Author Archives: Ken Wolf

Revelstone Contributes Chapter in New Book on the Power of Open Data for Governments


Today Code for America, the non-profit organization inspired by tech industry thinker and leader Tim O’Reilly, launched its new book Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation.  My Revelstone colleague, John Fry, and I are proud to have authored Chapter 18, “Benchmarking Performance Data.”  The book is available for download on our website at no charge. Our chapter discusses how cities are using data to understand their own performance, and to benchmark and collaborate with peers to learn about opportunities for operational and financial improvement.  A chapter by Michael Flowers, who leads New York City’s data analytics team, kicks off this section of the book by talking about how NYC is using Big Data to answer very interesting questions that have lead to remarkable improvements for the city.   Revelstone’s chapter closes out the section with a focus on performance data and inter-city collaboration– the cornerstones of the burgeoning government-to-government virtual community of peers helping peers. Our authoring journey began last year when Revelstone was accepted into Code…

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Revelstone Wants to Hear Your View on Shared Services!

More and more municipalities are researching and turning to shared services.  There are a number of benefits to shared services: Cost reductions Greater effectiveness More efficiencies Better service levels Improved quality of services and citizen satisfaction Better management or operating infrastructure Economies of scale We want to know if you are considering shared services, or if you have already adopted shared services with one or more local governments.  The results will help us identify and share with you how prevalent shared service agreements are in local governments, the benefits your peers are seeing from shared services, the most common departments that participate in shared services and the challenges of shared services agreements. Please take a few minutes to fill out our quick survey on shared services before Friday, April 19, 2013.  The survey should take only 3-5 minutes. We will publish the results of this survey on our website on Friday, May 10, 2013 or you can register for our webinar, The Current Stance on Municipal Shared Services, on May 15,…

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Are Citizens Satisfied with Municipal Services?

Companies like SeeClickFix and Public Stuff are most well-known as apps that allows citizens to report potholes.  It’s not just that potholes capture the imagination of citizens – it’s that citizens are largely unsatisfied with the streets, sidewalks and infrastructure of their towns and cities. ETC Institute recently conducted a national survey on how satisfied citizens are with the services their towns and cities provide.  The survey shows many citizens are largely satisfied with how their municipalities are performing.  Here’s a quick look at the some of the findings: Citizens are least satisfied with public transportation (47%) and streets/sidewalks/infrastructure (48%) Citizens are most satisfied with trash/yard waste services (77%) and police/fire/EMS (80%) The majority of services received satisfaction rates between 50% – 75% Most services’ satisfaction ratings improved or remained the same from 2011 to 2012; the exception was parks and recreation, which went from 71% satisfaction to 69% satisfaction The good news is that some of a municipality’s most costly services – police, fire, EMS, waste disposal – receive…

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Morristown, NJ – Engaging citizens through performance management

“For years, people at our council meetings have asked what our government does,” said Mayor Timothy P. Dougherty of Morristown, New Jersey. “We realized we needed to do a better job of showing what we are doing and to do that, we needed to establish goals, build metrics and measure our performance so we can communicate the results to our citizens.” Morristown, New Jersey is working hard to transform its government into one that focuses on citizen services and sustainability. As Mayor Dougherty mentioned in his 2013 re-organization address, “The Morristown Office of Sustainability continues to champion ‘Morristown Performs’ – the Administration’s performance management initiative. It manages the relationship with our Dodge Foundation-funded consultants from FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and the inter-departmental integration of data collection and new technologies to better measure, assess and improve government operations and budgeting.” One of the goals of Morristown’s performance management initiative is to overcome the pervasive and negative sentiment of how local governments typically operate. The Mayor established goals and built metrics…

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Oakland, NJ – Performance management is not just for big cities

The success of performance management in big cities is well documented – the Boston About Results program, Charlotte’s Performance Management and Strategic Planning initiative and Baltimore’s use of CitiStat. But increasingly, smaller cities and towns want the same insightful information that bigger cities are gleaning from using a performance management system so they too can gauge how well they are delivering services to citizens. Using Revelstone Compass, Oakland, New Jersey is an example of a small town that is embracing performance management to systematically gather and examine detailed department data such as: Police: Oakland can dive into when and where speeding tickets and citations are issued, correlate traffic enforcements hours with summonses issued and accident rates. Public Works: The borough can measure how quickly services are rendered and how much those specific services cost. Construction Code Permitting: Oakland can measure the percentage of inspections that are done on schedule, how much inspections cost and the average cost per permit. The end results? Oakland is examining traffic data to make roads…

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Can Data Help Avoid Thanksgiving Traffic Jams?

