June 24, 2017

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Opinion

Rating city's scorecard

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/3/2014 (1207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We continue to applaud the City of Brandon’s efforts to share as much data as possible with its citizens.

From responses to councillor enquiries to the river’s height to tax information for every property in the city, there is a wealth of information available online at opengov.brandon.ca for interested people.

One of the areas in which the city has focused is a so-called “corporate scorecard,” which was launched last May and recently expanded.

As you can read in today’s paper, the scorecard now tracks 38 separate goals and strategies among the various civic departments — everything from the number of “movements” up at McGill Field to the speed at which 911 calls are answered.

Internally, the scorecard is even larger, and the city uses it to track non-public data like employee sick time and job site safety. City manager Scott Hildebrand says the scorecard has been helpful in reducing injuries and the use of sick time (which had been a concern in some departments).

That is laudable, although we wonder why sick time and safety data needs to be private. Surely the public is entitled to know if there are job site concerns for civic workers —and where and how bad they might be.

At any rate, we’re encouraged by the expansion of the scorecard, but we have a few suggestions.

As cities from Edmonton to Ottawa have found out, when civic data is made public in as broad a fashion as possible, citizens are happy to step up and find interesting, unusual ways to examine it.

That has ranged from YouTube videos that show the ebb and flow of Toronto’s streetcars to apps that give restaurant recommendations based on the results of health inspections.

Locally, the Brandon Police Service has been a pioneer in posting and using open data. Policing activities are tracked internally — enabling officials to identify, track and crack down on crime trends earlier and more effectively than they were otherwise able. But they also post much of that data online, partnering with crimereports.com to plot police activity on a Google map of the city, and letting anyone with a computer see what’s keeping the city’s law enforcement busy.

Brandon Transit has also partnered with Google Maps to ensure that city bus routes are easily accessible digitally.

But just because there have been some good baby steps taken doesn’t mean there aren’t a few strides still left.

Looking critically at the corporate scorecard shows that it is, in many ways, devoid of the context and information that makes open data so useful — there is precious little actual “data” there.

As an example, the community development department is tracking this goal: “Increase community involvement through volunteerism.” That is given a score of 76, which is in red, meaning it needs improvement. The stated goal is to improve over 2013’s numbers, but clicking that link shows a graph of numbers between 200-700, for various months from last year, although the goals are only tracked until August, and the actual progress peters out after October.

Never made clear is what those numbers mean. Are they hours of volunteer work? Number of employee volunteer outings? Volunteer board or committee meetings? How many people are participating in this increased volunteerism?

Although it sounds like a worthy goal, and there are blue and red lines on a graph headed up-up-up, it’s impossible to judge much about the goal itself —its worth or its quality — without more context.

Much of the scorecard is lacking in this way. All emergency calls are supposed to be answered within 13 seconds, according to the scorecard. That gets a score of six. Because it is in green, we’re led to believe that it meets or exceeds the target. Are they six-for-six, then? Averaging six seconds (laudable, but not what the goal is)?

And who is choosing the goals? We’re perplexed why the police are claiming that they want to see a reduction in the number of calls for service and most crimes (including property crime and crimes against persons), but an increase in the number of arrests for some other crimes, including drug crimes, impaired driving and traffic tickets.

Defining goals and making them public is an excellent move by the city. We encourage them to refine the scorecard by taking the obvious next step — to provide more detail and context about those goals and how they are chosen and tracked.

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