The Center for Data Innovation spoke with David Edinger, the City of Denver’s Chief Performance Officer, about his philosophy of data-driven government innovation and how to avoid data silos in large organizations. Edinger has worked since 2011 to turn the insights from Denver’s CitiStat program into more effective civic institutions.
Travis Korte: Just generally, can you speak a little bit about your philosophy of within-government innovation? Will governments always be slow to change, or have best practices emerged for staying adaptable?
David Edinger: Government will be slow as long as compliance (i.e. don’t make a mistake) is valued over performance (i.e. constituent outcomes). Performance frameworks like Citistat enable but don’t guarantee performance. Empowering employees to innovate within their functions complements the performance metrics.
TK: What are some of the ways you are putting that philosophy into action in Denver?
DE: Peak Performance and Peak Academy. [Peak Performance is a data-driven initiative launched by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in 2011 that expands city agency performance reporting. Peak Academy provides training for city managers in Lean methodology, an efficiency-promoting system developed at Toyota and deployed frequently in software development.]
TK: You work in the Mayor’s office, and I notice in a lot of cities and states that data-driven innovation is led by a strong executive. Do you work much with the legislature? And, in your experience, how concerned are they with these issues?
DE: I don’t work much with them. They are supportive but have their own concerns that often outweigh performance (e.g. I want a business assistance center in my district regardless of outcomes or cost).
TK: You used the phrase “program rich, system poor” to describe the data silos that arise in different areas of government. How can cities work to unite their different systems and make sure they do not arise anew in the future?
DE: A methodology like Lean motivates innovators to view their work through the eyes of the customer. This ultimately leads to value stream-based thinking versus current organizational-based thinking, which breaks down the barriers to working collaboratively.
TK: What other cities are you taking inspiration from as far as data-driven governance?
DE: Louisville, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and NYC.