Chris Bousquet Grey

By Chris Bousquet • February 14, 2018

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

Responsibility might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Las Vegas, but behind the uproarious mischief that attracts millions to Sin City sits a government that has placed a premium on accountability. By setting and tracking progress towards strategic goals, the city has ensured that it remains responsible for delivering effective service to its residents.

While Las Vegas has had an open data portal since 2013, the city really began its push towards accountability after partnering with What Works Cities in 2015. This relationship came at the perfect time for Las Vegas: in 2014, the City Council had developed a new set of four priorities— Economic Diversification, Education, Homelessness, and Transportation Mobility—and had asked city departments to develop goals aligning with these priorities. However, Las Vegas found that “departments were coming up with goals but had not yet figured out how to measure the outcomes,” said Victoria Carreón, Administrative Officer for the city.

At the same time, the city was conducting a self-assessment of its performance management processes, which revealed many opportunities for improvement. While departments had developed 600 measures for assessing their work, many focused on outputs rather than outcomes, and only 20 percent of city staff said that metrics reflected key departmental priorities.

This provided an invaluable opportunity for What Works Cities to work with Las Vegas and redesign the city’s performance management approach. In December 2015, What Works conducted a pilot program with city departments to work on developing strategic, outcome-driven goals. “Each department in the pilot redefined its goals to focus more on outcomes, developing one key performance indicator and supporting measures,” said Carreón.

Using these insights, Las Vegas then set out to revolutionize the ways the city sets, tracks, and delivers on its goals. “After the What Works Cities engagement, we set a citywide thematic goal to be completed in six to nine months,” Carreón explained. The goal was the implementation of Results Vegas, a new system for tracking city goals via a public-facing dashboard that would involve contributions from all city departments.

The first step towards reaching this goal was working with city departments to develop the measures that would eventually go onto the Results Vegas website. Led by Carreón, the city’s Office of Administrative Services expanded upon the What Works Cities pilot in order to work with departments to complete a broad overhaul of metrics with a focus on measurable outcomes. The city then showcased the fruits of this work in a citywide visioning document called City by Design, which communicated council priorities and related goals in a “user-friendly consumer guide,” according to Carreón.

In December 2016, the city then gathered the relevant departmental metrics on the Results Vegas website. Developed by the city internally, Results Vegas includes interactive dashboards for city focus areas, displaying goals and data on progress—some updated annually, some quarterly, and some once a month. The city manager’s office reviews progress on these goals on a regular basis in order to inform interventions.

According to Carreón, during this process, What Works Cities and partner the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at John’s Hopkins connected Las Vegas with other cities that had already created similar websites. “Knowing what cities a little further along had done was instrumental,” she said. Las Vegas incorporated elements from the efforts of many other cities into Results Vegas: “There’s a little bit of New Orleans, Chattanooga, Seattle, Portland, and Kansas City in there,” Carreón explained.

The next step was ensuring that this performance work became embedded in the day-to-day operations of the city. The Office of Administrative Services asked departments to redesign their strategic business plans, aligning with the measures they had developed previously. The city then sought to integrate these metrics into its budget, starting by changing the timeline for business plans to align with the budget cycle. “Normally, budget decisions had all been made before departments came out with strategic business plans, so departments didn’t have much of a chance to make their case,” Carreón explained. Now departments’ business plans are due in February, a week after they submit their budget requests for the next fiscal year. As a result, “Departments can use their business plan as a narrative justification for budget requests,” said Carreón.

And, in order to ensure a continued commitment to performance management, the city has amended its performance meetings. “We used to have each department meet individually once or twice a year with the city manager executive team,” said Carreón. In these meetings, attendees usually talked about critical issues in their departments, not on ways of meeting broader city goals. In an effort to emphasize cross-departmental priorities, the city has begun organizing meetings around four themes: Growing Economy, Neighborhood Livability, Community Risk Reduction, and High Performing Government. Now, between three and six departments meet with the city manager at a time to discuss a specific theme, and the city holds eight meetings per year.

Now that the city has developed the framework to pursue performance-driven work, Carreón envisions her team in the Administrative Office expanding its role. “We want to move towards not only trying to help departments set, but also reach goals” via “a menu of services” that includes strategies like predictive analytics and behavioral interventions. Carreón’s team has already begun training city staff on how to use these services, moving the city towards a comprehensive performance-driven enterprise.