Monday, November 5, 2018
Performance management is a global trend, as well as the inclusion of citizen feedback as a component of these systems. What are the commonalities and contrasts in two cities of the same size but with very different forms of government? The post is broken into two parts – this one focuses on New York City’s approach. The second will focus on the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

There’s been a decades-long movement in the U.S. to increase citizens’ involvement in government, and for government services to be more citizen-centric. As a result, we expect to see such initiatives in cities across the U.S., but what about in China? Interestingly, there is a real commitment in some cities in China to listen, and respond, to their citizens.

I recently visited the City of Hangzhou, China, the capital of a coastal province south of Shanghai and the southern terminus of the ancient Grand Canal waterway, which originates in Beijing, 700 miles to the north.  It has a population of more than 9 million, which is about the same size as New York City, the U.S.’s largest city. Hangzhou is one of the leaders in China on using performance information to manage and to listen to its citizens.

We often make assumptions about how governments in other countries run, and sometimes when we learn more, we are surprised. Here’s a comparison between these two cities of comparable size, in very different political systems – and how they have created performance management systems that both inform and respond to their citizens.

How New York City Assesses Agency Performance and Citizen Feedback

Forty years ago, New York City launched its cutting-edge Mayor’s Management Report “to equip New Yorkers with the information they need to hold their government accountable,” according to the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

The City was a pioneer in measuring municipal performance in the 1970s, and in holding its agencies accountable and providing publicly available status reports.

The City also was an early adopter of on-the-ground observation teams to validate selected measures being reported, such as street conditions, neighborhood cleanliness, and the conditions of city-run facilities. Today, it supplements these key agency-level measures with interactive neighborhood maps to make it easier for citizens to readily compare conditions in different parts of the city.

In recent years, the 51-member elected City Council has even begun piloting the use of participatory budgeting in neighborhoods around the City.  For example, this year a number of City Council members have allocated $1 million in their own districts so that community citizens can decide how dollars would be allocated for projects in their local neighborhoods.

How Is the City’s Performance System Organized? The City’s performance reporting system is coordinated through the Mayor’s Office of Operations, which prepares the legally-required annual Mayor’s Management Report.  This report has evolved over the years from a highly-detailed and technical multi-volume set of reports to a single volume “people’s report card.” But at 450 pages covering 45 city agencies, the recently-released 2018 report is still a challenging read!

The performance-tracking and reporting unit within the Mayor’s Office of Operations consists of about 10-15 staff.  About half focus on cross-cutting city priorities such as “Vision Zero,” which is an initiative to reduce traffic accidents and deaths by engaging city agencies involved in street design, law enforcement, and safety campaigns. Vision Zero is one of nine cross-cutting initiatives. The rest of the performance unit staff divvy up monitoring performance within each of the 45 city agencies. There is a liaison within each agency responsible for being the point of contact with the Mayor’s Office, mainly for data gathering and transmission.

The key performance indicators for each City agency are jointly developed and agreed upon by the performance unit and the agency. Sometimes the City Council can ask for metrics that they want information on, and sometimes the Mayor’s performance unit gets requests to collect certain types of performance data from the City’s budget office. Performance targets are typically set for key services – such as 6 hours to restore water to customers after a water main break -- but sometimes there is pushback from the agencies when targets are proposed.

Each city agency has its own data collection and reporting team that provides input into the development of the annual Mayor’s Management Report released each September (there is also a preliminary report published earlier in the year). There is a common format and agencies submit their data via the city’s Performance Management Application.

Interestingly, while the City pioneered the use of the “Performance-Stat” approach in the early 1990s, this management-by-data approach is typically conducted by individual city agencies, but it is being done less formally than in the past.  Its use depends on the leadership styles of politically-appointed agency commissioners.

How Does the City Collect Citizen Feedback?  There is no systematic citizen satisfaction survey for the city or its services.  There are some neighborhood level and program-specific surveys conducted by city agencies or for specific initiatives, but not on a regular basis. For example, the Vision Zero initiative (traffic safety) created an on-line map where citizens could mark specific intersections that they saw as dangerous, and why. There were also extensive outreach efforts and neighborhood level meetings to obtain input.  As a result, public feedback led to the installation of new stop signs, lights, and street reconfigurations.

A city-wide resident survey was last conducted in 2008 by the city government and has not been repeated.  However, a non-profit group, the Citizens Budget Commission, independently repeated the survey in 2017, sending surveys to 72,000 households. This produced community level data that was statistically valid even though it had only a 13 percent response rate.  The survey asked questions about quality of life as well as satisfaction with city services by different agencies.  It also allowed open-ended questions about agencies and improvements that could be made, which produced 20,000 written responses. According to Maria Doulis, vice president of the Commission, the City government expressed interest in the survey results but has not committed to conducting services regularly.

According to Doulis and former city officials, the City’s primary feedback mechanism is based on citizen calls to the City’s 311 service request system. This system tracks work requests for 14 City agencies, such as pot holes, rat control, and broken street light. The elected City Council sees itself as a proxy for more robust citizen feedback.  In addition, some individual City agencies undertake their own initiatives to gather feedback from their customers. For example, the City’s building code and zoning department has its own online customer survey on its homepage.

Next Steps.  The Mayor’s Office of Operations is currently undergoing a leadership change, but external observers such as the Citizens Budget Commission, say that the Office’s next step should be to develop better ties to the City’s budget development process, and to produce and report more real-time data that is useful to both elected leaders and citizens.

Part 2 of this blog post focuses on the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Photo Credit of Empire State Building: Eric Kilby (Flickr), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons