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The Analytics Framework Behind Minneapolis, A Data-Driven City

Behind a great city is great government. Well, that’s “great,” but subjective blanket statements are rarely informative or actionable in government. What one considers a great job could just as easily be lampooned as a travesty by a political foe.

Data, contrarily, is what shows demonstrable ways forward for organizations, and offers the proof for what otherwise could only be claimed on instinct or a “gut feeling.” In the city of Minneapolis, superlatives aren’t pushing the city forward – people and numbers are.

Speak with Patience Ferguson, Chief Human Resources Officer for the city of Minneapolis, and you’ll get the data behind the people – lots of it. In her view, analytics is necessary to keep making the case for Minneapolis to be on national lists of best places to live and conduct business. The stats back those rankings up, as the population of Minneapolis is increasing at its fastest rate since mid20th century suburbanization movements, and the growth is powered by 40,000 city employees across 22 departments.

“This is a city that is data-driven, and so I’m really just modeling what I see in the city already,” Ferguson said. “If we have data in terms of how we’re leveraging our resources in the community, if we have data in terms of how we are being efficient and effective with taxpayer dollars, then why wouldn’t we have data around our most basic asset, which is our human capital?”

Ferguson is responsible for hiring, retaining and preparing talented people to work for the city. There’s no simple, uniform approach to balance out that equation but with data generating the solutions, the city can count on reliable results.

Data can be used by the city to ensure the workforce remains diverse and connected. The city collects information on how long employees remain on staff and the demographics of the workforce. While both of these are important factors, combined they can reveal trends of whether one demographic group – whether in age, sex or race – is leaving the city workforce prematurely at higher rates than others.

So far, the city has pioneered several missions that are supported by data. For example, 82% of the workforce engages in wellness programs that the city has hosted, and in addition to those programs increasing office satisfaction, an ancillary gain has been reductions in benefits costs.

The city is also taking employee engagement surveys once every six months, chopping down the previous cycle of every two years. Therefore, the city can more immediately respond to feedback. So far, data has encouraged the city to explore learning and development programs in emotional intelligence and yielded resource groups to support employees.

“We can not only look at the data, but we can begin to start seeing if the things that we’re doing and that we’re investing in, as it pertains of our human capital, are making a difference,” Ferguson said. “And then if they’re not, we could take a step back and then ask ourselves why.”

The data does not depersonalize individuals within the government – in fact, just the opposite. The data tells stories, helping to forge communities that promote the standing, excellence and retention of women and African-American employees in the workforce and thus ensuring that diversity truly offers equal opportunities. The data also shares the successes of groups, offering to higher-ups the business case and value of the workforce and opening the door to improvement. The data shows that Minneapolis employees want more recognition of the important work that they do, as gauged by employee feedback.

To the last point, the city now has the Star Awards, a program that recognizes top-performing individuals and teams within the workforce. The criteria are developed by employees, and this past year, over 400 team members were honored, including a group whose direct efforts helped place people experiencing homelessness in shelters for the cold winter.

At the end of the day, the data has helped Ferguson to field and keep better employees for the city. The Perform Minneapolis platform measures employee performance in relation to mission goals and offers individualized trainings to ensure tangible results. Making sure that everyone is on the same page and has the resources to succeed – no matter their background or stage in life – allows the many faces of Minneapolis city government to strive toward a common goal.

“We have 22 departments. We have over 40,000 employees. We’re 92% union,” Ferguson said. “But what I can say is that we are an organization that is really here to serve the public good.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Intelligent Innovation: Tech Trends Taking Root in State and Local Governments.” Download the full guide here.

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