Podcast: Regional Benchmarking Initiative with Kate Bender, Stephen Wade & Reagan Walsh

Posted on May 18, 2021

Kate Bender Stephen Wade Reagan Walsh- GovLove
Kate Bender Stephen Wade Reagan Walsh
Kate Bender
Deputy Performance Officer
City of Kansas City, MO
LinkedIn | Twitter
Stephen Wade
Budget and Performance Manager
City of Topeka, KS
Reagan Walsh
MPA Candidate
University of Kansas
LinkedIn | Twitter

Using data to make better decisions. Three guests joined the podcast to talk about how the Regional Benchmarking Initiative in the Kansas City metro area. Kate Bender, Deputy Performance Officer for the City of Kansas City, Missouri; Stephen Wade, Budget and Performance Manager for the City of Topeka, Kansas; and Reagan Walsh, MPA Candidate at the University of Kansas highlighted the relationship between the Regional Benchmarking Initiative and the University of Kansas Masters of Public Administration students. They also shared what benchmarks the students explored and capacity issues with data collection.

Host: Toney Thompson

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Episode Transcription


Toney Thompson  00:09

Coming to you from Durham, North Carolina, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. I’m Toney Thompson, your Gov Love co host for today’s episode. On today’s episode we’ll talk with Kate Bender, Stephen Wade, and Reagan Walsh about their work on a regional benchmarking initiative. Kate Bender heads up the data KC team for the city of Kansas City, Missouri, along with her counterpart Susan Meyer in Johnson County, Kansas. She developed and manages the regional benchmarking initiative. Reagan Walsh is a part of the MPA Fellowship Program at the University of Kansas and accelerated MPA program designed specifically for students interested in City/County management. He currently works for the city of Olathe in the budget and performance office. And then finally, Stephen Wade, is the budget performance manager with the city of Topeka and is a first year student in KU’s MPA program. Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining the podcast today! How are you doing?

Stephen Wade  01:03

Hey Toney. Thanks very much.

Kate Bender  01:05

Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Reagan Walsh  01:07

Excited to be on. Thanks.

Toney Thompson  01:09

All right. Yeah, we’re excited to have y’all on. So just so our listeners can get to know you a bit better. We’re going to go into the lightning round questions. So the first question, so let’s do this. Let’s do an order. Let’s do Kate, then Stephen, then Reagan. Is that okay? All right, Kate, Stephen, Reagan. Alright. So the first lightning round question, what’s your most controversial non political opinion? So let’s start with Kate.

Kate Bender  01:38

I think most concerts are boring.

Toney Thompson  01:41

That’s not controversial. I completely agree with you, Kate. Most concerts are absolutely boring.

Kate Bender  01:49

Do you need a new one?

Toney Thompson  01:50

No, no, totally fine. We’re just we’re just kindred spirits in that. Reagan, Stephen, how do you feel about that?

Stephen Wade  02:02

You know, I don’t do too much too much on the concert size, side. I’d rather throw on a pair of headphones and just jam out.

Reagan Walsh  02:09

I must be the odd man out here. I love concerts. I’m excited to have them back.

Toney Thompson  02:14

What’s your, what’s your favorite? What’s the favorite concert you’ve been to? 

Reagan Walsh  02:17

Oh, man. 

Toney Thompson  02:18


Reagan Walsh  02:19

There’s a lot. I kind of listened to a wide range of music. But I love I love country music and there’s a lot of good festivals around here. So looking forward to some of those this summer.

Toney Thompson  02:29

Yeah, definitely. Excited for a return to normalcy. All right, we got we got 3 to 1 so sorry Reagan. Alright, Let’s go. Now let’s go to Stephen. Stephen what’s your most controversial non political opinion?

Stephen Wade  02:42

So I want three new federal holidays. I think that the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament. Both should be federal holidays. And opening day of Major League Baseball.

Toney Thompson  02:53

You lost me there. But I am all more in favor of more federal holidays. You are huge baseball fan, do you have a favorite team?

Stephen Wade  03:01

Oh, Kansas City, Kansas City rules.

Toney Thompson  03:03

Nice. Nice. I should have known that. Yeah, of course the Royals. How about how about Kate and Reagan, are you baseball fans, basketball fans?

Kate Bender  03:13

I mean, I’m all for more holidays. But yeah, I’m definitely a Royals fan. And you know, I would watch a lot more of the tournament if I had the days off.

Toney Thompson  03:22

That’s absolutely true. 

