Does it make more sense to devote government resources toward recruiting tech startups near downtown Athens or looking at increasing retail opportunities on the city’s east side?
While many might offer compelling arguments for either hypothetical case, Athens officials want to use hard data to best determine the right economic initiatives to support.
To that end, Athens recently joined several other U.S. cities in the What Works Cities Initiative.
Launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2015, What Works Cities helps municipalities enhance data-collecting endeavors and teaches the analytical skills needed to interpret that data.
City officials then can use those metrics to make informed, data-driven decisions on how to best to deploy resources.
Athens officials applied to take part in the initiative specifically to measure progress on economic prosperity goals, said Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams.
“It’s really tough (measuring) economic prosperity because there are so many variables to the economy we don’t have control over,” Williams said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to measure it.”
Other cities chosen to take part in the initiative want to measure public safety outcomes, infrastructure investments and even recreation goals.
“Moving the needle on city challenges requires knowing what to measure and how, then acting on what you find,” What Works Cities Executive Director Simone Brody said in a news release. “By teaching cities how to put data at the core of their decision-making, we’re equipping them with the tools to best solve local challenges and serve their communities.”
With the recent inclusion of Athens and four other cities – Chula Vista, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Gainesville, Fla.; and Palmdale, Calif. – the number of initiative participants now stands at 95. Only 100 cities will be chosen.
Williams said Athens officials learned of the initiative due to the efforts of a group within the city government called Innovation Ambassadors – city employees chosen to seek out the means to improve local government and more.
Upon filing an application, executives with What Works Cities interviewed such officials as Mayor Nancy Denson, Williams and various department heads.
“What helped us (in the application process) is that we made an earnest appeal for help,” Williams said. “We showed them that we were willing to take a critical look at ourselves and take the necessary steps to improve.”
Williams said he expects to start conversations with the initiative soon on what the city’s next steps will be.
Taking part in the initiative costs the city nothing, he said. Once training begins, it can last six months to a year.