Every year AAA issues a projection on the amount amount of people who will travel between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after.  The 2012 projection is not out yet, but the 2011 prediction offers insight on how data can help cities and towns better cope with the volume. The 2011 prediction was for 38.2 million people – 90% of holiday travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destination. I frequently visit family in the Boston area, so lets look at the Massachusetts Turnpike, as I’ve sat in long lines of traffic many times.  Historically, the Massachusetts Turnpike and towns along a portion of the Mass Pike have struggled to manage the situation.  The trigger is at the Mass Pike/84 interchange’s toll booths.  The cash lanes often create an enormous back up. This happens on many holidays, most recently over the 2012 Columbus Day weekend.  The Mass Pike had a 45-mile backup that Friday, resulting in one of the largest traffic jams in the history of the Mass Pike. In…

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Civic Startups are Hot!

Civic startups are hot.  Why?  There’s a growing movement to develop technology solutions to help governments of all types and sizes operate better, adopt private sector best practices and improve the efficiency of services delivered to their citizens. Want proof?  The civic startup space – and in particular the seven startups in the Code for America Accelerator program – have received significant coverage from influential media outlets. One of the recent articles was a result of Code for America’s recent Demo Day.  Government Technology ran an article covering Revelstone and the other six companies in the program.  They are: Aunt Bertha, Captricity, LearnSprout, Measured Voice, MindMixer and Other recent articles include: Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government by Luke Fretwell of GovFresh How Code for America is Reinventing Government by Lauren Drell of Mashable Google Analytics for Local Governments by Ariel Schwartz of Fast Company Interested in participating in the discussion?  Follow all seven companies on Twitter, and follow the hashtag #civicstartups.

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GovFresh: Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government

Code for America’s Accelerator is invaluable to the seven elite civic start-ups participating in the program.  Their most recent support came with last week’s public “Demo Day,” where all seven of us presented our solutions for better government. Events like this are helping to increase the spotlight on civic start-ups and their innovative technology ideas.  Most recently, this came in the form of an article by Luke Fretwell of GovFresh. We spoke with Fretwell last week, which resulted in “Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government.  Fretwell asked Mark Nelson, our COO, a number of questions, the most important of which is how we are helping local governments with our performance analytics platform.  Fretwell’s piece also includes our own Ken Wolf, CEO, in a video explaining the importance of municipal governments analyzing not just their performance, but also that of similar governments in order to learn new strategies and best practices. Check out the GovFresh article here:

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Mashable: How Code for America is Reinventing Government

We’re believers in Code for America (CfA), a non-profit that is “helping governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the web.”  But of course, we would be big believers – we’re one of the seven companies selected for Code for America’s Accelerator program. Last week, Code for America, Revelstone and some of our fellow program members spoke with Lauren Drell (@drelly) of Mashable.  Lauren’s article, “How Code for America is Reinventing Government,” talks about how Code for America is taking the incubator/accelerator model common in the startup world to organizations focused on technology and government data. As Lauren reports, companies like Revelstone – civic startups – existed, but as CfA’s Director of Strategy and Communications Abhi Nemani commented, “The term ‘civic startup’ hasn’t yet crept into the Silicon Valley vernacular.” Thanks to the folks at CfA, it will soon.  All seven of us in the accelerator program received a grant, mentoring, networking and invaluable strategic advice.  We’ve all worked hard to make huge progress since…

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Code for America Accelerator Ruminations – Part II

Earlier this week I had the privilege of presenting Revelstone’s performance analytics and benchmarking solution to an audience of about 200+ innovative government leaders at Code for America’s (CFA) annual Summit in San Francisco (check out the video on YouTube).  I must admit the response to our offering, along with those of our peers in the CFA Accelerator program, was indeed overwhelming.  The folks at CFA have begun to successfully transmit their optimism about what can be accomplished to government leaders all over the country.  So, what is everyone so jazzed about? The work of the CFA Fellowship, Brigade and Accelerator programs has proven that citizens can become more connected to their local governments and the services that they offer.  That today’s technology can, in fact, be applied to solving problems of government in ways not achievable in the past.  For example, BlightStatus helps residents of New Orleans get up-to-date information about blighted properties in that city, so they can collaborate with government officials to remediate and better their neighborhoods. …

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The power of the network

Last week’s NY Times Magazine ran a thought-provoking article, “The Internet? We Built That,” by Steven Johnson, which posed the question, “Who created the Internet and why should we care?”  Was it government researchers?  Private corporations like Apple and Xerox?  Academia?  Al Gore?  The answer – none of the above and all of the above (except maybe Al Gore). The Internet, Johnson states, was created by “…decentralized groups of scientists and programmers and hobbyists (and more than a few entrepreneurs) freely sharing the fruits of their intellectual labor with the entire world.  Yes, government financing supported much of the early research, and private corporations enhanced and commercialized the platforms.  But the institutions responsible for the technology itself were neither governments nor private start-ups.  They were much closer to the loose, collaborative organizations of academic research.  They were networks of peers.” The article goes on to discuss how the results of that effort, the Internet, have enabled peer networks to grow and thrive and create – the likes of which we…