Reagan Walsh  03:23

Yeah, definitely. Definitely a big KC fan and you know, going to University of Kansas, I’m a big basketball fan.

Toney Thompson  03:31

Yeah, we won’t, we won’t talk about that. Yeah, got it. I’m a Duke fan.

Reagan Walsh  03:37

Oh no! I gotta Jump off.

Toney Thompson  03:43

Conversation for another time. All right, Reagan. What’s your most controversial non political opinion?

Reagan Walsh  03:49

Well, I I don’t know how controversial This is. But I love pineapple on pizza. And I even love them on burgers too, like a Hawaiian burger, so I’m all for that.

Toney Thompson  04:00

I think that’s totally fine. I love pineapple on pizza too. I can’t do the Hawaiian. I don’t like ham. But I can do pineapple and pepperoni, like.

Kate Bender  04:09

I love pineapple pizza.

Toney Thompson  04:12

Stephen No, I’m getting a face for me.

Stephen Wade  04:15

Pineapple pizza. You know, they might both start with P but that’s about it.

Toney Thompson  04:23

All right, we’ll call it another 3 to 1 split there. All right, question number two of the lightning round. So who is your celebrity look alike that you would want to play in a biopic about your life? Let’s start with Kate.

Kate Bender  04:38

Yeah, the one that people have said to me before, although it’s been a while is Renee Zellweger.

Toney Thompson  04:44

Nice. I like that. I like that. Okay. Stephen, How about yourself?

Stephen Wade  04:48

I’ve been told Bruce Willis but I think I look more like Howdy Doody.

Toney Thompson  04:58

Now I kind of want to know about your, your, your background. Got a lot of action packed stories in your life?

Stephen Wade  05:05

Well you know Die Hard is one of the best Christmas movies out there.

Toney Thompson  05:09

Now that is, now that is a controversial non political opinion. You should have led with that.That’s a conversation for another time. I waffle back and forth about whether I want to consider Die Hard a Christmas movie but there’s just quite not enough Christmas references in it for me to really get into that camp but Reagan, how about you?

Reagan Walsh  05:34

I, I struggle with this I’m gonna have a cop out. I don’t know but I love Steve Carell so by word have anyone play me, I want him. 

Toney Thompson  05:41

Yeah. That’s totally fine. You know, so many so many times actors don’t actually look like the people theu are playing in Biopics, so that’s totally okay. That’s cool. All right, the last the last lightning round question. Okay, a food that you hated as a child, but you now love in your in your later, later years. Kate, let’s start with you.

Kate Bender  06:02

You somehow I was not a big fan of cheese as a kid, which is just crazy. You know? Who can who could go without cheese? So.

Toney Thompson  06:12

I, yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting. I like it. Stephen?

Stephen Wade  06:19

I, you know, I still have the palate of a seven year old. So there’s lots of stuff I just don’t care for. But if I had if I had to pick one, it probably be Fettuccine Alfredo. Absolutely love it now, but as a kid, not so much.

Toney Thompson  06:32

I mean, palate of seven year old. That’s probably why you don’t like pineapple on pizza. 

Stephen Wade  06:36

That’s exactly correct.

Toney Thompson  06:44

And Reagan, last but not least, How about yourself? 

Reagan Walsh  06:46

Well, this one’s I think, pretty normal. But I hated brussel sprouts. And now I absolutely love them. And I kind of feel like they’re super popular. Now. I feel like any restaurant I go to, there’s a side dish that and they’re all prepared different ways. So I love them. I always order them wherever I go.

Toney Thompson  07:03

Alright, so let’s, thank you so much for those lightning round questions. Let’s talk about how you got into a local government or how you got interested in local government. I always enjoy asking our, our guests, you know, talk about, you know, what interested them in local government, how they got into this space. So if you could just, you know, tell our listeners a brief, you know, a brief synopsis about your career journey, you know, what sparked your interest in local government and, and your career path up to this point? I’ll start with Kate. So Kate, how did you get into local government? How did you get to where you are today? And what what sparked that interest for you?

Kate Bender  07:40

So actually, my very first class in undergrad was the American presidency. And so that really hooked me on government, you know, that I was right away like, I want to be a poli sci major, the stuff so interesting. And then I went on to intern at the federal level. And then at the state level in Rhode Island where I was in school, and then I liked it enough, I decided I wanted to work in state government in Massachusetts after I graduated. But the funny thing was, I loved working in state government. But I would get into called into, you know, calls with constituents to deal with issues in the city of Boston. And I was like, wow, these guys have a really cool job. They’re really at the ground level, you know, dealing with all these all these issues that impact people on a daily basis. So I went back and got my masters of urban planning and yeah, just just straight, straight shot pretty much for me.

Toney Thompson  08:34

I will say as, as a former Boston local resident, it’s very impressive that you got those calls from Boston residents, and that inspired you to go more into local government. So that’s very impressive 

Kate Bender  08:48

They’re a passionate group.

Toney Thompson  08:52

That is an understatement. Yes, they are passionate group of people. All right, Stephen, tell our listeners about, you know, what inspired you to get into local government and your career journey up until this point,

Stephen Wade  09:05

Toney, I’m actually coming off a 30 year career in journalism, was on the newspaper side and mostly in smaller communities. And the thing about newspapers is you get to where you just you develop a passion for the community, and you want to make it better. So the switchover to public administration and moving into local government really is along the same path. The City County management program at KU is one that I started last summer and just honestly fell in love with it and it just here’s a chance to keep doing what I wanted to do.

Toney Thompson  09:40

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I should probably invite you back on you know from your journalism career, I’ll have some really great I’m sure local government stories, dirt that you have that she could probably share with us. Okay, and then last but never least, Reagan how what inspires you to kind of take this local government path and tell our listeners a little bit about your career journey up to this point.

Reagan Walsh  10:05

Yeah, so my career has been relatively short in local government, but the desire to be in the field has been a long time coming for sure. When I was little, I was really interested in cities, kind of how they came to be, how they operated, and kind of why one person chose to live in like one or the other, you know. And with that, I kind of became very passionate about my city and my hometown, and I really wanted to make my my hometown basically the best place it could be. So it didn’t take a long time for me to find that local government was that kind of that sphere to do that. And I kind of found in there that I could invest in my community, I could really see how things get done. And I could see the results of my work.

Toney Thompson  10:49

Yeah, and as a, you know, quick follow up question, do you have any, you know, particular, you know, path that you’re leaning to in local government. Like a city, City/County manager, or, you know, Director of Public Works, anything that sparked your interest so far?

Reagan Walsh  11:04

I, my, the program is designed for city managers. But I definitely once I’ve kind of been in the local sphere now I just see, there’s so many paths, you know, to go. So I don’t know if there’s one that’s pointing out to me specifically, but I really enjoy where I am right now in the budget department.

Toney Thompson  11:22

Oh, yeah, budgets, a great place to kind of get a 10,000 foot view of everything. So you’re definitely on the right path. All right, so let’s get into talking about the regional benchmarking initiative. So I think this is a very cool program that ya’ll kind of had and the work that you’ve been doing on it. So can you tell us a little bit about what the regional benchmarking initiative is and how it kind of came about initially?

Kate Bender  11:51

Sure. Um, so we have a program in Kansas City, Missouri area, and the region, called CORE4 that was started up quite a while ago, probably almost a decade ago, by the managers of the four largest jurisdictions in the metro, so Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas, the unified government of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County, Johnson County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri. And the idea was just to create a forum for collaboration, on staff on policy, but to bring together you know, the staff across those jurisdictions and work on issues together. So the regional benchmarking initiative is a outgrowth of CORE4. After the the program had been going on for a few years, you know, several of the jurisdictions had, you know, active data programs, performance programs. And it was also during a time that benchmarking certainly got a lot of attention. But there were some changes in terms of national benchmarking efforts. ICMA kind of was changing the direction on on theirs that a lot of jurisdictions had used. And really, you know, several of us got in the room and said, wouldn’t it be interesting to have a benchmarking program that was focused on our local community, where we could really, you know, not all the same size jurisdictions, obviously, but similar climate, similar environment, you know, some similar demographics in some ways. And also, we can all gather together in a room, well, we could, haven’t been able to the last year, but, you know, we, but we can all come together and talk through the metrics, and understand the context behind them. So, that was the that was really the starting point. And we got started meeting in 2017.

Toney Thompson  13:39

Wow. Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s interesting how you know, you talked about, you know, one of the things that kind of made, starting CORE4 makes sense is, you know, there’s a lot of similarities between, you know, those four, you know, local localities, but, you know, you’re crossing state lines, like there are two, you’re in two different states. And so I think that’s interesting that, you know, that region, even though you’re in two different states felt that there was enough commonality between, you know, the, for those local governments to kind of what come together to, to make that happen. So you don’t you don’t often see that occur.

