Three Approaches for Highlighting the Social Impact of Local Government

Three Approaches for Highlighting the Social Impact of Local Government

Member Question

I would like to find professional development opportunities for an employee to understand the other side of performance measurement (i.e. the return on our investment when it doesn’t have direct $$$ attached to it).  I dusted off my Jim Collins “Good to Great for the Social Sectors” supplement, but feel like a seminar or webinar, or something along those lines would be more impactful.

Any thoughts?


Bobbi Nance, Park District of Oak Park, IL, Senior Manager of Strategy & Innovation

Revenue Development & Management School focuses on revenue generation and cost savings while simultaneously reinforcing the social good and that your financial numbers don’t mean much if you’re not serving your community. It is for parks and recreation specific.

Stanford PACS absorbed a conference that I used to attend called Do Good Data. It’s definitely data-themed, everyone spent the whole time talking about service through data and that the numbers weren’t the point. I don’t think the conference would be the right opportunity because it’s definitely data-focused, not performance measures, but their blog may have some articles or might offer some webinars that will help you out. Although they are usually more non-profit focused, they apply to local government.

At our agency, we combat the issues with our choice of organizational performance measures – they are something that everyone is responsible for (and therefore, none belong to any one person or department and we all take responsibility when we don’t meet a target and we all celebrate when we do).

For example, we have financial measures, but our non-financial departments have specific responsibilities to help meet those targets so that the finance department staff don’t feel the need to hoard money to “meet the budget.” And likewise, some of our financial performance measures include things like volunteer hours, scholarship/fee waivers, etc. so that our performance measures balance financial strength with social good. Our finance department is tested to develop ways that we can give away more money in the case of the scholarships (and in the end, I think that they appreciate being part of the conversation).

If you feel like you’ve done all of that – have you ever had a community member that has benefited from the social services that your agency offers talk to your senior staff about the impact of what you’re doing to make it real? It is really powerful and would be a good kick-off to a budget or goal-setting process to remind everyone why we’re all here. If you can’t find a person to speak, if you have some testimonials with a photo of the individuals/families and can start with that and leave it up on a screen or wall during a meeting or working session, that can be a good reminder as well. This is most powerful with our staff that are removed from directly providing the services. They get to see the impact of their work as it relates to the big picture. It’s also powerful with front-line staff, who when they hear their names mentioned in testimonials and/or know that it’s from a person in a program that they worked with, feel more appreciated by that than anything their supervisor can do with them.


Eric Roche, City of Kansas City, MO, Chief Data Officer

In KC, we have done a few things which I believe have helped align interest between divisions and citywide goals.

  • Over the last three years we have written a citywide business plan that contains goals (big picture) and objectives (how we get there). Then we had each department write their business plan. Finally, we had each division write a business plan. Over the years we have continue to strengthen the ties between each level of the plan so that they are vertically integrated. The Accounts Division was very collaborative in creating their plan. The division head also helped in creating the Finance Department plan. I think this sort of collaboration has helped with buy-in from many people that would otherwise be hyper-focused on their own area.

We do have fund balance as one of our objectives. However, it’s blended in with several other objectives. See page 29 of the PDF linked above (click download to view). You will also see (page 30) that our performance metrics for Finance and Governance tend to be outcome oriented.

  • KCStat is our citywide stat program where we report out on progress of the Citywide Business Plan. These are in-person meetings that occur once a month and cover one of the seven citywide goals on a rotating basis. At these meetings, we have the City Manager and Mayor sit at the presenters table, and then staff from the relevant departments sit at the City Council dais. We walk through a slide deck that give data-driven updates on how progress is being made. The Mayor, Manager, and public (in-person, streaming, or twitter) ask questions as we go. By engaging managers in using data to report out, they begin to see the linkage between their data and their goals, and we hope they also begin to see that they are part of a larger team.

I totally agree with Bobbi on the need for narrative/stories to surround the data. Additionally, we have had success engaging people across departments/divisions by forming teams to improve things like internal communications, employee recognition, etc.

DataSmart is a great blog for people interested in data and cities. I started out in government by being very focused on city budgets, but by reading more about what was possible with data I naturally began to expand my scope. I began to see my strength as not being a “budget” analyst, but as being more of a generalist with a good analytical toolkit who just happened to be a budget analyst.  I moved from seeing ROI as the most valuable goal, to seeing improving the city as the most valuable goal. ROI is one way to do this, but so is expanding services.

I also like Simon Sinek’s “Getting to Why” Ted Talk. It’s a little philosophical at times, but I think it people to not focus on the product, but instead focusing on why they do things.


Josh Edwards, City of Durham, NC, Strategic Initiatives Manager

Our angle at the City of Durham is to connect the dots for the organization on how it all fits together. I have attached our slide that seems to get the most heads nodding. The slide represents how we hope to implement our “High Performing Organization Goal” in the strategic plan. If you drill into this goal, there are direct connections with the Finance department and we have multiple representatives on the goal team, with an objective focused on creating Long Term Financial Sustainability. In addition, the Finance department has a departmental plan that aligns to the citywide goal.

Here are three different ideas for professional development:

  • We get a lot of value out of the conference our PM System puts on as colleagues from around the country share lessons learned.
  • The UNC School of Government also offers two different PM courses for professionals.

Your Turn

Share your resources and ideas by posting in the comments below or via Twitter @ELGL50.