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Citizen-Centered Analytics to Improve City Performance
Gallup Blog

Citizen-Centered Analytics to Improve City Performance

by Grant Buckles

City governments are awash with data. In recent years, at least 90 U.S. cities have established open data portals to track and share government performance. Yet too often, traditional metrics used by cities focus on outputs, such as the number of crime incidents reported or building permits issued. Existing approaches frequently do not capture resident quality-of-life outcomes -- which should be the primary interest of city governments.

Gallup partnered with the City of Tulsa (Oklahoma) to deploy a robust citizen analytics measurement system to capture whether Tulsans are thriving as individuals. Leveraging responses from nearly 4,500 Tulsans, Gallup addresses three central questions:

  • Do Tulsans have access to the basic needs and services required to lead healthy, productive and fulfilling lives?
  • Do they view Tulsa as a destination in which to live and work?
  • How do local institutions, organizations and residents contribute to improving their local community?

The Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index measures and analyzes key behavioral factors that affect quality of life, such as access to basic needs and services, economic opportunity, and support from local institutions and organizations. This index informs the city's strategic decision-making and helps leaders make meaningful performance improvements using detailed data from a representative sample of residents.

Surveys are not a new tool for cities; resident satisfaction questionnaires are common. But these data collection efforts typically focus only on satisfaction with government services; they lack actionable insights about how to improve resident outcomes. Using the following strategies from the Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index can help city leaders understand the lives of residents and develop effective policies for improving outcomes.

Ensuring All Residents Have a Voice in Local Decision-Making

Traditional avenues for listening to residents, such as elections or community meetings, are infrequent or allow only the most engaged citizens to have a voice. Representative surveys help ensure that all residents have an impact on city decision-making, including groups whose voices may not normally be heard. For instance, only 17% of Tulsans have expressed their opinion to a city official in the past year, and just 15% have attended a neighborhood or city council meeting. Therefore, using a scientific approach to systematically measure citizens' views ensures that everyone in the city has input on local governance.

Using Behavioral Indicators to Create a More Complete Understanding

A behavioral approach helps city leaders avoid potential blind spots created by relying too heavily on conventional economic indicators. Unemployment rates, household incomes or housing costs tell a partial story about the local economy, but firsthand accounts reveal a more complete picture of a city's strengths and areas for potential improvement. For example, 52% of Tulsans strongly agree or agree that now is a good time to find a job in the city. This indicates that a majority of residents view the city as having a strong labor market overall, which should influence job-seeking dynamics at the local level. However, perceptions of opportunities vary by race: While two in three Hispanic residents (66%) and a majority of white residents (53%) in Tulsa say it is a good time to find a job, a minority of black Tulsans (44%) feel this way about the local job market.

Behavioral indicators also uncover important insights about residents' motivations on staying in or moving away from Tulsa. Most residents say they plan to remain in their current area within Tulsa for the next five years (49%) or to move to a different area within the city during that time (15%). Meanwhile, about one in six say they plan to relocate to another city (16%), and one in five (20%) are unsure of their future plans. Traditional economic factors, such as job opportunities, motivate some residents who plan to move away from the city (42%). But other factors, such as looking for a better place to raise children (46%) or having family elsewhere (28%), are also major reasons for those who plan to relocate out of Tulsa.

Tailored Solutions Instead of One-Size-Fits-All Policies

The Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index uses an address-based sampling approach to provide detailed information about the how the city experience differs for citizens of varying demographic backgrounds. While it protects respondent privacy, this approach produces nuanced insights into how geography affects quality of life. This enables city leaders to develop targeted solutions for specific areas of the city, instead of blanket solutions that may be unnecessary in some neighborhoods. For instance, residents express differing views on changes that are most needed to improve Tulsa depending on where they live: Majorities of residents in some zip codes say improved public safety is most needed, while majorities of residents in other zip codes cite better roads. Knowing the top priorities for residents in specific areas will help city leaders tailor their policy interventions to make improvements that are most needed in different parts of the city.

A city's performance should be measured not only by government outputs, but also by the improvements it makes to residents' quality of life. Cities that want to improve outcomes should collect and analyze the right data. This requires an expanded analytics scope beyond government outputs that instead measures whether citizens are thriving and what can be done to improve the quality of life for residents of different races, neighborhoods and income levels.

Find out more about the Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index.

Justin McCarthy and Zacc Ritter contributed to this article.

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