Alderman Parker is a long-time advocate for data-driven performance managementImproving customer service, transparency and measurement through modern management technology for local government.

Achieving success in local government requires setting clear goals, developing realistic, well-thought-out implementation strategies, then measuring results and making adjustments as needed in an open, transparent manner.

Since Newton currently lacks the necessary systems and metrics to measure performance, we are not able to make these improvements to our services. Even if we did have clear systems and metrics, Newton is not positioned to make its performance open and transparent to all Newton residents. Currently, there are a great many obstacles to public access to information about budgeting, planning, and other important decision-making processes at City Hall. As a result of this lack of transparency and measurement systems, our performance suffers.

One of the ways we can solve this problem is by implementing a customer service and performance-tracking database. This database, to be called NewtonStat, will improve customer service, transparency and results measurement in Newton government.

We do not need to re-invent the wheel to develop an innovative customer service and performance-tracking database, since work in this area was pioneered by Baltimore, Maryland with the advent of CitiStat and expanded in other communities, including Somerville, Massachusetts, which has met with great success with their SomerStat system. We should learn from and build on the success of these efforts to develop NewtonStat.

Once implemented it will:

  • Integrate feedback and continuous improvement into city processes;
  • Provide Newton residents with access to financial documents and budget summaries, allowing broad public review of our finances and input into the City’s operations;
  • Develop and implement web-based information-sharing tools; and
  • Foster a culture of openness and transparency.

Integrate Feedback into City Processes

We should make performance tracking and public input integral parts of the service delivery process, so that every employee goes to work asking what they can do better than they did yesterday and goes home knowing that they have succeeded in that goal. Continuous improvement requires a results-driven attitude and the information tools necessary to learn from experience. Some of the tools that will help us to achieve these goals are web response forms, a 311 phone system, integrating data from all sources into one database, and sharing information without barriers.

Provide Access to Financial Information

By sharing information with Newton residents and integrating public input into every state of our budget-planning process, we will leverage the financial knowledge and skill of Newton residents, who will offer cost-savings and revenue-enhancement ideas every budget cycle. As part of this process, we should offer budget information in three forms: a detailed programmatic budget, a shorter overview of cost centers and revenue sources, and a concise summary of policy choices and their fiscal consequences.

Develop Web-Based Information Tools

We should take advantage of web technologies to make it easy to find useful information. The City’s web site should include a customer service form that allows users to track progress toward resolving problems, an interactive map of street repair projects, changes to the trash collection schedule by district, special events, etc.

Foster a Culture of Openness and Transparency

The veil of secrecy over City Hall needs to be lifted. That means allowing department heads to share information with the public without being filtered through a city spokesman, which position will be eliminated.