Back in April 2008, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and I spoke after the Pioneer Institute’s “Middle Cities at Work” symposium in Worcester. From that conversation, StatNet was born. StatNet is a performance management system of municipal performance management systems, supported by the Pioneer Institute, The Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
StatNet arose out a hypothesis that, in the private sector, New Balance, Reebok and Nike would love to know what their competitors are doing. That information could help them improve the quality and reduce the cost of their products. While there are trade secrets and laws that limit this flow of information, private businesses like these have higher degrees of staff turnover, which allows talent and experience to move between firms, helping them change and grow.
In municipal government, we have relatively little “flow” of people from one community to another. As someone who has “flowed” a lot, I can tell you this is often looked down on. So the cross-pollination of ideas in the public sector is more limited, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Municipal government can share all the information about what it does and how well it does it. Indeed, if someone asks for information, law in Massachusetts generally requires governments to provide it.
We developed StatNet to improve this flow of information, taking the lessons of performance management in Somerville, Amesbury, Springfield and a number of other municipalities to spread them far and wide to help improve the effectiveness of public services at the local level. We wanted to identify the best practices in a variety of service areas and then propagate them throughout municipal government. Then our 351 service laboratories – our municipal governments – could innovate off of these improved services levels, creating a real evolution of service improvement. We also wanted to help support the development and implementation of new performance management programs. This could take the form of helping municipalities seek approval to implement performance management systems or even helping get new programs off to a successful start by sharing the experience of the programs that had already “been there” and “done that.”
StatNet has continued to expand and now involves a number of communities from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire, including our friends in Worcester, Lowell, Boston, Providence and Hartford and a number of developing programs in Newton, Westfield and elsewhere. Given the results of performance management in the communities that have done it, we really do owe it to the taxpayers to start measuring and managing performance so we can provide services that are better and cheaper, and which more closely meet the needs of our residents. Even the best run municipality can be run better, and performance management is a key to that. Thanks to the vision of people like Mayor Curtatone; our sponsors at Pioneer, the Collins Center and the Rappaport Institute; and the hard work of all the StatNet communities, StatNet is helping to accelerate improvements in municipal performance every day.