Bloomberg Launches $42M Cities Initiative

Bloomberg Philanthropies recently launched the What Works Cities initiative providing $42 million in grants to optimize data to improve public services

What Happened?

Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced the launch of the What Works Cities initiative providing $42 million in grants to help mid-sized municipalities optimize data and evidence to improve public services.


Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with other organizations and local governments to harness available public data streams to engage the public, make government more effective and improve the quality of life for residents. The overall goal of the What Works Cities grant program is to pilot innovative ideas in data optimization to promote public sector efficacy that can be scaled in other communities across the country.

To help mayors and local leaders use data and evidence to improve the lives of residents, Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide funding as well as:

  • Robust technical assistance
  • Expertise
  • Peer-to-peer learning opportunities

Cities already have access to large volumes of public data that often goes untapped. Learning the value of this data and deriving actionable insight from the information will enable cities to:

  • Create sustainable open data programs and policies that promote transparency and robust citizen engagement
  • Better incorporate data into budget, operational and policy decision making
  • Conduct low-cost, rapid evaluations that allow cities to continually improve programs
  • Focus funding on approaches that deliver results for citizens

Bloomberg Philanthropies is working with a variety of partners to support, promote and test the new data-driven strategies:

  • Results for America: Coordinate the What Works Cities partner consortium and advance nationwide dialogue on the need for cities to use data and evidence in decision-making
  • Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University: Work with cities to assess the current state of What Works practices, and support implementation and enhancement of open data and performance management programs
  • Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School: Support cities in improving the results they achieve with their contracted dollars
  • Sunlight Foundation: Help cities craft meaningful and sustainable open data policies
  • The Behavioral Insights Team: Help cities conduct real-time, low-cost evaluations of programs so they can continually improve city services

The What Works Cities initiative will monitor and measure the results of each grant recipient’s innovative data strategies. In the future, the program aims to create a benchmarking system to collect standardized data and share the information with other city leaders drive action and change.

Innovation Improving City Services

A recent IBM study looked at tech-savvy cities nationwide and found data utilization is most successful when public agencies partner with business and nonprofit sectors to collaboratively address the needs of residents. The study identified trends and best practices for data innovation and technology optimization to better serve residents at the city level:
  • Cities are using new policies and governance structures to eliminate departmental silos and to include the public in policy making and implementation for better city service provision
  • Cities are using more inclusive governance structures to improve services
  • Cities are using digital and mobile technologies to improve city services
  • Cities are using numerous internal and external technology development methods
  • Cities are using technology as one method for improving service delivery by increasing public engagement and collaboration
  • Residents are now expecting transparency, accountability, collaboration and civic engagement with technology from service providers, including easily accessible, exportable data sets with context
  • Many cities’ constituents are now online and increasingly mobile

The report outlined six goals all cities should have when launching data initiatives:

  • Cities need new governing structures for innovation
  • Cities need new funding and partnering arrangements
  • Cities are leveraging existing technology initiatives to make data more accessible
  • Cities are increasing public engagement
  • Cities are making performance data accessible
  • Cities are enhancing services to residents

To achieve these goals, the researchers recommend:

  • Looking for targets of opportunity
  • Building capacity
  • Seeking internal and external champions
  • Developing a compelling business case
  • Formalizing new practices with concrete laws and strategies
  • Fostering a culture of creativity and collaboration

With the funding and technical assistance provided by programs such as the What Works Cities initiative, more specific best practices and strategies can be realized and shared across the country.

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