In a Data-driven City, How Good Are the Numbers?

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Every year, the city releases "the book" — also known as the Mayor's Management Report — to give New Yorkers a snapshot of how city agencies are performing.

On Monday, City Council members examined the merits of the report by asking whether it adequately reflected issues that are important to the public.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, said that the MMR is "widely regarded as one of the best municipal performance reports," but she and other council members flagged some concerns, such as:

  • Make sure indicators tell the story of what's important to city residents. Brewer brought up, as an example, one of the Department of Sanitation's critical objectives: Clear snow and ice from city streets and roadways. The performance statistics related to snow removal measured looked at three things: snow overtime in dollars, snowfall in inches and salt used. According to Brewer, none of these indicators measured how well the Sanitation Department cleared snow.
  • Include more input from Community Boards. This would enable the boards to have more say in goals or how those goals are measured. Right now, there's no formal process to gather information from Community Boards, but the city's Office of Operations said it would like to do so for the next report.
  • Include a performance target for all indicators. For instance, for fiscal year 2011, the Department for the Aging reported that 3,770,569 seniors received home-delivered meals. The report stated a performance target for that year as more than four million. The performance target gives context as to how well the agency did according to its own goals, but only about two-thirds of the indicators in the M.M.R. list targets.