Nutter’s fast track to problem solving

June 3

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

Accountability and transparency are established buzzwords of the early Nutter administration, and they might be embodied best by the new PhillyStat program, modeled after successful “broken windows” tracking for police departments in New York and other cities. The Philadelphia version, though, is modeled loosely on an expanded version of a Baltimore program that encompasses all city departments.

PhillyStat is meant to track departmental performance on-the-fly (monthly or quarterly during meetings that are open to the public and broadcast on cable television), and is not meant to be an audit. Mandated by new Mayor Michael Nutter, it might mean extra work for departments in the near-term, but the goal is to cut red tape and save time and money in the long-term. It is run through the office of Managing Director Camille Cates Barnett, who is also a Philadelphia City Planning Commissioner.

So far, like most of Nutter’s implementations, it’s getting high marks from city officials.

 “It really is pretty interesting,” said Gary Jastrzab, acting executive director of the Planning Commission staff. “We’ve presented twice so far, and I’ve found that I’ve learned a lot from other departments.”

The police might be accustomed to sophisticated mapping and tracking software aimed at improving efforts in clustered, high-risk crime areas. But using mapping, historical and forecasting technology is not new to the Planning Commission, either, Jastrzab said, and planners could end up helping out other city agencies.

Specifically, he mentioned the city’s Commerce Department. Since Andrew Altman was named deputy mayor for both planning and commerce, Jastrzab said he’s noticed that the two departments have been operating more efficiently, if only because they’ve become more familiar with each other. As for PhillyStat, he said the presentations are open sessions that have latitude to go either way – the abstract or the particular.
 
“It really can get quite academic,” he said. “For some departments who may not be as familiar with displaying information, there might be more of an adjustment. A lot of it has to do with displaying data on maps.”

Dana Wilson, Barnett’s new director of performance management, oversees PhillyStat and its implementation, along with the “3-1-1” city services information system that she says will start on Dec. 31.

“The departments are very responsive to the focus on performance-driven discussions, as well as identifying areas of need,” Wilson said. The system is “definitely in its infancy.”

Wilson said the difference between PhillyStat and Baltimore’s “CitiStat” system is that Philadelphia’s is “very real-time” and more frequent, based on strategic and proactive approaches to problem-solving, instead of reactive measures. She said PhillyStat was born, in part, from geographical information services that the Planning and Police departments had already been using. “What we’ve done is increase” those systems, she said. “We’ll look to see where the process leads us. If we need to make refinements … we go from there.” The city’s interdepartmental “silo mentality” comes to light at times, she said. That’s practically an explanation for PhillyStat’s existence.

Fourteen city departments – including licenses & inspections, police and fire – report on a monthly basis, while 18 internal service departments (such as personnel, procurement, records, etc.) report quarterly.

Nutter has so far not attended any of the PhillyStat presentations, said Wilson, who came aboard six weeks ago from Philadelphia Gas Works, where a similar methodology is in place. Her background, which includes a stint at Rohm & Haas, is in process improvement and project management.

“If things aren’t working, we have to find out why,” said Vivian Seltzer, president of the Center City Residents’ Association, who is particularly concerned about an uptick in downtown muggings over the past nine months. “That’s what [Nutter] is going to be able to do for us – to sharpen our attention to what needs what. His administration is really taking a close look at all these programs.”

So far, PhillyStat already can measure improvements, Wilson said. With L&I, for instance, the bottlenecked intake process at the Municipal Services Building is being revamped. Likewise with the hiring of public safety personnel for the police, fire and prisons departments.

“It was taking too long to get the talent,” Wilson said. “All the departments are creating customer service standards, and they’ve already begun posting them on the walls.”

ON THE WEB
“Philadelphia’s Performance Network”: http://www.phila.gov/pdfs/PeformanceNetworkUpdated31408.pdf

Contact the reporter at thomaswalsh1@gmail.com

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.