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  • REINVENTING THE WHEEL – PUBLIC SECTOR STYLE

    Recently, a relatively high-level manager in a large southern city told us about the progress her city was making in energizing a brand-new performance management system there. She told us that this was the first time her city had ever done something like this. But wait. When we were first covering performance management several decades ago, this same city was known for being a leader in exactly that kind of work. We pointed this out to our source who was interested to hear the news. This kind of thing happens all-too-frequently to us, and to others who have been around the world of state and local government for a while. We’re not suggesting that new employees in a city or a state need to take a course in the history of management where they’re working. But it’s really a pity when they lose the opportunity to build on old efforts – figuring out why they succeeded or failed – and then work from there, instead of starting from scratch. We were talking about this with Marc Holzer the well-known public administration scholar who got is PhD from the University of Michigan in 1971. His take: “These people aren’t building new things. They’re re-inventing things all the time. And they make mistakes they made before that could have been prevented.” One of our favorite quotes about this topic comes not from the world of the public sector but from Vatican City, where Pope Francis has said, "The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, 'Then was then, now is now', is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth." The risks of losing track of the past can be serious. For example, consider the way many states and cities are currently dealing with their surpluses (many of which were created by extra dollars from the federal government in recent years). Contrary to the Government Finance Officers’ Association admonitions to spend one-time revenues on one-time expenditures, we see state after state cutting their taxes and increasing their expenditures, which is likely going to leave them up against a fiscal wall. We’ve written in the past about the over-use of the word innovations in part because many new programs are described that way simply because the current administration doesn’t have any notion that they’ve been tried or suggested in the past. “But,” as we wrote in early 2022, “when governments overemphasize the notion that their future lies in innovating, they can miss out on another equally important concept: that there are lots of good ideas for successful government that aren’t brand new – but simply need to be implemented.” #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformanceMeasurement #PerformanceMeasurement #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformanceManagement #PerformanceManagement #StateandLocalGovernmentInnovation #PublicSectorHistory #ForgottenCityHistory #HistoricalKnowledge #StateandLocalInnovation #GovernmentFinanceOfficersAssociation #GFOA #MarcHolzer #HistoricalMemory #MissingHistory #StateandLocalGovernmentBudgeting #State and Local Surplus

  • TOO MUCH DATA – TOO LITTLE TIME

    Typically, when we hear about a city or state choosing not to gather more potentially useful data because it’s too time consuming, we push back. But there are exceptions. A notable one is an element of New York City legislation called the “How Many Stops Act”, which would require New York police officers to report on every single police street stop and investigative encounter, including demographic information about the person stopped and the reason for the encounter. We agree that officers should be held accountable and that strong actions are needed to prevent racial profiling. But in this case, we’d argue the legislation goes a few steps too far. It would require, for example, that following a crime, police officers would have to fill out a form to record every time they interact with a witness or a possible witness. Let’s say for example, a liquor store was robbed, and the perpetrator ran out into a busy city street afterwards. When police arrive at the crime scene and ask dozens of people on the street whether they saw anyone running out of the store, they’d have to do the appropriate time-consuming paperwork. Without disputing the goals of gathering this information, the question is this: Regardless of the validity of a cause, aren’t there instances in which gathering mountains of data is potentially counter-productive? On January 19th, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams vetoed the Bill, tweeting out the following: “You know my story. I've been the victim of police abuse. And I've been a police officer. But while our administration supports efforts to make law enforcement more transparent, more just, and more accountable, this bill would take officers away from policing our streets and engaging with the community. Today, I vetoed the ‘How Many Stops Act’ because it will make our city less safe.” On late afternoon Tuesday, January 30, the City Council overrode the Mayor’s veto, and the bill will now become law. Jim Quinn, who was executive district attorney in the Queens District Attorney’s office and now writes for the New York Post did a little back-of-the-envelope math in that newspaper:  “There are about 30,000 uniformed police officers, detectives and sergeants. If just half of them fill out only one form a day, and it takes one minute to complete, that is 15,000 minutes — or 250 hours of police time wasted each day.” And that’s just one form a day per person! The word “wasted,” is a little too strong for our tastes, as we know there are instances in which this information would be valuable. From our perspective though, this presents the kind of question that’s easier to ask than to answer: “When it comes to requiring that more data be gathered, will the benefits outweigh the costs?” One element involved in considering this question (though not one that necessarily applies to the police data in New York City) is whether the managers or elected officials in an organization are really going to use the data that’s been painstakingly gathered. These are busy people and many of their computers are jammed with gigabytes of spreadsheets and hundreds of data points. When data can be gathered from information that’s automatically being generated (like time sheets or budgets) this is less of a concern than when the data requires public sector staff time to assemble. We’d argue that this should be central in the minds of people who are determining what data-gathering requirements we impose on city and state employees. #StateandLocalGovernmentData #StateandLocalGovernmentDataManagement #CityData #CityDataManagement #CityDataCollection #PoliceData #NewYorkCityPoliceData #NYPD #NYPDDataCollection #HowManyStopsAct #NewYorkCityPolice #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformance #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformanceMeasurement #PoliceDataCollection #DataCollectionBurden #NewYorkCityPoliceData #MayorEricAdams #NewYorkCityCouncil #DataBurden #UnintendedConsequences #RacialProfiling #B&GReport #CostBenefitAnalysis #DataCostBenefitAnalysis

