how data can improve lives

Angels and data.
Angels and data.
Image: Henning Witzel/Unsplash
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Michael Bloomberg, business magnate and former mayor of New York, is bringing together two of his greatest obsessions: cities and data.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, his charitable foundation, named the inaugural group of nine US cities to achieve What Works Cities certification, its standard for government effectiveness. Underpinning the certification is an evaluation of how well a city uses data-driven decisions to improve its residents’ lives. This includes factors like whether it maintains a dedicated staff for tracking progress with data, whether its meetings are focused on numbers, whether its key datasets are open to the public, and whether it is transparent about its goals and progress.

The nine cities recognized today (Jan. 25)—Boston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.—were chosen from among more than 180 applicants. Los Angeles received a gold certification for using data to tackle key problems, such as homelessness, crime, traffic, and pollution, in an interrelated way. The other eight cities each received silver; none reached platinum, the highest level.

Bloomberg Philanthropies launched What Works Cities in April 2015 to drive the use of data in US municipal governance and to facilitate the exchange of best practices. It has reached its initial goal of bringing 100 mid-sized American city partners into the program.

Last April, it launched the certification in close collaboration with a team of experts from the academic, nonprofit, and private sectors.

“The more cities that integrate data into their planning and operations, the more progress our country will be able to make on the common challenges we face,” Bloomberg said in a news release.

Each of the nine cities will receive ongoing training and support from the What Works Cities initiative to deepen and improve data-driven processes. The hope is that as cities continue to advance their practices, they will reach platinum-level certification.