Kate Bender  14:16

Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, it’s something that if you haven’t lived in, in Kansas City, or in a place like Kansas City, it does seem really foreign. I remember we had an intern in Kansas City, you know, 15 years ago, who loved the idea that he could go stand in the middle of state line road and have one foot in Kansas and one foot in Missouri and he actually did it because he was like, This is so awesome and had somebody take a picture of it. But it really does feel like I think as a resident in the area, you know, you don’t necessarily notice where you at or where you’re living. It’s it’s feels like a seamless metropolitan area and you might work in one side of state line and send your kids to school on the other side and come back and live on the other And so it makes a lot of sense, I think, for us to collaborate with a view toward, you know, improving all of our services for all of our residents.

Toney Thompson  15:08

Yeah, absolutely. totally makes sense. So What impact did you know, kind of CORE4, and then, you know, transforming to the regional benchmarking have on on local governments early on, like, what were, what kind of data were you initially collecting? And how were you using that data to kind of inform, you know, what these four municipal, these four local governments were doing?

Kate Bender  15:31

So we wanted the regional benchmarking initiative to be very member centric. So we wanted to shape it around the needs and the interests of the jurisdictions that were involved. And so, you know, and we also didn’t want to overwhelm everyone with starting some program up and go to zero to 60. All of a sudden, so we said, we asked are the jurisdictions that said they wanted to participate? What do you want? What metrics do you want to collect? And so we were able to, we actually did like a dot sticker, you know, dot polling exercise, where we brainstormed and then gave everyone votes. And, you know, the initially the areas of interest were Public Works, HR, communications. So those were three of the first early ones that we started. And then we defined the metrics ourselves, too, we looked to existing sources, we look to other regional benchmarking efforts, there’s a really robust one in the Phoenix area called Valley cities, that’s been going on a long time, North Carolina, state of North Carolina, the benchmarking available there. So. And I think, at the beginning, it really was about creating relationships, defining, you know, similar perspectives about the metrics, so we were, you know, comparing, like, with like, and then actually bringing together subject matter experts to look at the data together. So that was something after we had been collecting, you know, a year of data, we, we asked all of the participating jurisdictions to invite, you know, for instance, their public works directors or assistant directors to come to a meeting together, and have them take a look at the data and talk through what they thought was behind it. And that was just really elucidating because, you know, we could look at it and say, that’s interesting that your higher and your lower, but, you know, most of us are general government types, and we had some idea. To have the Public Works Directors together, you know, they could give a lot more context and insight, and even get into details about oh, well, we’re using this and this product, or this contractor. And, and, you know, kind of talk about potential best practices. So, I think that those subject matter expert conversations, and building those relationships were an early win for us. We also did have examples of, you know, city managers, administrators being able to call back on the data when they wanted to pursue a policy change, or an operations change, they could present this data from the region and say, Well, actually, most of our peers are doing, you know, XYZ. And so we think we should look to do that as well.

Toney Thompson  18:03

Yeah, that totally makes sense that, you know, it’s logical that you would get that kind of early synergy, you know, between those local governments when you started, you know, sharing that data, I kind of want to transition to, you know, Stephen and Reagan, you know, you’re both currently in, you know, the MPA program. And it’s been a couple years since I was in an MPA program, but I’m kind of interested in what’s your kind of learning about in school about, you know, benchmarking and data collection and, and how it’s important in local government. I’m always interested in like, how other schools are kind of teaching this or talking about this, especially since benchmarking has kind of been a thing that’s been around for long enough now that people have kind of, either really, they’re still into it, or they’ve kind of strayed away from it. So I’m just kind of interested what you’re learning about it. In your classes. 

Stephen Wade  18:55

Yeah, so we’re, Greg and I are in a class together now, performance management that is taught by former Johnson County, Kansas administrator, Hannes Zacharias. And so we get we get Hannes’ touch from the professional world. And so you, we’re getting real life stuff, not just textbook stuff, which has been fabulous. And so as we’re talking about performance management and performance metrics, it’s really been a great semester, and the chance to tie back in with RBI. And really to start learning what others are doing and how they’re doing it, at what level are doing it. So I’m in Topeka, Topeka’s about an hour outside of Kansas City. So, being being from Topeka as a member of RBI, you know, we’re looking at some of the practices that we’re doing here in Topeka and measuring that against our peers. And we’re saying some things that we do, okay. We’re seeing some things that we really need to do better. And so it’s it’s really been a wonderful experience this semester.

Reagan Walsh  20:03

Yeah, I think I’ll echo what Stephen said, I think the class has been great to learn about performance management and learn how collecting data can be important for a city. But being able to be on this project, and it be a semester long project really showed it in action, right, we got to see how cities collaborate together, kind of the problems that arise from that, that I know Kate can probably talk a lot about. But seeing that firsthand, was great, just to learn hands on experience, and I think the students picked it up quicker than than I expected, I thought this was going to be something that we were going to struggle with for a little bit, but from what we were learning what we were seeing it matched up really well. And we kind of got the idea of what the goal was really quick.

Toney Thompson  20:51

Yeah, that’s awesome. This is actually a good transition to kind of talk about, you know, some of the you know why you were actually collaborating with Kate and her team on on this work with the RBI. So what were some of the issues that you are seeing with the regional benchmarking initiatives, not just the issues, but I guess, opportunity errors that you were seeing with the regional benchmarking initiative that, you know, prompted you to reach out to the MPA program and, and see if you could get an analysis done with some recommendations.

Kate Bender  21:26

So I think that there was a good, some good synergy, because we were actually coming off of, you know, early in 2020, we were looking at starting to, we had published our first annual report the prior year, and we were looking to kind of circle up and start on the next one. And then the pandemic happened, and we sort of tried to reconvene mid year to get everyone together. But I mean, everyone was so underwater with their own, you know, local government issues. And we were really thought, gosh, you know, is benchmarking, even front and center, do people even have time to absorb this, even if they had the time to report? So we kind of let 2020 go. Towards the end, we, you know, everyone seemed to be kind of had more opportunity, and there was a desire to come back together. And so we needed to sort of jumpstart ourselves a little bit coming into 2021. And, yeah, that the opportunity presented itself. And, and, like Stephen said, I mean, working with Hannes, who had such a strong understanding, he was one of the people who started CORE4 as the manager of Johnson County. And so he really understood I think, the values and the approach we were taking. And so I think for us, you know, we were like, we could definitely use some extra help on the, you know, the aspect that involves, you know, following up with, with cities and putting together charts and visuals, but also that kind of critical, you know, slightly academic viewpoint, but also really professional and applied, because all these students are not only students, but they’re also working in the field or interning in the field. And so we thought, Gosh, what an opportunity to get an outside perspective that’s really informed by best practice, about, you know, what, what we’re doing well, what we could do better on what, where we could look to go in the future.

Toney Thompson  23:16

Yeah, totally makes sense. So, all right. So Kate, you went to you went to Stephen, and you went to Reagan, and you’re like, hey, like, help help help us out here. And so now I’m gonna ask the two of you, you know, what, what did you learn doing this work? What were some of the aha moments that you have, or, and ultimately, the recommendations that you came up with, that you sent back to Kate, and what did you present on as a part of this project?

Stephen Wade  23:45

Reagan, you want to handle it?

Toney Thompson  23:46

You’re Reagan, take it away.

Reagan Walsh  23:50

Well, I, I guess I can start with saying that. The first challenge we faced was a little bit of kind of what Kate said, where people were a little bit underwater from COVID. And they were kind of all hands on deck with that. But one thing I found really quickly was that there were so many people were who are so excited to see that the program was back and that it was running again. And they were really interested in how they could be involved, and what they could do to help us, what they could do to see the results, where the results are going to be posted. And that kind of showed me that what we were doing was really important. And it wasn’t just something that cities were participating in, it was something that they could see how they can get better. They could use this, this these results to kind of, I don’t know, show show how their city is collaborating within the region really.

Stephen Wade  24:42

Yeah, we kind of, there’s seven of us in class, Toney and we kind of split up, pair it up and into three teams, looking at different service levels. And Reagan and I work together on the human, Human Resources side of things. But I think what was inspiring for me was we got to the end, we kind of did the write up, we made a presentation. And RBI actually was listening to what we had to say. It was, it wasn’t just, hey, Great, thanks. But it was truly listening to what what we had to say. And, you know, we offered up a couple of thoughts and got some head shakes. And so it was a great opportunity for us, I think.

Toney Thompson  25:28

Yeah, absolutely. So you have the human resources side. And so what were some of the recommendations that that you had for Kate and her team around the human resources, regional benchmarking metrics.

Reagan Walsh  25:43

I’ll, Steve, I’ll go with our first one. A lot of the communities in our region and across the country utilize the ETC Institute for citizen satisfaction and employee satisfaction surveys. And we kind of found that if all of these cities in our region are going to be using this survey, there’s a way that we can probably collaborate on questions together. So we can learn about how employees are feeling in the organization and then we can compare them across the region. So we kind of just recommended that they look at and take a deeper dive, I guess, into the ETC, and see what they can do.

Toney Thompson  26:21

Yeah, totally makes sense. I mean, we have ETC here and for our listeners, who don’t know, ETC is kind of like this, I guess, consultant research group that will do some really, you know, quality surveys for localities, municipalities. And so one of the things is you have to tell them, hey, I want you to ask these specific questions. And so there are some constraints there where it’s like, Okay, well, you know, we got to get, we have to get enough people to respond. So it can be a valid survey. And so, but there are also a strict number of questions that you can ask. So definitely, that makes sense, getting the municipalities to collaborate, like, okay, let’s make sure we all ask the same questions on our survey so we can actually compare. So that’s, that’s a great recommendation. Any other recommendations that you had for the team?

Stephen Wade  27:07

Yeah, you know, we we started looking at the workforce in public government, especially is aging. And so retention is a big deal. Yeah. And so we looked at retention, we also had the recommendation to, to have the conversations on career paths. So somebody comes in, you get them to join local government. What do they want to do? What do they want to go? And so hopefully, you’re growing them up, you’re retaining them, and you’re building your bench strength.

Toney Thompson  27:38

Yeah, that’s, that’s a really good one. I mean, I think this kind of leads me to a question I have for Kate. So, you know, I think it’s interesting, when you have so many localities that close together, you do get, I guess, I think sometimes you see competition in terms of like, your pay and benefits and your compensation. And so this is a really interesting kind of maybe tension point where you have these localities kind of comparing, you know, your retention rates, you know, employee demographics. So were there any other conversations with the localities around kind of this, this this point about how each localities doing in terms of how they have a compensated benefit their employees?

Kate Bender  28:21

Yeah, you know, I think that’s always a tension point, actually, across all of the service areas, because there’s a, there’s a certain element of benchmarking that that feels like it sets you up to be like, whoo, look, how we’re doing way better than these, the, you know, XYZ city. And you, I think it’s something that you have to look a lot closer and be more careful about when you’re talking about your neighbors. And so that’s something we really, I feel like set out in setting, putting together the values of this, that this is about identifying best practices and being honest with one another, but not using it to, you know, create a chart that says, look, we’re the best and, but it also to to identify collective areas of opportunity. You know, I remember one of the first, first things that we, first years that we gathered HR data, we showed that almost all of our jurisdictions really did not have a very representative employee population in terms of Hispanic and Latinx employees in particular. And so whether or not you had 10% in your population base, or, you know, 30%, none of the local government, workforce groups were really keeping up. And so I think that, you know, individually, that might have been a point where nobody really wanted to admit or highlight that, but when we can look at that collectively and say, Wow, maybe there’s really an opportunity to collaborate and think about how to recruit, you know, broadly or open up different channels. And as it happens, actually one, another big effort that came out of CORE4, not necessarily because of that data, but but related to it was to do a collective career fair for high school and college students to, you know, both advertise internships and jobs, but actually just to expose kids to, you know, local government sector and the number of different jobs and career paths that are available in it, so.

Toney Thompson  30:25

Yeah, definitely, definitely. Stephen and Reagan, you kind of you were talking about career paths. Was there anything else that you discovered, or learned during your work, talking about career paths and recommendations more specifically, around that, that you provided to Kate and her team? Because that’s always something that we talk about in local governments, how do we properly create onboarding and, you know, keeping people in terms of really putting them on a career ladder to stay in local government.

Stephen Wade  30:57

Yeah, I don’t know that we had anything specific as far as a recommendation other than to have the conversations. If you’re not having the conversations, then you’re never going to get there.

Toney Thompson  31:06

Yeah. Yeah, that totally makes sense. So any other recommendations that you had, from your project work? Were there any specific data or metrics that you recommended that be adopted that weren’t originally a part of the RBI work?

Stephen Wade  31:28

Yeah, and I think from an HR side, we stayed pretty true to it. I know that you know, there were some conversations in some other service levels that maybe kick the can a little farther down the road. We talked a little bit about I think, as an RBI group, and again, this is this is me coming from the Topeka side of things, but policing is obviously a pretty hot topic right now. And, and can, should we compare metrics on the on the policing side, and there’s differences between Missouri and Kansas, and, you know, Kate can probably talk a little bit more to that one. But, you know, we, I think we, from a class side, we didn’t get into that, because it was a different, a different category. But, you know, that was probably the one that comes to mind.

Toney Thompson  32:25

Yeah, definitely, definitely. So, I guess, you know, I remember when I was in, you know, my MPA program, and when I did my first presentation to a, to someone who actually work in municipality, I was very nervous. So how did the two of you feel, you know, presenting this work to Kate and her team, and, you know, actually, you know, providing recommendations to, you know, public administrators, like, Hey, you need to, I recommend you, you doing this in your work.

Stephen Wade  32:58

I think we were all a little bit nervous, I won’t talk for Reagan, but we, you know, we got on it. We, of course, we had to do it by zoom because of everything. And and so we kind of had this running bet as far as whether or not anybody would even show up outside of class. And all of a sudden, you started seeing all these faces pop up on the screen that you’d never seen before. And all these names from from municipalities, and you realize that this, this was primetime. And you were you were actually talking to administrators from around the area. So it was my palms were sweating a little bit.

Toney Thompson  33:33

Yeah, definitely.

Reagan Walsh  33:34

Yeah, I would say I was definitely nervous, too. It was a it was nerve wracking. But Stephen, I think what you said earlier, really struck me too, is when we were done with the presentation, they were asking us questions and kind of going over what we said, and it was in a way that they were really going to use this information. You know, Susan and Kate were making notes saying, that’s a great point, we’ll try to incorporate that next year or hat’s definitely something we’re working on, we’ve talked about that. And it took it. It was it took away the entire academic side, it was like this is actually a project it almost felt like we were working, you know, like a municipality doing this for them. So it was just a really cool experience all around.

Stephen Wade  34:16

Yeah, and from the flip side, so when we were getting feedback from them, and I’ll use Kate as an example here, you know, Kate, Kate was talking about graphs and making sure that they’re labeled right and making sure that they’re telling good stories. And so being able to apply that into my day job. Now I’m I’m a little more careful about putting stuff together and making sure that we’re being objective, and so it was a great, a great opportunity to get some feedback from working professionals.

Toney Thompson  34:49

Awesome. That’s totally awesome. And Kate, how did they do first of all, you know, did you feel after they presented it and what takeaways did you have that you feel like you’re going to be implementing moving forward?

Kate Bender  35:03

Well, I would agree with them that I think that was definitely the vibe that he, you know, I think, just as they were saying that they had some apprehension, you know, we have had the challenge of, even though we all work in the same environments, going into the room and facilitating your peers for a discussion like this, you know, what does everyone think good HR measures would be, and it’s sometimes it was just sort of blank looks, you know, and so, I actually think, in some ways, having them, you know, had had, they’d had all this applied work, and they came with really well informed thoughts. And it gave our members a lot to react to in a way that, you know, if it was just the the group of us, we might not have had as robust a discussion. So, you know, I’ve been, I’ll go back to the first recommendation that I think that they talked about, which was the employee engagement, the idea of, you know, being able to benchmark on questions, I kind of jumped all over that, because we happen to do an employee engagement survey. And I would love the opportunity to benchmark against other communities, because it’s something that we’ve really tried to put a lot of effort into. And I also think it’s something that, you know, you can really make some decent comp, you know, comparability based even when you have very different organizational sizes, because culture is something that, you know, that isn’t necessarily dependent on size or location. And so, yeah, I there, there were several things along those lines that I thought, you know, these would be great feature areas for us to pursue. And I think it’s given us a good kind of platform to jump off from to think about where to take RBI next.

Toney Thompson  36:36

Yeah, so sounds like you would definitely give them an A for their project.

Kate Bender  36:40

Yes, definitely. 

Toney Thompson  36:41

Okay, great. I just want I just want to get that on record. You know, in case, ya’ll need that, you know, for your class. Definitely. 

Stephen Wade  36:46

Yeah, we, we needed that, Kate. This is being recorded, isn’t it?

Toney Thompson  36:49

Yeah. This is public record now. Just another question I have for y’all, I guess, Kate, in the practical world, and Stephen and Reagan, if you, if you’re learning about this in your class, you know, sometimes I think, when you start doing this benchmarking work, a real question of data capacity comes up or is like, Oh, I would love to track that. But we’ve actually never tracked that. And I don’t know how we would track that we don’t have the people or, you know, technology to track that. So has that, have you talked about that in your class at all? And Kate, have you? Is that a tension that sometimes ya’ll deal with when you’re doing this work?

Kate Bender  37:33

Yeah, I’ll start and say yes, absolutely. It’s a challenge. Especially, first of all, everyone has slightly different systems. And so a metric that one group brings up might, I know that there was a recommendation, one of the recommendations that they made touched on being able to track some information about poor performance appraisals, and right away, I was like, oh, that’d be great. But we just don’t have the data behind that. I know, we couldn’t provide that metric. And then there’s just the just General Resource staffing capacity. You know, I mean, most of our communities don’t have a dedicated data office or performance office. And so they’re relying on people who have a lot of other things on their plate. So it is something we have to be really sensitive to. And I think it’s a reason that we’ve tried to hone in and probably need to continue to hone in on, you know, really high value, a relatively short list of metrics. So it doesn’t become some overwhelming overblown thing.

Stephen Wade  38:33

Yeah, there’s, you know, we definitely have talked about it in class. There’s, there’s some attributes that we talked about, as far as what makes a good measurement. And certainly the feasibility collectability side of it is, is one that we’ve talked about quite a bit.

Reagan Walsh  38:51

Yeah, I think kind of what I mean highlighting both, that kind of made our recommendations, that was trickier. Because we were dealing with cities in two different states. We were working with Johnson County and Jackson County who are 600,000 people and then cities that are 10,000 people. So just a lot of different aspects were coming into that so we definitely had to think about the capacity not only the organization but kind of you know, the reliability, the validity, all that with all those

Toney Thompson  39:22

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. All right. I mean, I think those are kind of all the questions I have for for the three of you all, Stephen, Reagan, what’s what’s next for y’all in terms of you know, your MPA school. Are you done, or you got some more classes? How many more years you have?

Stephen Wade  39:43


Reagan Walsh  39:45

I, I am all done. So this is a  on year – thank you! – I, one year schooling and so the KU has an interesting program. My next year is like a fellowship year. So I’ll be going to like the ICMA conference and that kind of thing to get some school credit. And then, but I’m done with the school part. So I’m really excited about that.

Toney Thompson  40:05

Yes, congrats, congrats. So all you listeners out there if you’re looking to hire somebody, you know, Reagan’s gonna be available pretty soon.

Stephen Wade  40:14

Yeah, and I’m super jealous of Reagan, I’ve got another year to go. But you know, so I’m just I’m working full time with City of Topeka, learning a lot in the budget office and looking forward to another year of school. 

Toney Thompson  40:28

Awesome. That’s awesome. And Kate, what’s what’s next for you and your and your team?

Kate Bender  40:34

Well, we are, you know, continuing forward with the data and performance efforts in the city, you know, constant process of iteration over here always trying to improve with all the all the things we do, our resident surveying and open data and, you know, building dashboards and visualizations. So we have a new city manager and KCMO as of the end of 2020. And so, I think there’s a lot of exciting things to come.

Toney Thompson  41:03

That’s great. That’s great. Okay, the last question that we typically ask all of our guests is if you could be the Gov love DJ, what song would you pick as your exit music for this episode? Now, I don’t know if the three of y’all collaborated on this and chose. Did you choose one song? I’m guessing No. Okay, so each Okay, so each of you say your song and then maybe one one of them will probably be the exit music for this podcast but Kate what would be your song as the, as your exit music?

Kate Bender  41:34

Well, we already covered you know how I feel about music and you know, my level of dedication, but when I was thinking through you know, I do like music. And I was I landed on you know, that the spirit of collaboration and wanting to learn from each other. I landed on You’re the Inspiration from Journey.

Toney Thompson  41:52

Nice. Love it. Classic. Stephen, how about you?

Stephen Wade  41:57

Yeah, mine’s easy. It’s Kansas and it’s Carry on Wayward Son.

Toney Thompson  42:00

All right, there we go. There we go. Stephen, finishing out strong.

Reagan Walsh  42:06

I’m, I’m, you know, I’m finishing up finals here. I’m almost done. It’s almost ended the week it’s five o’clock here central times. I’m doing Five o’clock Somewhere by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.

Toney Thompson  42:19

I love it. Those are all three great songs. So I’ll see which one actually makes it as the exit music. But thank you to all three of you for coming on. This ends our episode for today. Again, thanks for coming on and talking with me. For our listeners., you can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast and we’re on all of your favorite podcast subscription services. Please subscribe to Gov Love through your favorite podcast service and leave us review so more people know that Gov Love is the podcast for local government topics. And if you have a story for Gov Love, we want to hear it, send us a message on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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