  • WHEN IT COMES TO DATA, CONTEXT IS KING

    Back in 2020, then President Donald Trump proclaimed that “The murder rate in Baltimore and Detroit is higher than El Salvador, Guatemala or even Afghanistan.” That statement was misleading and part of it was outright false, but even beyond that, he left out the fact that reported homicides in Detroit were near 50-year lows. Currently, Detroit has the third highest homicide rate in the country, according to World Population Review, which is still an unfortunate state of affairs. But look at the trends and a new picture emerges. According to the city’s data, it “finished 2023 with 252 homicides, the fewest recording since 1966.” Most experts would agree – and Detroit is a perfect illustration – that any single point of data can be misleading if it’s not put into a broader framework, often with the use of trend lines. As Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, told us, “When you’re just looking at a single piece of data without context it’s like looking through a peephole without seeing the entire room. Under the worst of circumstances that leads to a false and misleading perception.” It’s certainly easy for reporters to take a single point of data from a recent year and turn it into a headline (either positive or negative). But historical perspective changes a single piece of information into something that’s genuinely informative. Says Liz Steward, the vice president of marketing and research at Envisio, a strategy and performance management software company.  “Only sharing point in time data can be worse than providing no data at all because showing an individual number can minimize a very big problem or exaggerate one.” Sometimes, it’s in the interest of a reporter or an advocacy group to avoid looking further than a single digit and use it as representative of a full story. “If you see a number that supports your argument it might be easier to just take it, without digging deeper,” according to Sam Gallaher, head of data science at Third Line an audit and financial management software company. “It’s definitely a challenge in doing research and being open to numbers that challenge your hypothesis. It takes some real effort to get past that.” On the flip side, digging a little deeper into statistical history can turn a bad news story into a good one. Entities that understand this and make a point of it can help the press to get the story right. We developed a deep understanding of this in the years that preceded our work on the Government Performance Project. As we’ve recalled in this space, “In the early 1990s Alabama’s leaders took a very poor grade in our evaluations of state government management capacity for the long-defunct Financial World magazine and compared them to our prior --- and even worse—evaluation. The state got some very positive reports in the local press by pointing to the improvement, with promises of more to come.” It's worth noting, however, that simply showing information one or two years back can have the perverse effect of misleading people when the most recent historical data was misleading. For example, comparing data in the last year or so to that which was accurate during the depths of the pandemic can lead to misunderstandings. As a result, many data-wise organizations are comparing current data to that which was generated pre-pandemic. For example, when the Pew Charitable Trusts examined employment rates last summer, it compared first quarter 2023 numbers with those from early 2020. As Mike Maciag, a policy researcher and former data analyst told us, “I’m sure you guys have come across dashboards, where they show information compared to the prior year, which is better than nothing. But snapshots are snapshots, and you’re comparing things to a point in time and that can be misleading when the prior year was abnormal.” While space limitations may prevent many sources of data from featuring a table that shows ten years of prior data, there is an alternative that can help: Compare current year data to a five-or-ten-year average. While there’s no control over how the press or social media outlets use data, state and local governments can help to keep the public better informed by making it easier for others to get a reasonable understanding of its meaning. “Reporters might, if they have time, go back and look at trend lines,” says Maciag. But a lot of times that’s difficult to find.” Cities, counties and states that produce well-wrought publicly available dashboards can help overcome that challenge. Take Corona, a city of about 166,000 in Riverside County, California. Its dashboard shows point-in-time data for a number of key performance indicators, but very clearly directs users to historical data. For example, average response time to a fire there in the most recent quarter was four minutes and 53 seconds. Was that good? Bad? Indifferent? Taken on its own, this number lacks meaning. But at the click of a button you can see that eight quarters ago, it was 5 minutes and ten seconds, and the trend line shows that though there have been ups and downs, the fire department has been bringing that number down steadily. In the final analysis, Nate Silver author of “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail But Some Don’t" had it just right, when he wrote “Data is Useless Without Context.” #StateandLocalGovernmentData #StateandLocalPerformanceMeasurement #CityData #DetroitHomicideRate #StrategicGovernmentResources #RonHolifield #Envisio #CityCrimeData #CityTrendData #DataTrends #DataContext #LyingWithStatistics #CityDataWithoutContext #PublicSectorDashboards #MisleadingData #MisleadingCityData #LizSteward #Envisio #ThirdLine #PewCharitableTrusts #MikeMaciag #ElizabethSteward #FinancialWorldMagazine #GovernmentPerformanceProject #StateGovernmentEvaluations #DataSnapshotsvsTrendLines #CityofCoronaCA #RiversideCounty #DashboardBestPractice #RonSilver #TheSignalandtheNoise #CityGovernmentPressCoverage #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement

