Urban Innovation

Using Data to Foster Relationships

March 7, 2019  • Maia Jachimowicz & Jennifer Bradley

This blog post originally appeared on Results for America’s Medium Page.

In the policy world, people talk a lot about data-driven decisions, and data-driven policymaking.  We hear less about data-driven relationships.  But the experience of two mayors, G.T. Bynum of Tulsa and Catherine Pugh of Baltimore, suggest that data can connect and unite people from across the country and across the political spectrum and across city departments.

Both Mayors Bynum and Pugh grew interested in data as a problem-solving tool when they served as city council members.  Mayor Bynum, a Republican, was frustrated that the city of Tulsa was collecting data but not using it.  Mayor Pugh, a Democrat, thought that Baltimore’s CitiStat program could be applied to many more policy decisions.

As mayors, both have been surprised, and delighted, to find that collecting and using government data creates opportunities for more constructive human interactions with citizens and other local leaders. “It [Data] allowed us to move out of partisan, philosophical debates across the community [and] to focus on issues at a very detailed level,” says Mayor Bynum.  “It has never been easier to be isolated and therefore divided.  One of the things that I love about using  data is that… it’s a great way to bring people from disparate sides of the political spectrum together and give them a tool to help solve problems in local communities.”

Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum on Using Data in Local Government

Tulsa local government employees also find that using data flattens the city government hierarchy, Bynum said.  If a person has a good idea and the data to back it up, she is empowered to do something, whatever her place on the organization chart.

Mayor Pugh also sees city employees using data to build relationships.  “People felt a renewed spirit,” she recalled.  “I didn’t expect relationships to develop,” because some employees were skeptical at first about using a data-driven approach.  But over time, she said, “If you add the human element to it, you can drive real solutions.  Relationships have developed across the board.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh on Using Data to Drive Innovation & Decision Making

Data, then, can provide a common ground on which people can connect and engage.  It can diffuse power, rather than keeping it in the hands of a few.  Perhaps if we talk more about data driving relationships and not just results, more mayors, council members, local government officials and residents will embrace it.

Jennifer Bradley is the Director of the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation and Maia Jachimowicz is the Vice President for Evidence-Based Policy Implementation at Results for America.

Staff of both Mayors Bynum and Pugh participated in Results for America’s Local Government Fellowship, and Tulsa and Baltimore are part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative.