Remarks at the Baltimore Stat Summit
September 10, 2008
Thank you all very much for allowing me to be with you this afternoon. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to learn about CitiStat. And I want to thank Mayor Sheila Dixon for all that she’s done to continue that new tradition that we started in our City of measuring performance, declaring goals and making progress, not annually, but daily and weekly in the face of some pretty daunting challenges.
We’re here today I think as true believers in that sort of bold approach. And also in its timeless importance. It’s no exaggeration that what you are doing every single day is revolutionizing the way the Government works, not only in our City, not only in our State, but really across the country.
I know that you had Mayor Curtatone here earlier today from Somerville, Massachusetts. If you plug in the word CitiStat into a Google search engine, you’ll see the word CitiStat popping up all across the country, in big cities and small cities. And I think that’s probably the best testament to any good idea,…the fact that other people want to adopt it and want to use it. That’s certainly what we did at its inception, borrowing and adapting that data from ComStat.
Back when I had the honor of serving as Mayor of the City of Baltimore, we brought the ComStat tenets and made them into CitiStat and now we’re taking the CitiStat tenets and they are, in essence, StateStat. And we’re attempting to do the same sort of thing – that is, make progress towards declaring goals in our State Government.
I wanted to talk with you a little bit today about what is possible when we’re unafraid of setting goals and unafraid of openly measuring performance of our public institutions and efforts. Unafraid of what Robert Kennedy called, “the rational application of human effort to human problems.”
And I don’t use the word unafraid as hyperbole. I mean, many of you who are CitiStat veterans saw mayors from other cities that maybe had six or seven years of experience under their belt, they walked in the CitiStat room, saw what we were doing by declaring goals, measuring performance openly and transparently, and they turned to their able staff and said, “let’s get the hell out of here and not tell anybody we saw this.”
And you can see the look. You already know, the newer ones tend to be able to embrace it -- although we do have some courageous people that don’t mind embracing it, even with one whole term under their belt.
I want to talk to you most of all today about that essential question that underlies everything we try to accomplish together in the community or through that tool of community known as government. The one question that comes up every time we show off either our CitiStat tool or our StateStat tool, the question that comes up without fail whenever we show our neighbors the charts and the graphs and the photographs and the maps, regardless of whether a neighborhood is black or white or rich or poor, someone within the first five to ten minutes will always raise their hand and say, “Can you show me my house?”
In public life, everything we do stems from shared beliefs and shared goals that flow from them as a community. And everything we approach in government begins, I think, with some timeless human questions -- namely, “What are you trying to accomplish?” “Where are we going?” “How will we know whether or not we are getting there?”
A great historian, Arnold Toynbee once wrote that, “man progresses in response to adversity.” These are the questions that provoke that response, that progress in response to adversity. And they are age-old questions, questions I’m sure the Israelites asked of Moses many a time in the course of 40 years, “Where are we going? And, how do we know when we’re getting there?”
And these are the questions that we found ourselves asking eight years ago when the roots of CitiStat took shape, when an epidemic of crime and the result of it, blight and population loss and decay, left those of us in Baltimore with our backs up against the wall.
I’d like to tell you that we started doing this in order to earn an award from the Kennedy School, but we didn’t. We did this in order to survive, in order to make progress. In order so that all of our neighbors might join us in the cause of progress, in order that we might be able to give the children of Baltimore City a better future in this place where the Star Spangled Banner was first raised. We didn’t want it to be the first place where it would come down early.
I’m sure that many of you remember those days well. When we were handed the keys to a 16,000 person organization,… a $2 billion a year public corporation known as the Baltimore City Government. And with it we were handed some big challenges: one of the highest violent crime rates, highest addiction rates, underperforming schools, underperforming and unresponsive City services, littered streets and alleys, thousands of vacant buildings – and, worse, a lot of vacant hearts. Three decades of the biggest population loss of any major city in America. And very, very little hope.
Well, it’s a different future now, isn’t it? As we sit in this new hotel where there are 300 to 400 City residents employed here. And all you have to do is drive through the City to see how much better she’s doing. The City’s getting cleaner, the City’s getting safer.
When I was elected, our citizens voted for change and they knew that our City’s survival depended on that change coming about as quickly as possible.
Show me my house.
In his own time, President Roosevelt talked about the four fundamental freedoms, which, you know, are kind of a national articulation in an international context of our goals as a national community. Freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world. Freedom of every person to worship God in his or her own way everywhere in the world. Freedom from want everywhere in the world. And the fourth freedom is the freedom from fear anywhere in the world.
Our goals were slightly less lofty, but shared that basic humanity and yearning for freedom for the City of Baltimore. And they were: to make Baltimore a safer, cleaner, healthier place. To make Baltimore City a better place for kids to grow up, freedom from fear and want. To make our City a better place for businesses to invest and to grow.
And we knew if we were to accomplish those few things, people would take it the rest of the way.
The goals that we have as a State are these: To strengthen and grow the ranks of our upwardly mobile middle class and our family owned businesses and family farms. To improve public safety and public education in every part of our State. And to expand opportunity -- opportunities to learn, to earn, to enjoy the health of the people we love as well as the environment we love to more people rather than fewer, and to future generations.
Show me my house.
Measuring Performance, Relentless Follow-Up, And Rapid Deployment of Resources
As we pursue these goals together, we are constantly measuring performance, we are relentlessly following up and we are rapidly deploying our resources. Most of us in public life, you know, are very good at measuring inputs, we’re good at budgets, how much things are going to cost. We do not as easily let people know what the outputs are and whether we’re producing those outputs more effectively, more efficiently, or bringing about a better result.
We often ask, for example, “what’s our level of funding for the Department of Environment this year?” But less often do we ask how much nitrogen are we actually intercepting and keeping out of our streams before they get to the Bay? And “are we doing it better this season than we did in the same season last year?”
When we chose to borrow this idea from the NYPD, we had found at the time that there was very, very little in City government that was being measured in a timely, accurate or real-time manner. And in those places where the information actually was being collected in a timely and accurate real-time manner, it never, ever made it up to the top -- unless you asked for it repeatedly.
And when it came to the top, it came in different forms. Not only in charts of different computer programs, it often came in different forms like the back of napkins, the back of notebooks, the carbon papers that they used to have -- you know, that you would put into the typewriter. So we standardized all of that and made the executive decision that we shared information all along the same railroad track. It’s impossible to steer a ship if you don’t have a compass or controls.
And that timely, accurate flow of information, not only up and down the chain of command, but across the different and in multiple almost countless endeavors of City government. And the ability then to share that also with the general public, the people we ultimately work for and have to aspire with hope from jobs well done -- you know, that circuit was created by insisting as an executive at the center that we need to share information in the common, easy way.
And you know what? If your department doesn’t know how to do it, you got to get trained to do it. I know your brother-in-law made your specialized housing authority software. We’re not using it anymore. We want to collect it with this.
Now, data collection and mapping -- you know, if you were to do that without action, of course, it’s pointless. It might be a fun IT exercise, but what’s the point, you know? You’ve got to get to the action behind it. It’s that tendency of some of us in government to have an on switch and an off switch, but rarely do we have the steering wheel and the compass and the controls that allow us to be more fluid.