  • FAILURE AS A KEY TO SUCCESS

    We’ve just been catching up on one of our favorite podcasts, Freakonomics Radio, and came across a wonderful conversation with Samuel West, the founder and curator of the Museum of Failure, which is a traveling pop-up museum with more than 150 failed products on display including the unlamented fat-free Pringles potato chips of 1996, which had the unfortunate side effect of causing diarrhea. The conversation struck a particularly resilient chord when West said that “Maybe (it) feels better to learn from success. But I think we can learn much more from failure. It’s a natural way of learning. That’s how we learn to eat, how to walk, how to do anything is through a repeated trial and error.” He went on to say that the “more society becomes focused on success the more failure gets stigmatized.” We agree with his conclusions and think they apply in important ways to state and local government policy and management. There’s an ongoing quest to find “best practices,” a phrase that we described as making us feel jittery in a blog post we wrote for the IBM Center for the Business of Government a few years ago. But when researchers, advisors, analysts, elected leaders and writers only look for success stories, they miss out on the benefits of learning from the efforts of those that didn’t succeed. Given the number of failed efforts that riddle the past, we’ll steal some words from George Santayana who is said to have coined the phrase, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” One example that immediately comes to mind was the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill back in the 1960s and 1970s. The idea was to get men and women out of (frequently pretty awful) psychiatric hospitals and put them into community care programs where they could be treated with greater success and kindness. But though many institutions were either shuttered or shrunk the money never really came through for the alternative. One of the results was the homelessness crisis we face today. As we point out in a column we recently wrote for Route Fifty, billions of dollars are now going back to creating more beds where psychiatric patients can receive help when it's needed. But it took a long while for the lesson of that failure to be absorbed and to be taken into account in making new plans. One of the few places in government in which failures are uncovered, considered, and analyzed is in the work of performance auditors. As Jenny Wong, Berkeley auditor wrote to us in an e-mail, “Audit findings are essentially identifying a gap in a service operation, internal control, etc. In fact, one of the four elements of a finding is assessing the impact from that gap (or you can say failure). That is at the heart of why something matters --- the impact.” It's important to note that failures don’t need to be total disasters to provide a learning experience. Consider so-called near-miss analysis, which is widely used by airlines, when a tragic accident has nearly – but not actually – occurred. There’s lots to be learned when such incidents are reported, to avoid a life-taking disaster in the future. As Shayne Kavanagh, senior manager of research for the Government Finance Officers Association pointed out to us, “catastrophic failures are relatively rare, but there might be lessons from near misses that prevent future catastrophic failures.” Another reason we believe that the de-stigmatization of failures is so important: When people live in fear of falling short of the mark, they’re likely to be reluctant to take risks. A favorite quote of ours comes from well-known marketer engineer, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, “If someone is always to blame, if every time something goes wrong someone has to be punished, people quickly stop taking risks. Without risks, there can't be breakthroughs.” Here’s an idea we have for the future of this website. If we can get the funding to support such an enormous undertaking, we want to open a “Center for Failed Practices,” which would provide a repository of examples of ideas that once born failed to thrive – and the lessons communities should learn from them. #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceAudit #StateamdLocalProgramEvaluation #CityofBerkeleyAuditor #GovernmentFinanceOfficersAssociation #B&GReport #CenterforFailedPractices #ShayneKavanagh #AuditorJennyWong #LearningFromFailure #Deinstitutionalization #FreakonomicsRadio #MuseumofFailure #DedicatedtoStateandLocalGovernment #RouteFifty #IBMCenterfortheBusinessofGovernment

