Government leaders are grappling with a confluence of extreme and unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges span economic, fiscal and social responsibilities, putting public leaders at the forefront of preserving lives, livelihoods and organizational health.
In our current landscape, data is the single most valuable asset any government organization has at its disposal. It is crucial to guide decisions, inform policies and improve outcomes for the public. While there are a number of aspects to recovery, two go hand-in-hand as community drivers: restoring fiscal health and revitalizing the community’s economy.
Now is the time for government leaders to get their data houses in order so recovery is as swift, targeted and equitable as possible: The following four types of available data can help:
1. Financial Data
Financial data is at the core of any recovery effort. The most vexing question now is how sharply revenues will decline, how sustained those declines will be and how that affects budget deficits. First, the underlying math to answer this question has to do with tracking revenue sources and then projecting what they will be in the future.
At a minimum, a financial dashboard should present a granular and up-to-date view of:
- Ledger-level actuals vs. budget
- Ledger-level revenues vs. expectations
- Payroll, overtime and benefits expenses
- Headcount, retirement and turnover
- Fund-level cashflow and net position
This information comes from a government’s financial management and payroll/HR systems. A more complete picture should also include an equally granular view of payroll, HR, revenue, and tax data. Key data points include revenue vs. budget, headcount by department and status, and total overtime by position, category and bargaining unit.
2. Economic Indicator Data
Economic indicator data is one of the holy grails of recovery data. Every mayor, city manager or county executive is trying to determine the extent of the impact the coronavirus has on businesses, sales and employment in their community. They need as many real-time signals about economic activity in the community as possible to answer those questions. While most of the valuable data is third party data, government leaders have enough signals within their own systems to chart the landscape, starting with two important data proxies for economic and community development indicators:
- Permit application by type, status, value, and location
- Business license applications by type, status and class
Effective analysis of these two data sources provides insights about what’s happening in the community, to what extent economic activity has been impacted, and where it’s been impacted. It also sheds an important light on the degree to which a government can maintain quality of service and capacity, with respect to processing permits and business applications in a timely way.
To jumpstart community development and identify bottlenecks, leaders should also consider pending business license applications, permit applications revenue by status, type, or class, time-to-process and backlog data, code enforcement cases, and inspection data.
3. Real Estate Data
While property taxes are relatively stable as a source of revenue for state and local governments, keeping a close eye on the real estate market in the community is an important success factor during any crisis recovery. Real estate data that is most relevant to recovery is:
- Property sales, as a major indicator of economic activity
- Property values, which also correlate with tax revenue
- The number of mortgages in default, or, in extreme cases, in foreclosure proceedings
- The rate of residential and commercial assessment appeals, which can put downward pressure on valuations and property tax revenue
- Vacant commercial properties as an indicator of a temporary economic slowdown or a shift to downsizing corporate office footprints
4. Third Party Data
First-party data skews towards lagging indicators. Tax revenue, for example, lags other economic indicators by months, especially where tax revenue is collected and distributed by the state. The risk of missing important pieces of the economic puzzle — with not enough leading indicators for effective forecasting — will undermine budgeting efforts and the effective management of recovery programs.
Third-party data presents a compelling opportunity to tap into industry insights in support of recovery. How to source the data, keep it current, interpret it, integrate it into the decision workflow, and do that at scale are some of the challenges that come with this opportunity. Examples include scheduling and time-tracking SaaS providers that shed light on wages and employee numbers and hours. Other business management software data provides important clues about revenue transactions and, therefore, consumer spending in hard hit sectors such as retail, travel and the restaurant industry.
Immediate action was critical in the early days of the pandemic, but today, leaders and decision makers are shifting to long-term recovery strategies. For these strategies to be effective, leaders need to leverage data for granular and actionable visibility into their operations, a clear outlook on outcomes, and the tools to analyze the situation and inform decisions with a clear, shared understanding among all stakeholders.
Organizations with their data houses in order are better positioned to launch effective and equitable recovery efforts.
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the Connecticut Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations as well as to create connections between governments and those they serve.