THE BLOG

Why I'm Betting On Cities And Data

04/20/2015 07:53 am ET | Updated Jun 20, 2015
  • Michael R. Bloomberg Fmr. three-term mayor of New York City; Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP
Andrew Burton via Getty Images

How can cities rise to meet big new challenges -- and serve more and more people -- with resources that are always stretched thin? By finding smart ways to use a resource that is always growing: Data. And more and more cities are doing exactly that.

In Louisville, Kentucky, city government has asked volunteers to attach GPS trackers to their asthma inhalers to see where they have the hardest time breathing. The city is now using that data to better target the sources of air pollution. San Francisco teamed up with Yelp to integrate health inspection data into Yelp's online restaurant reviews, so people can easily see that information while deciding where to eat. New Orleans is using data from across agencies to keep better track of abandoned properties and address violations faster, which is making neighborhoods safer and bringing new investment to the city.

Technology has unleashed an explosion of new information for city halls to work with. The possibilities for how cities can use that data to improve lives -- and improve the way services are provided to citizens -- are limitless.

To help more cities embrace those possibilities, today Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a new national program called What Works Cities. It is the most comprehensive effort yet to help city leaders use data and evidence in their decision-making to improve the lives of residents.

The $42 million program will do that by offering technical support and guidance to cities who want to do more with data. Working with a group of world-class partners, we'll help cities create plans for using data and evidence to reach concrete goals that their mayors identify as high priorities.

We'll also provide a forum for cities to work together and learn from each other. Sharing ideas and experiences is important, because cities face many common challenges. They shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel -- wasting employees' time and taxpayers' money -- when they don't have to. By giving cities a way to study the best examples of how others are using data, we'll help them take big steps forward.

City governments have a responsibility to make the most of every dollar, and data helps them do that. When cities keep close track of their progress, they can quickly change course when programs don't work as expected, rather than throwing good money after bad. Data also allows cities to direct funding to programs based on results, not intentions -- and it allows the public to hold mayors accountable for getting the job done.

Of course, governments are not the only ones who can use data to solve problems. When data is made available to the public, citizens can use it to create new products and public services that make cities better places to live.

In New York, after we began making city data public, we created a contest that invited residents to design mobile apps using that data. The first year, winning ideas included an app to find the fastest public transit options, and another to compare information about different public schools. We made the contest an annual event -- and many winners have gone on to become successful companies.

Sharing data with the public is still a relatively new idea. Through What Works Cities, we'll help it spread, by empowering more city leaders to make data available to the public in ways that are easy to access and use.

Today, we're inviting more than 275 U.S. cities with populations between 100,000 and 1 million to visit whatworkscities.org and apply to participate in our program. Over the next three years, we'll provide support to 100 of them.

What works? That's a question that every city leader should ask. Through What Works Cities, we'll help them find answers.