  • WHAT'S COMING DOWN THE ROAD IN 2024

    This is the time of year when the days are at their shortest, the thermometer may dip below freezing, the stores are crowded with shoppers and publications are full of predictions for 2024. We thought we’d join the pack and offer up seven forecasts for the world of state and local management in the months to come. If you have any to add, please send them our way at greenebarrett@gmail.com. 1)    Whatever states and local governments choose to do about remote work – including hybrid work -- there’s going to be growing pushback from at least part of the staff. Settle on a requirement for three days in the office and people will want two. Cut back to two days and there’ll be complaints about the lack of socialization in an office that’s nearly empty. And whatever days you pick for staffers to come in they’ll be inconvenient for many. Figuring out this riddle is going to be a huge task for HR offices from coast to coast. 2)    As the American Rescue Plan Act money comes closer to running out, states that decided to cut back on taxes are going to begin to regret their actions – particularly if citizens get wind of the idea that services may be diminished in months or years to come. 3)    Though AI is going to keep advancing, and no one will know the outcomes for some time, the good news about its capacities is going to begin to outweigh the terrifying specters of the way it’s going to take over planet earth like some creature from outer space. 4)    The number of “chief officer” positions will continue to grow, following on the trend to appoint “chief sustainability officers” and “chief heat officers.” Many won’t be given enough money or staff to do their jobs. 5)    We don’t dabble in politics, but this felt worth saying: Whatever the pollsters say, most are going to be wrong. 6)    Ransomware attacks – already at peak levels – are going to accelerate even more as the bad guys get richer and cities (especially small ones) still won’t have sufficient resources to stop them. 7)    (Here’s an easy one) There’s going to be more than one natural disaster someplace, which will be followed by a resounding chorus of voices asking why the entity wasn’t prepared.

  • HELPING LOCAL FINANCE LEADERS RATE THEIR BUDGETING PRACTICES

    At the end of November, a survey was released that investigated how local government finance leaders feel about their current budgeting practices and their readiness to embrace modernized approaches. It was conducted by Polco, a community engagement and civic analytics govtech company, in partnership with the Government Finance Officers Association, with collaboration from Envisio, a maker of government planning software, and Euna Solutions, a creator of budgeting software. The 285 respondents were either directly responsible for the budget (77%), part of the budget team (15%) or staff members who oversaw the budget department (12%). Respondents were asked to rate their current budget methodology based on 15 budget quality characteristics, with ratings ranging from 100 (excellent) to 0 (poor.) One cautionary note, according to the report which was titled Rethinking Budgeting: Results from the Local Government Budget Survey. “These results come from higher performing organizations based on surveying GFOA’s distinguished budget award winners. Results from local government budgeting in general, would likely show less innovative practices.” While the survey found that local governments are inclined to take into account the priorities of elected officials and staff, when it comes to listening to residents, the results were somewhat bleaker. As Michelle Kobayashi, principal research strategist with Polco told us in a conversation last week, “Traditionally, it's been difficult to incorporate stakeholder opinion in the budget process and this study confirmed that.” A few of the findings that buttress that point: ·        When respondents were asked “how would you rate your current budget methodology/process on incorporating residents,” only 41 percent indicated it was excellent or good. ·        Insofar as allowing residents to help in the decision-making process, taking into account important tradeoffs, the numbers were even worse, with only 21 percent saying that was excellent or good. ·        In terms of building trust with residents, 48 percent said their entities were doing a good or excellent job. The study also examined the degree to which decisions were data driven and focused on results and outcomes. When asked “how would you rate your current budget methodology/process insofar as focusing on the outcomes or results delivered by government activity,” 56 percent said it was excellent or good. When respondents were asked how well they integrated with their organization wide strategic plan, 61 percent said the effort was excellent or good. As Kobayashi told us, “Focusing on inputs rather than outcomes makes the budget less interesting to external stakeholders, and also makes collaboration a greater challenge. . .  Again, this area did not score well in the assessment and many organizations would benefit by incorporating a stronger focus on results in their processes. This is a really good way to make budgets more actionable.” A third major take-away from the survey, reported Kobayashi, was that there’s a lack of transparency in the budget process and document itself. “That’s another area, that we scored very low,” she said. “There are mandates on public information sharing around the budget – host a meeting and let residents respond – but the organizations were weaker at disseminating information in a way that helps constituents understand how you’re spending the money and why you’re spending the money.” Armed with the information gathered in the survey, the Government Finance Officers Association will release a self-guided tool to help individual entities assess how well they’re doing in the various areas covered by the study. The tool was created by the same group that launched the survey, with particular support from Kobayashi and her data science team. The goal would be to use it as a guide for a gathering of staff, elected officials, residents and other stakeholders to talk about how well the budget process serves them in a variety of vital areas. Kobayashi: “They can use the tool to assess their current budget status and brainstorm things like how well we are doing in terms of say, welcoming residents into this process and what can we do better? At the end of this assessment, the group would then decide if there were areas where they could move forward. It might be focusing on outcomes, participatory budgeting or readiness to train staff on new technology. And then GFOA could provide them resources to help them move forward in these areas.” The ten different dimensions of the readiness assessment include: ·  Alignment with strategic plan and/or current organizational priorities ·  A results/outcome orientation ·  Collaboration across departments ·  Collaboration with elected officials ·  Constituent engagement ·  Transparency and opportunities to build trust ·  Change management ·  Empowered budget staff ·  Dedication to human capital/staff training ·  The use of integrated, agile technology Naturally this process won’t change things overnight. “You find two or three top areas you can work on,” says Kobayashi, “and not overwhelm people with the process of change, so that overall, you’re evolving over time.”

