What Works Cities Certification

What Works Cities Certification

The City of Norfolk has achieved 2021 What Works Cities Certification, the national standard of excellence in data-driven city governance.

What Works Cities Certification evaluates how well cities are managed by measuring the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision-making to improve residents’ lives. Norfolk achieved Certification at the Silver level after a yearlong push to reinforce and expand its data practices to complete the What Works Cities’ rigorous certification review.

It is one of only 16 cities to be newly certified this year and one of only 40 cities to be certified since the program was launched in April 2017. Norfolk joins cities including Boston, Memphis and Philadelphia.

What Works Cities is a national initiative launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies to help cities use data and evidence more effectively to tackle their most pressing challenges.

What Works Cities Certification assesses cities based on their data-driven decision-making practices, such as whether they are using data to set goals and track progress, allocate funding, evaluate the effectiveness of programs, and achieve desired outcomes from contracts with outside vendors. The program also measures whether cities are publicly and transparently communicating about their use of data and evidence.

To attain the certification, Norfolk has refined its data collection and governance practices, expanded its resident engagement and outreach for city data including through Norfolk Open Data, the city’s open data portal, and provided City Council members and city staff with data crucial to making informed decisions.

Norfolk began its partnership with What Works Cities in 2017. Since then, Norfolk has instilled and developed a data culture across the city through data storytelling, performance improvement and management, creation of a data leadership committee as well as departmental data champions, and by providing technology recommendations that have helped Norfolk grow its data and analytical capabilities.

Some notable examples of the city’s use of data include:

  • The City of Norfolk installed tide gauges that collect water level readings at sites around the city every six minutes. This data is crucial to helping city planners understand where and when flooding occurs, what to do about it in the short term, and will inform long-term coastal resiliency plans to mitigate the effects of increasing sea level rise and flood risk.
  • To help bolster residents’ understanding of and decision making around flood risk, Norfolk launched the Flood Risk Learning Center, a research project that identified the most effective messaging  to explain property flood risks. This online tool allows residents to generate a personalized flood risk report based on their address, including annual percent risk of flooding, tips to lower insurance costs, and FEMA resources. One resident was able to reduce flood insurance costs from $12,000 to $1,000!
  • Using data from municipal and state courts, Norfolk’s data analytics team at CivicLab was able to identify where evictions are happening at higher rates across the city. By tracking this information, the city will be able to invest funding to prevent future evictions. Norfolk will also use the data to determine the root causes of higher eviction rates in specific neighborhoods and plan to develop programs to address them directly.
  • In recent years Norfolk has dramatically increased the amount of critical data being made available to residents online through the Norfolk Open Data portal. Using this tool, residents can review important resources, such as GIS data and local COVID-19 impact dashboards, to gain a better understanding of how the city optimizes programs and services. It also includes data from the city’s resident request portal, MyNorfolk, which launched in late 2019. Residents can view thousands of calls, emails, online requests and app submissions that Norfolk Cares staff field each month. This resource helps determine and track the services that residents want prioritized and ensures the city is meeting its performance objectives.

The 16 new cities that achieved Certification this year include four cities at the Gold level (Austin, TX; Chattanooga, TN; Detroit, MI; and Gilbert, AZ) and 12 cities at the Silver level: Baton Rouge, LA; Bellevue, WA; Fort Collins, CO; Glendale, AZ; Irving, TX; Little Rock, AR; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Norfolk, VA; Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; and Syracuse, NY.

Click here for the full list of certified cities.

“Since Certification was first introduced, cities have made tremendous progress in their ability to build the data capacity and skills needed to drive their decision-making with data and evidence,” said Jennifer Park, founding director of What Works Cities Certification. “This year, cities used data and evidence to guide their response to COVID, address budget shortfalls, reimagine public safety, advance equity, and much more. Data wasn’t just a valuable tool for city leaders –⁠ it was a necessity.”

What Works Cities Certification was developed by a team of experts from Results for America in close consultation with the What Works Cities Certification Standard Committee. To evaluate cities, these experts conducted a rigorous validation process of cities’ Certification assessments and participated in site visits to the highest-performing cities to determine the city’s Certification level.

The program has inspired a movement of cities that are doubling down on their commitment to building the most well-managed local governments possible and using Certification as a roadmap for doing so. More than 200 cities have completed a Certification assessment to have their practices benchmarked against the national standard. The assessment is the first step to receiving exclusive support from What Works Cities to continue building a more effective local government. To learn more about the program and how to participate, visit https://whatworkscities.bloomberg.org/certification.