As the city of Madison works to promote equity, the What Works Cities initiative may be the key to bettering the quality of lives for all residents.

In a Monday news conference, Mayor Paul Soglin announced Madison has been selected to be one of 16 participating cities for the What Works Cities national initiative.

The initiative, an effort started by Bloomberg Philanthropies, helps cities optimize their data on government services to improve them for residents in a given city.

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In Madison, the city hopes to make investments in using data to improve the way they provide services and in turn, improve the lives of their residents, City Budget Manager Laura Larsen said.

Madison joins 16 other mid-sized cities such as Boulder, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, to learn how to enhance their use of data to improve services, inform local decision-making and engage residents.

Usually, the initiative involves opening up targeted municipal data, bringing in government partners to measure performance statistics of current services and using a performance management system to synthesize the information, Molly Daniell, who is overseeing What Works Cities’ work in Madison, said. She described it as a very “holistic approach.”

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Last spring, Soglin submitted a letter of interest to join the nation-wide initiative with the intent of better understanding how services are provided to the community with regard to equity, Larsen said.

One way the city hopes to provide more equitable services is through transit.

In applying an equity lens, Larsen said she hopes to improve transit to make it friendly for all riders.

“Mostly low-income and African American folks have to do multiple transfers and lengthen their ride, causing them to be late to work or miss their transfer or appointments,” Larsen said. 

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Along with improving equitable services, Madison will launch two projects with help from two What Works Cities partner, the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University.  

The projects include relaunching an open-data portal to make sure Madison has policies and procedures in place to distribute meaningful data to residents, and building a performance management system within the city.

What Works Cities is slated to begin providing technical assistance in Madison in Jan. 2017, with supporting continuing through April of that year.