  • TASK FORCES: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

    A few weeks ago, we wrote an item for this website about the executive orders that were pouring out of the offices of the nine most recently elected governors. One of our findings was that “New task forces, study groups and advisory bodies were a dominant theme.” That discovery led us to think about the many task forces we’ve seen established over the course of years. Some have certainly led to the kind of information necessary to implement a new policy. But all too many have been the governmental equivalent of treading water, exhausting time and resources while moving no place forward. As John Bartle, dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, wrote to us when we reached out to him for his thoughts, “From what I have seen in state government (not universities), some task forces are created as a way to make it appear as if there is a response to a political demand, with no real intention of making any progress.” We agree with Bartle’s comment, and take note that he’s only referring to “some” task forces. We're aware of many cases in which task forces are established with only the best of intentions. As Mark Funkhouser, President of Funkhouser & Associates, and former Mayor and Auditor of Kansas City Missouri told us, “Task forces can be useful when there is a policy question that must be answered and is outside or beyond the purview of the normal policy making process. Task forces work best when they are staffed by professionals with deep expertise in the area considered and those staff are empowered to bring well developed solutions to the problems being considered.” One task force currently operating is The Governor’s Commission on the Future of Health Care in New York State a hugely ambitious undertaking. We contacted Patrick Orecki, director of State Studies at the Citizen Budget Commission to see what he had to say about it and here’s what he told us “We certainly think the task force is a good step. We've been calling for a permanent such body put in law, along with vastly improved data reporting for Medicaid. The trouble with the task force, currently, is that its mandate is largely undefined, and it is an entirely administrative function. Between those two facts, it seems like it could fall short and just be window dressing like other task forces before it.” So, then what makes for a successful task force that leads a promising policy on a clear path toward implementation? Tim Maniccia, Chief Fiscal Officer and Treasurer at Hudson River-Black River Regulating District had some rules of thumb for us. He believes that a successful task force should: · Have clear desired outcome and measures of success; · Secure commitment from organizers to go where the evidence leads; · Appoint a small number of knowledgeable, dedicated people; · Be sufficiently resourced and supported · Be time limited, with opportunity to extend if preliminary findings yield other important questions that can be answered. Without most of these elements in place task forces can follow the path described by an article in Fast Money, headlined “The First Effort to Regulate AI was a Spectacular Failure.” It described in 2019 the efforts made for the New York City Automated Decisions Task Force, and explained that “Excitingly, this was the first task force in the country to comprehensively analyze the impact of artificial intelligence on government. Looking at everything from predictive policing, to school assignments, to trash pickup, the people in this room were going to decide what role AI should play and what safeguards we should have. “But that’s not what happened. “Flash forward 18 months and the end of the process couldn’t be more dissimilar from its start. The nervous energy had been replaced with exhaustion. Our optimism that we’d be able to provide an outline for the ways that the New York City government should be using automated decision systems gave way to a fatalistic belief that we may not be able to tackle a problem this big after all.” This was certainly an extreme case, but it’s a path that any significant task force can take unless it’s carefully planned for, established and utilized. #GovernorExecutiveOrders #StateGovernmentTaskForce #CityGovernmentTaskForce #StateGovernmentStudyGroup #Funkhouser&Associates #CollegeofPublicAffairsandCommunityServiceUofNebraska #Governor'sCommissionontheFutureofHealthCare #CitizenBudgetCommission #AITaskForce #NewYorkCityAutomatedDecisionsTaskForce #TaskForceDisillusionment #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #ArtificialIntelligenceRegulation #ArtificialIntelligenceinStateandLocalGovernment #B&GReport

  • The Pandemic and Chocolate Bars

    Over the last few years, a whole bundle of things that happened in the state and local government world were attributed in some way to the pandemic. To be sure, the devastating impact of COVID has found its way into many corners of our lives. But just because a shift in major societal trends occurred during or after the pandemic, that doesn’t mean that one was the cause of the other, despite what you may read elsewhere. We spoke with Stefaan Verhulst a professor at the NYU Center for Urban Science, and co-founder of the GovLab at NYU, about this. He’s one of the most data-savvy people we’ve ever met, and here’s what he had to say: “"The pandemic is now frequently attributed as the explanation for various trends. It has become a dominant variable in interpretations of contemporary phenomena. However, it's important to consider that observing a spike during the pandemic might indicate a correlation rather than a direct causation.” As many readers of the B&G Report doubtless know, confusing two events that happen simultaneously (correlation) with one event that causes the other (causation) can lead to all sorts of false conclusions. As the extensively published physician Frank Messerli wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine over a decade ago, it’s possible to find a correlation between chocolate consumption by country and the number of Nobel laureates. It seems intuitively clear that Hershey Bars aren’t the key to genius, and he wrote his piece as a caution to scientists about jumping to false conclusions based on correlation data. Here’s a powerful example of this kind of flawed thinking from Verhulst: “Consider remote working,” he said. “If you look at productivity lines, they have been going down for fifty years and it’s been a trend not just because of the remote work that was the result of the pandemic. But there were all kinds of assumptions made despite the fact that there was very little causation between whether people worked remotely or not and their productivity.” This is an easy trap to fall into, and in the years when we worked as consultants to the Pew Charitable Trusts we became accustomed to the careful analysis that went into avoiding confusing correlations with causations. We just wish that others did the same. #stateandlocalmanagement #pandemic #covid #data #StefaanVerhulst #JAMA #NewEnglandJournalofMedicine #causation #correlation #NYU

  • "Disaggregate to Manage"

    Our late friend and colleague Harry Hatry long insisted that data is far more valuable when it’s disaggregated. In a January 2022 paper for the Urban Institute, which we were honored to co-author with him, he maintained that performance data is particularly useful when you “compare the outcome values broken out (disaggregated) by demographic characteristics (e.g., by age group, race/ethnicity, gender, education level, and location—such as neighborhood, state, or other geographical location).” Over the course of years, we have grown to believe that Hatry's point is not just sensible, it's absolutely critical to manage a vastly complex nation. We've grown increasingly frustrated, for example, at the broad descriptions of states as red or blue. Texas is almost always described as a red state. But according to NBC Affiliate, KXAN, "Four . . . counties have given Democrats an average margin of victory of more than 30 percentage points: Travis, Presidio, El Paso and Webb. Of counties with more than 100,000 registered voters, Travis County, home to Austin, gives Democrats the most support, with an average margin of victory of 41.71 percentage points." The need to politically disaggregate is only the most obvious example. The attraction of any one-size-fits all managerial solution is headed in the wrong direction (at least for some places). Dealing with the housing crisis in big cities is an entirely different matter than doing the same thing in rural America for example. As a result, states that try to come up with solutions that will work equally well in both kinds of localities are likely going to fail one or the other (or maybe even both). Michael Jacobson, director of Performance and Strategy at the King County Office of Performance Strategy and Budgets put the matter eloquently when he pointed us some time ago to adage he had once heard: "Aggregate to communicate and disaggregate to manage." These lessons are brought into stark relief by a report by the Census Bureau that stops us from ever thinking that the median population of states is a truly meaningful figure. The title of the report gets right to the point: "New Census Bureau Visualization Shows Broad Variations in Age." Consider Florida. Its median age in 2021 was 42.7, somewhat higher than next-door neighbor Georgia with a median age of 37.5. But does this mean that all of Florida is a place where retirees tend to go for low taxes and sunny weather? Not really, if you visit Leon County, with a population approaching 300,000. That county, home to the state capital, appropriately named for explorer Ponce de Leon, who is said to have sought the Fountain of Youth, has a median age of 32.1. By wild contrast, Sumter County, Florida, has a median age of 68.3, the highest of any county in the country. No surprise there. Sumter County is effectively little more than the home of The Villages, a master-planned age-restricted community with 130,000 people and virtually no children. Florida is not unusual, as the Census Bureau points out. Median ages ranged from county to county in practically every state. South Dakota, for example, had an extremely low median age of 23.0 in tiny Todd County, primarily home to Native Americans compared to 56.3 in Custer County. These age ranges are of consequence for a number of reasons. For example, when states distribute finances to counties based on their total populations, it might be wise for them to take the individual counties’ median ages into account. Consider the funding that went out to counties to help them deal with Covid vaccinations, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. Given the greater likelihood of hospitalizations and deaths among older people, it would have made simple sense to look at these disaggregated figures and spend more in the counties with higher median ages. Lumping people together into any monolith is often misleading, and age is only one example. Consider the words of Laura Zhang Choi, a Warren County school-board member who testified to New Jersey legislators that the state would be well served by breaking down the component parts of New Jersey’s Asian American residents, according to an article in Verve Times. She pointed the legislators to New York City as a powerful example, and according to the article she told the legislators that, “about 11% of city residents suffer from diabetes, and the rate among Asian Americans is roughly the same at 12%. But a deeper look showed an alarming figure for Indian Americans, nearly double the city average at 21%. That information disappeared when all Asian ethnicities were lumped together.” The importance of disaggregation – for many other factors – was clearly spelled out in a podcast featuring Amy O’Hara, Research Professor in the Massive Data Institute at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. As she explained, “When we think about the way that our communities are reflected in data, the biggest regular data collection is a decennial census. Every 10 years information is pulled together about every single resident in the United States. And for that information, in order to do apportionment, you say, how many humans are there in the U.S. and that’s adequate for that purpose. “But then, you really want to start breaking it down. What are the characteristics of these people? How many are male? How many are female? How many are old? How many are young? And you get these disaggregations of the data that were collected. The aggregate information is useful, but depending on what your policy question is, it’s not going to be useful enough.” #PerformanceManagement #StateandLocalGovernment #Equity #PublicSectorData #CityandCountyManagement #PerformanceMeasurement #DisaggregatedData #MichaelJaccobson #KingCounty #Disaggregation #UrbanInstitute #Covid #CensusBureau #PerformanceData #DataDisaggregation #KingCountyOfficeofPerformanceandStrategy #DataVisualization #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformanceMeasurement#McCourtSchoolofPublicPolicy

