Chris Bousquet Grey

By Chris Bousquet • February 22, 2018

This article originally appeared as part of a paper on What Works Cities’ Certification program.

For the City of New Orleans, performance management is a means of combating one of the most fundamental problems of federated governments: division. “The root of much public sector mediocrity is siloed departments,” said Oliver Wise, Director of New Orleans’ Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA). “Individual departments are not engineered to focus on cross-cutting projects or the experience of residents.”


The need to unify departmental priorities and hold agencies accountable for meeting their goals was the inspiration to create OPA, a centralized performance management team in the city. “We wanted to prioritize outcomes instead of widgets and develop strategic approaches that cut across departments,” Wise explained. While New Orleans could have integrated performance management into individual departments, creating a central office with a 360-degree view of city operations has allowed the government to transcend the individual departmental perspective and facilitate collaborations that support citywide priorities.


The office has a unique model, pairing performance management with analytics in an effort to deliver maximum value to city departments. “We started as a performance management shop, and our theory of change was to set goals and use data to track performance, ratcheting up tension and accountability to compel those goals to be met,” said Wise. With these goals in mind, integrating analytics was an obvious next step. “With analytics, the value proposition is providing departments with the intelligence to do work smarter, which supports better performance.”


This combination of performance and analytics has proven successful in addressing a number of core city issues. Perhaps most prominent was the city’s BlightStat approach to blighted properties, for which Mayor Landrieu’s administration set a goal of addressing 10,000 blighted addresses in four years—and then delivered ahead of schedule.


More recently, OPA has applied its performance and analytics approach to police recruitment and retention. In the last several years, New Orleans has faced a severely understaffed police department. “At the beginning of the administration, we didn’t have the money to hire any new officers for around five years,” Wise explained. “At the same time, the Police Department was going through a lot of major reforms—which were good but made life different for officers. A lot of officers were unhappy and left.”


To address this shortage of officers, OPA reached out to the New Orleans Police Department, the Civil Service Department, and the Justice Foundation to create a Police Recruit Stat group that meets each month to review metrics on officer applications, hires, and retention. To drive process improvement in these areas, OPA has turned to analytics. “On the recruitment side and now the retention side of policing, we’re asking why people aren’t applying, who is leaving, and why. These are questions analytics can help answer,” said Wise. The city is currently using “machine learning algorithms like random forest models, gradient boosted decision trees, and flexible discriminant analysis to uncover the most important variables that lead officers to leave,” Wise continued. Examining these questions has informed changes that respond to officer priorities and concerns—like a 15 percent pay raise and investment in state-of-the-art police equipment.


While working on individual projects, OPA has also sought to embed performance management into the culture of New Orleans’ government. To that end, in 2013 the city passed the Performance Management Policy, which formalized the performance management process, requiring departments to monitor progress on performance measures for funded budget offers. According to Wise, this policy will help “ensure that performance management transcends the people who occupy municipal offices.”