Inside the Certification: City of Topeka, Kansas

In this series, we highlight the inaugural group of nine cities to achieve What Works Cities Certification and the five cities selected for the Certification Honor Roll. As part of being awarded the certificatio, each city received an ELGL all-in membership. What Works Cities Certification recognizes and celebrates local governments that are leading the nation in the use of data and evidence to increase government effectiveness and improve services for residents.

At #ELGL18, What Works Cities will offer a half day session on how your organization can use data to drive innovation.

Leigha Boling, City of Topeka, Kansas, Performance Analyst, provides insight into Topeka’s recognition on the Certification Honor Roll.

Mt. Rushmore

Government buzzwords

  1. Transparency
  2. Low-hanging fruit
  3. Deep-dive
  4. Economic diversity


  1. Data-driven decisions
  2. Smart phones
  3. Sabermetrics
  4. Government transparency

Office pet peeves

  1. Discussions with outdoor voices
  2. Loud chewing
  3. Smelly fish
  4. When someone does not cover their sneeze


  1. Spiderman
  2. Captain America
  3. Black Panther
  4. Batman

Spring break destinations

  1. Cancun, Mexico
  2. Topeka, KS
  3. West Lafayette, IN
  4. Bull Shoals Lake, AR

Q & A

(Complete this sentence) Our city participated in What Works Cities certification because…

The city’s internal Data Governance Committee (DGC) was excited for the opportunity to participate in a thorough evaluation of the city’s current data practices, policies and procedures, to increase accountability, and understand the data needs of the organization; all while understanding how they measure-up and relate to the What Works Cities Standards and best practices of data.

What are three specific ways residents benefit from the city’s use of data?

  1. Form a better understanding of available city services and government activities
  2. Form a better understanding of city budget and where citizen tax dollars are being spent
  3. Get timely information on city projects, their schedules, budgets and contact information

How is the city ensuring that using data improves services across a broad section of the community?

Using performance data metrics, the city actively monitors quarterly variations in operational data to evaluate city services.  Through the performance data that is collected from each city division, discussions on prioritization and budget allocations take place to address potential problem areas that could impact the ability for services areas to meet overall city priorities and objectives set forth by the Mayor and Governing Body.

For those cities considering What Works Cities’ certification, give them three tips for addressing certification requirements.

  1. Develop a certification team with the help of top leadership (City Manager) that will meet, gather and develop materials for the certification process, and actively address questions regarding the requirements of the certification.
  2. Develop a to-do list with a corresponding timeline and deadlines.
  3. Actively reach-out to city departments to engage them in the certification, understand their department processes and where there are potential gaps according to the certification requirements.

How will the city build on the success of the certification? How do you ensure it becomes ingrained in the city’s culture? Specific initiatives?

The certification team meets regularly and has developed an action plan for addressing the city’s gaps in the certification requirements.  The team has used the certification process to understand where departments need assistance in developing procedures and areas where data can assist in making data-driven decisions.  Using the value created by the certification criteria, the team has been able to emphasize and create a foundation for an action plan that first addresses major areas in need of procedural development and support to close the gaps in certification criteria and improve on best practices.  The action plan includes a list of specific initiatives and priority items that need to be addressed with specific divisions and departments. The team has worked with the City Manager and Deputy City Manager in reviewing the necessary requirements that will take the city to the next level of certification.  The specific divisions and departments have been included in the certification process and are aware of the areas that will be address and the initiatives within the action plan.

What’s one question that you’d ask the other cities who achieved certification?

There are multiple questions for other cities that achieved certification in the areas that the city has gaps in procedures and data.  There is not one question that can provide a solution for the areas that need improvement but the team has worked together with the support of the What Works Cities to develop an action plan and research information that supports improvement efforts in meeting the criteria.

What question(s) should we have asked you? What’s the answer?

What was the most valuable information or take-away from going through the process and receiving the level of certification that your city did?

The most valuable information and take-away that the certification process and level provided was the insight into our own city’s procedural processes and what information and data was missing from driving our organization to making data-driven decisions.  The overall value that the What Works Cities Certification process provided was a true evaluation and the evidence for areas that can increase efficiency through the improvement of practices, procedures and policies.

Supplemental Reading

The Data Revolution Hits Kansas

City of Topeka selected by What Works Cities initiative

What Works Cities | City of Topeka

Topeka, Kan., becomes latest What Works City to pass an open data policy

The Best Ever with Aly Van Dyke, City of Topeka, KS

#ELGL17: What’s Going On with Aly Van Dyke, City of Topeka

Podcast: Leveraging Data to Improve Local Government