  • Government Management: Why don’t people care?

    We are puzzled and frustrated with the ignorance of many people about the importance of state and local government management. They tend to be acutely aware of the politics in the places where they live. And many have strong opinions about policies of all sorts that directly affect them. But when we bring up management, we frequently get the kind of look you’d anticipate seeing on the face of someone confronted with a detailed explanation of quantum physics. These aren’t uneducated folks we’re complaining about. In fact, we’re acutely aware of this phenomenon based on conversations with friends and family (among whom are doctors, teachers, lawyers, professors, and accountants). It recently came as a surprise to us when we were showing this website to someone who has been a mental health counselor for years. She’s a friend, and so made an effort to kindly express some interest. But then she made it clear that, since it was about government, it had nothing important to do with her life. We persuaded her (at least for the moment) that states and localities had a great deal to do with mental health care. (In fact, at this very moment we’re writing a column for Route Fifty about this very topic). We know we’re not the only ones who are aware of this phenomenon. Over the last 30-plus years, we’ve become aware of a secret weapon we have when interviewing people about their work in government management: they’re hungry for someone who genuinely cares about what they do for a living, because they don’t get that from their friends and neighbors, and even their spouses, parents and adult children. Think about the public sector folks who refer to themselves as “policy wonks” or “policy nerds.” At least they tend to use these potentially pejorative terms with a tone of pride. People who implement those policies don’t even have a supposed-to-be-funny way of describing themselves altogether. All of this is really a pity, especially at a time when trust in government is waning in large part because of the poisoned seeds of partisan politics. It would be nice, indeed, if more people saw work done by diligent public employees to make sure that they get the services they rely on for safety, transportation, health care, economic development, and much, much more. #stateandlocalmanagement #RouteFifty #stateandlocalgovernment #stateandlocalgovernmentmanagement #barrettandgreene