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Code for America Accelerator ruminations – Part I

A few months ago, we learned that Code for America (CFA), the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing government into the digital age, was launching its first ever Accelerator program in August of this year.  The mission of the Accelerator is to turbo-charge a handful of exciting civic startup companies by helping them with business advice, national awareness, networking with the technology elite of Silicon Valley and nurturing potential investment opportunities.   Revelstone is fortunate to have been chosen as one of the seven inaugural companies in the Accelerator program, out of a pool of 235 candidates. The program requires members of our management team to spend four weeks over a four month period at the CFA offices in San Francisco meeting with an ever-growing list of mentors who give us guidance on product, messaging, financing and our go-to-market strategies.   It’s an opportunity for us to step back and focus on our business, rather than in our business.  How refreshing! As of this writing we are halfway through the program, and the…

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Government Performance Management and the 21st Century Digital Government

The White House recently issued a Presidential Memo—”Building a 21st Century Digital Government”—directed to the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.  The memo provides the major federal agencies with a 12-month technology roadmap, including how to deliver digital services and how to make applicable government information available to the public.  But most significantly, the memo included, as an integral portion of the edict, a directive to include measurement. Excerpt from Memo: “The Strategy will enable more efficient and coordinated digital service delivery by requiring agencies to establish specific, measurable goals for delivering better digital services; encouraging agencies to deliver information in new ways that fully utilize the power and potential of mobile and web-based technologies; ensuring the safe and secure delivery and use of digital services to protect information and privacy; requiring agencies to establish central online resources for outside developers and to adopt new standards for making applicable Government information open and machine-readable by default; aggregating agencies’ online resource pages for developers in a centralized catalogue on; and…

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“What gets measured, gets done.”

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets done.”  If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure, and if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage or improve it.  What eludes most local governments is how to create performance management systems that align measures with what they are trying to accomplish: How well are we doing? Are we meeting our goals? Are our citizens and stakeholders satisfied? What improvements or changes are necessary? So how do you get started?  It doesn’t have to be a daunting task!  Successful performance management systems adhere to the following guiding principles: Appoint a champion.  Leadership is critical in designing and deploying effective performance management systems. Identify the key activities and outcomes to measure.  Revelstone’s Compass makes it simple by providing a library of more than 500 key metrics to choose from. Involve the people who are responsible for the work to be measured and give them a sense of ownership. Establish accountability for results that is clearly assigned and well-understood. Establish…

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Lessons from Baggage Claim – What NOT to Measure

I recently took a business trip to the west coast where I had with me a small briefcase and my carry-on bag which would easily fit in the overhead compartment of the airplane.   I was not traveling on my usual airline, so I didn’t have any special boarding privileges.  However, since I was seated in a forward row, my section was the last to board. By the time my section began to board, the gate agents claimed that there was no space left in the overhead bins and I would have to check my bag, picking it up later in baggage claim.  Oh, what fun.  I was skeptical, but complied, nonetheless. I was somewhat surprised and slightly miffed when I boarded the aircraft to discover that there was plenty of room overhead.  Too late—the doors were closing.  Why would they have told me otherwise?  “Well,” I thought, “I’ll never let that happen again.” On the next leg of my trip I was in the same predicament (and traveling on the…

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Does the Act of Measuring Itself Produce Results?

Does the act of measuring performance drive results, or must we wait until the data has been analyzed and decisions are made in order to realize improvement in our organizations?  I recently answered this question in one of my own organizations and was quite surprised by the results. One of my sales teams had been doing a great job of working deals through the sales pipeline and closing them.  However, our pipeline was weaker than it should be because they were not generating enough qualified leads.  We pleaded, then encouraged, then mandated that our sales people dedicate time each and every day to prospecting activities.  While they agreed in principle, they generally seemed to find other priorities that got in the way.  So, once deals in their pipeline were closed, they found themselves lacking in new deals to work. Eventually, we knew something had to change.  So, we began requiring that they get on a call at 8am each morning and report their previous day’s prospecting results.   We tracked: How…

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Welcome to the Revelstone Blog

Revelstone is dedicated to creating communities of local governments that inspire each other to improve the quality of life for their citizens, employees and stakeholders.  We hope that you find this blog inspirational and useful. Our goal is to provide you with information and techniques about how other towns are using performance management and benchmarking to deliver services and cost-efficient solutions to improve your government operations. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear from some of Revelstone’s leaders who are co-authors of this blog. We will bring to you our varied backgrounds from the public service, the private sector and academia. We will share ideas and stories from our many customers and engage in open discussions about efficient ways to deliver municipal services, all from different view-points. You’ll hear about towns who are pioneering new management techniques to reduce costs and improve service delivery efficiencies, as well as those that are implementing innovative solutions. We invite you to join the conversation by checking in with us every week or…

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