SomerStat: The Mayor's Office of Innovation and Analytics
The Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Analytics, or SomerStat, uses evidence-based insights to analyze issues important to our community, to improve City service delivery and effectiveness, and to help catalyze local innovation.
SomerStat regularly collaborates with City departments to analyze and enhance overall performance, identify efficiencies and cost savings, and craft policies that improve our city. In tandem, our performance budgeting program works with City departments to develop and manage the City’s operational and capital budget development processes. Moreover, SomerStat continually works to spur community innovation with programs and projects focused on areas like resident wellbeing, adaptive leadership, data transparency, and systems change, to name a few.
Systems Thinking and Investigation
Dig Into Our Data!
Visit SomervilleMA.gov/datafarm to explore all kinds of data resources that SomerStat offers as part of our City's Open Data Initiative.
SomerStat is a performance management initiative that helps Mayor Curtatone supervise the work of City departments by using financial, personnel, and operational data to inform decision-making and to implement new ideas. In regular meetings with City department managers and other key decision-makers, SomerStat helps to identify opportunities for improvement and to track the implementation of improvement plans.
SomerStat meetings have become part of an ongoing conversation among City managers and staff about the City’s strategic direction. Each meeting allows city managers to better understand how the City can streamline and improve its services to constituents. SomerStat has spearheaded a variety of inter-departmental initiatives to ensure effective communication and coordination on complex community challenges, including the opioid crisis, snow operations, homelessness, and capital investments.
Mayor Joe Curtatone took office in 2004 after campaigning on a platform that promised significant management reforms. Since his inauguration, Mayor Curtatone has established the SomerStat Office, created a centralized 311 customer service center, and established a program-based budgeting process. SomerStat is modeled on New York City's successful CompStat program and Baltimore’s successful CitiStat program. Somerville aims to be a national model for best practices in City government. SomerStat plays a critical role in advancing the City towards this goal.
Each year, SomerStat, in conjunction with the Finance Department, assists in developing the City’s Operating and Capital Budgets, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, and the long-range financial forecast. Together, these documents are a barometer for Somerville’s priorities and fiscal health. The cross-departmental knowledge gained from working in the SomerStat office places SomerStaff Analysts in a unique position to be able to leverage their skills to assist in many of these budgetary functions.
Working out of the SomerStat office, and using a data-driven methodology, the Budget Manager and SomerStat Analysts collaborate with City departments to develop programmatic priorities for the upcoming year’s operating budget. This process utilizes performance metrics, strategic goals, and objectives, along with historical financial data to optimize the allocation of City resources across the City’s budget. This five month process culminates with a series of public hearings with the Board of Alderman to review the Mayor’s budget requests.
Additionally, the Budget Manager leads a Capital Investment Plan Committee to gather, research, and prioritize capital project requests each fall. This process culminates in a Capital Investment Plan, which proposes a road map for investing in infrastructure, buildings, parks, and more, over the coming ten years. This document is updated annually and lays out projects that the City sees as priorities and intends to undertake.
Systems Thinking and Investigation
SomerStat also works in collaboration with community partners via the NEXUS (Network for Exploring and Understanding Systems) initiative to examine the City’s networks and processes to develop policies that enhance its strengths and remedy weaknesses. NEXUS is a policy approach rooted in systems thinking and structured to help solve systemic societal problems. Systems thinking is both a world view and a process: the model assumes that systems can only be understood when viewed as a whole and not merely a sum of its parts. It is also the view that unexpected behaviors and unintended consequences result from the many interactions between the parts of a system. Systems thinking is also a methodical process for understanding problems and identifying solutions. With NEXUS, our goal is to use this process and perspective to craft better public policy that will enhance our community.
“The data may show nothing of interest or they may hold big surprises — you just can’t tell until you collect them,” Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University told the New York Times. “But given that it costs nothing to add some questions about happiness to a census that is already going out, why wouldn’t you?”
Somerville is the first City in the United States to survey its residents on their happiness and wellbeing. Other organizations have performed such surveys - notably Gallup Inc., and Sustainable Seattle - but Somerville’s is the first municipality to spearhead its own survey and send a copy to a random sample of households in the City. The idea came from news reports of David Cameron's (UK) attempt to create a wellbeing index as well as stories of the longstanding attempt by Bhutan to track gross national happiness. Those, along with various reports and publications from academia, provided the impetus for our survey.
SomerStat has distributed the Happiness Survey to a random sample of Somerville residents every other year since 2011. The self-reported happiness of residents is increasingly considered to be a valued measure of the quality of municipal services and a goal of public policy. The 2015 data suggests that Somerville residents are overall quite happy and are satisfied with City services and policies; specifically, with the average response on a scale of 1 to 10 being 7.8, which is an increase from previous years when the averages responses were 7.5 and 7.7. The survey was conducted in the three most spoken languages in the city (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) and utilized the scientific survey methodology known as random sampling. Surveys were sent to a random sample of 500 residences in Somerville and were received back with a 35 percent response rate.
Overall, when asked to rate a selection of specific City services on a scale of 1 to 5, Somerville residents reported slightly decreased levels of satisfaction with the “cost of housing” (score 2.6) “the overall quality of public schools” (3.3), and “trust in the local police” (3.75), but increased levels of satisfaction with the availability of social community events (4.2). The “availability of information about City services,” which was added to the survey for the first time this year, received a score of 4.2. Analysis of the 2015 data, in conjunction with data from previous surveys, will be used to guide future policymaking in Somerville, such as community policing models, affordable housing, support and resources for low-income individuals and families, and investment in parks and open space.