  • HOW POLITICS WASTES TAX DOLLARS IN TAX INCENTIVES

    Over the course of the last few months, we’ve been digging deeply into the world of tax incentives given by states and local governments to help encourage economic development. And we’ve emerged with a sense of frustration with many of the nation’s elected officials who boast to the public about businesses they’ve attracted with incentives even when there’s ample evidence that, for the most part, they aren’t the real motivation for corporate site decisions. We can’t tell for sure whether the politicians genuinely know that their boasts are based on unrealistic assumptions. But they should. For columns about various elements of the topic for Route Fifty and the GFOA’s Government Finance Review, and a Q&A for the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois Chicago, we interviewed many of the leading authorities about the topic along the way, including Nathan Jensen, a professor in the department of government at the University of Texas Austin; Timothy Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research; Shayne Kavanagh, senior manager of research for the Government Finance Officers Association; Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First; David Brunori, visiting professor of public policy at George Mason University; Ellen Harpel founder of Smart Incentives and others. The evidence and commentary provided by these experts points clearly to the idea that a relatively small portion of the money that goes to tax incentives truly attracts or retains jobs in individual cities or states. And yet, many elected officials seem addicted to the pleasure of issuing press releases and giving speeches that claim to the public that the latest big economic development coup has come to pass because of their clever use of tax breaks. It’s no surprise that people who run for office would want to boast to taxpayers about their roles in attracting new jobs (or at least the potential of new jobs in the future). But the real reasons behind most economic development deals aren’t things for which they can take credit. An educated workforce, for one, is something that takes years to accumulate, and rarely can a single elected official lay claim to its development. Ironically, it may even be that when money is going to tax incentives it’s being diverted from spending on education, which would, indeed, have better results when it comes to bringing in or retaining corporations. There’s more. When elected officials are pushing for tax incentives in order to get votes, they may be disinclined to utilize these tools for the distressed parts of cities that need them the most. As Timothy Bartik, one of the most respected researchers in this field told us “There’s a tendency to send dollars to places that are already growing.” We’ve been researching state and local governments for long enough that this state of affairs shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it’s particularly ironic, we think, that in a day when there’s growing emphasis on supporting policies only when they can be demonstrated as effective through real-world evidence, this is an expensive area in which evidence is routinely cast aside in favor of political considerations. #taxincentives #taxbreaks #politics #RouteFifty #taxpolicy #stateandlocaltaxes #economicdevelopment #NathanJensen #TimothyBartik #davidbrunori #EllenHarpel #GovernmentFinanceOfficersAssociation #stateandlocalmanagent #gregleroy #ShayneKavanagh

  • Who Pays When Work-Life Balance Gets Unbalanced?

    We’d probably be the subject of justifiable ridicule if we were to come out against the notion of work life balance in the public sector workforce. The very notion that state and local employees should be able to balance dedication to their jobs with time enough for friends, family and pleasurable activities is nothing short of good common sense and is a major attraction for potential new employees. Yet, in recent months as we’ve chatted with a number of managers, we seem to be running across a phenomenon that – taken to its extremes – can be debilitating to their lives. It’s pretty simple. When employees are overly focused on a definition of work-life balance that tips too far in the direction of life and away from work, somebody has to pick up the slack. Not to knock members of the GenZ generation, but lately we’ve been hearing a fair number of middle manager – even middle managers in their thirties -- grousing about the extra work they’re doing because younger employees feel free to say no. As generational expert Kristin Scroggin told us recently, “I think social media has given them the idea that there can be this perfect life – that there’s a place where you can work when you want to, and only work in a job where you’re happy and fulfilled all the time. And if you’re not happy you should leave.” This issue is particularly pressing at a time when state and local governments are struggling to hire and retain enough good employees to do necessary work. As Mission Square Research Institute reported a few months ago, “State and local governments continue to face severe labor shortages . . .” Certainly, the absence of enough workers is putting great pressure on employees at all levels. Another Mission Square Report found 77 percent of respondents felt that the increase in workers leaving their jobs was putting a strain on their own workloads. Last summer, we wrote a report about the problem of workplace fatigue. Most of it was focused on shift workers who are paid time and a half for overtime. But fatigue, we learned, was also a major issue for exempt employees who aren’t eligible for overtime. Faced with labor shortages, they end up taking on more work themselves. “There’s a level of middle management that just absorbs the work because they can’t necessarily ask their employees to do overtime,” said Janeen Haller-Abernathy, who runs the internal Employee Assistance Program in Colorado. “It’s almost like the workload has moved up the chain instead of down the chain.” To make matter worse, at a time like this, it can be nearly impossible for a supervisor to get to be too harsh when employees insist that they have already put in their 35-hour week, and so they’re going home regardless of whether their work has been completed. As the old saying goes, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors,” and a supervisor who seems to be too pushy may be just the kind of person who drives away the workers they’ve been struggling to attract. It’s part of the American dream that if you work long enough and hard enough, eventually, you’ll reach a point where the drudge work falls to the people who report to you. If they can’t or won’t do it, though, then the dream can turn into a nightmare. Typically, we like to write columns that have a happy ending, loaded with solutions that others can use. But this is an instance in which the only solution we can see is one we don’t want to see – and that’s an escalating unemployment rate, where younger staffers are happy just to have a job and are less inclined to let their work get done by the people who hired them. #stateandlocalmanagement #stateandlocalgovernmenthumanresources #humanresources #Colorado #workplacefatigue #kristinscroggin #worklifebalance #GenerationZ

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