Ben Franklin Bridge and Philadelphia skyline by night

Transforming Gov with Transparency

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.

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Meet the Finalist:

Who: Laila Alequresh, Director of Performance Management for the City of Philadelphia, and PhillyStat Director

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Courageous Champion Category

“[Alequresh] has redesigned meetings, built collaborative relationships and encouraged citizen input into the meeting process. She has expanded the function beyond reporting to encompass the full spectrum of performance management activities. Since she began, Laila and her team have addressed over a dozen business critical challenges that impact organizational performance and the services the City provides to our residents. Laila has laid a strong foundation for performance management and deserves public recognition for her contributions to the City. She applies high standards of rigor and integrity to all that she does and is never satisfied with the current state..” –John Curtis, City of Philadelphia. Curtis nominated Alequresh for the NextGen Courageous Champion Award.

Laila Alequresh has spent her career focusing on performance and efficiency. Using her background in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors, Alequresh moved to the public sector to make local government more efficient and responsive to the public. Now working for the city of Philadelphia, Alequresh is “…responsible for designing and implementing a data centric, citizen-focused strategy that promotes improved delivery of services for 1.5 million residents,” her nominator John Curtis explained.

Alequresh believes that for the government to improve its performance, leaders have to listen to the public. The ability to have the freedom and flexibility to shape the PhillyStat program in the best interests of Philadelphians motivated her to re-examine ways that the program could be used to better share government performance with residents. Before the current mayor came into office, Philadelphia’s city government did not have a lot of avenues to get information out to the public, nor a lot of channels for the public to reach them. The PhillyStat program builds on the Mayor’s campaign promise of transparency, and is the primary way that performance data is shared with residents, allowing citizens to monitor government meetings, provide feedback, and communicate their own concerns to their local government.

By recording government meetings, opening up channels to relay and receive information, and tracking important performance metrics, PhillyStat has significantly enhanced transparency and engagement between the city and its citizens. Alequresh is working with the City’s Open Data Initiative to create an interactive, resident-oriented dashboard that will house all the City’s performance indicators in one place online, so residents can easily access performance information. The City was recently recognized nationally for these efforts, receiving a Certificate of Excellence from ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, which advances professional local government worldwide. It is the highest honor awarded to a municipality for performance management.

Using data gathered from Philly311 and departments, Alequresh conducts performance reviews for the city’s major departments to ensure that their actions are in line with the Mayor’s strategic goals for the city. On top of the data generated from PhillyStat, Alequresh also delivers surveys to the public and puts together community focus groups. Based on all of these forms of feedback, she then develops long-term strategic plans to help Philadelphia’s government agencies improve their performance and become more effective.

“In cities, we get caught up in a lot of the day-to-day fires, stepping back and thinking about where the city wants to be a year from now, three years from now, or five years from now is really important as well,” Alequresh said. Long-term strategies are key to improving public services.

Rather than simply giving heavy-handed, top-down orders to make changes, Alequresh applies a holistic approach to performance improvement standards. According to Alequresh, the PhillyStat program’s unprecedented transparency initially made some of the city’s leaders uncomfortable.

“We really had to build that relationship and help commissioners and department heads understand that this is a collaborative process that’s supposed to help you. If you’re not doing well, what can the city do, what can the mayor do, what can the budget office do, what can we do, to help you improve your performance?” she said.

Meaningful changes start with meeting the public’s demands, Alequresh explained. So rather than delivering top-down orders, she develops her strategic plans from the bottom-up. Using feedback from the public and employees, she then approaches department leaders to hear their concerns, past problems and new challenges.

“I think it’s really important to listen…There are a lot of people in government who are extremely intelligent who…understand the business and operation much better than I do,” Alequresh said. Instead of mandating changes, she wanted leaders to recognize that she valued their input and expertise.

Why put in all this effort? Alequresh said, “I’m an employee of the city, but I’m also a resident of the city.” As a resident who pays taxes just like everyone else, she wants to see her tax dollars put to good use to maximize the city’s performance. The more efficient the local government is, the more hers and others’ taxes are worth.

“Just because [the city government is] a monopoly in some ways doesn’t mean that citizens shouldn’t expect a high quality level of service,” she contended. Alequresh’s holistic approach has led to number of performance improvement projects in a variety of departments from fire to property taxes to human resources.

Regardless of the level of government, almost every individual will encounter silos when working with different government agencies. However, in her experience Alequresh has found that no matter how different agencies are from one another, many encounter similar problems. Breaking down these silos allows agencies to work together and address their shared problems quickly and effectively. Bringing people together to tackle common problems, “that’s one of the best parts of my job,” Alequresh said.

When asked why she’s in public service, Alequresh said, “I’m a public servant because I want to use my business skills to help citizens. Before I worked in government, I’d always hear that government workers fit certain stereotypes that were not always positive. That’s absolutely not true. The overwhelming majority of employees break that mold. They are incredibly passionate and motivated to do the best they can on behalf of our residents.” Using a holistic approach inspired by her experience in the private sector, Alequresh has established a transparent, collaborative environment that is critical to improving government performance and the quality of life for the citizens of Philadelphia.

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!

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