Sifting the data for results

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January 3, 2011 // UPDATED 9:09 am - January 3, 2011
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
// City sharing head of Results Minneapolis with public schools //

The city’s chief data-cruncher has a new part-time job at Minneapolis Public Schools.

In the newly created position of Director of Results Management, Jay Stroebel is expected to do for the district what he did for the city: sift through the raw data collected by every department; identify trends that show what’s working and what isn’t; and then put that information in front of decision-makers and the public.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, who praised Stroebel’s work for the city over the past five years, said: “This is a very unusual and extremely exciting way for two levels of government to partner in the same city on the same measures.”

As a leader of the city’s strategic planning and performance-management efforts, Stroebel organizes weekly meetings with the mayor, city council members and department heads to track progress on a variety of fronts, from filling potholes to lowering the juvenile crime rate. Much of that data is shared with the public through the Results Minneapolis website (www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/results).

Now, he’ll spend half his time doing similar work for the district, which will also pick up half of Stroebel’s salary.

“It’s a smart use of one salary,” Rybak said. “But it’s going to pay off in far more dramatic ways by having the school-district focused on the same outcome-based management you see in the city.”

Performance-based management has its roots in the business world, but it is an approach more public-sector organizations are adopting, said Jill Stever-Zeitlin, who heads the school district’s Division of Accountability, Planning and Innovation.

“We have lots of reporting and transparency and analysis about how are students are doing,” Stever-Zeitlin said. “... Operations have just gotten less attention.”


A ‘quantum improvement’


Rybak said the Results Minneapolis initiative was modeled on a performance-management system, CitiStat, pioneered a decade ago in Baltimore.

At the time, Baltimore police were following the lead of their counterparts in New York City and successfully applying statistical analysis to crime fighting. Then-mayor Martin O’Malley (now Maryland’s governor) expanded that data and reporting initiative to all city departments, creating CitiStat.

“It’s been a quantum improvement in getting clear directions and outcomes for government,” said Rybak, who brought the approach to Minneapolis.

There are clear examples of Results Minneapolis’ impact in Southwest. When data mining uncovered a gang-related graffiti hotspot in the Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhoods, the city targeted those neighborhoods with microgrants that paid for a series of historic murals painted by the Wall Dogs.

Rybak said Stroebel helped develop a “pavement condition index” for the city that clearly showed the deterioration of busy streets. Based on those findings, Rybak earmarked millions for infrastructure improvements in each of his past two budgets.

Results Minneapolis gets its results not just by putting information in an easily digestible format for policy makers, although that’s a key aspect of Stroebel’s work. It also brings city leaders together to work on multi-department initiatives.

Several years ago, the City Attorney’s office worked with the Police Department to change the way officers investigated cases of domestic violence. Conviction rates rose to above 70 percent after hovering for years around 50­–60 percent, Stroebel said.


Data-rich, information-poor


Stever-Zeitlin said Minneapolis Public Schools had increased its focus on data-collection in recent years, especially since the district adopted a five-year strategic plan in 2007. But tools to analyze and regularly report on those findings are still a work in progress, she added.

“We’re data-rich, but sometimes we’re information-poor,” she said.

That’s where Stroebel comes in.

She said Stroebel’s expertise could be applied in a variety of areas, such as transportation. He might track the on-time versus late arrivals of buses, or help evaluate district bus drivers’ performance against that of contract drivers, she said.

Stever-Zeitlin also expected Stroebel to work with the district’s human resources department, developing tools to track how many probationary teachers either gain tenure or leave the district, for example.

His work is likely to impact budget decisions, just as it has at the city level.

The district faces a $30–45 million budget shortfall next school year. That projection underscores the importance of knowing where every dollar in the budget is going, and how effectively it is spent.

“Our challenge is we have to be fiscally very responsible and smart about where we invest our funds,” Stever-Zeitlin said.

Sorting through the numbers, writing reports and organizing meetings may not sound like glamorous work, but Stroebel has had a significant impact on the way Minneapolis does business. He may soon do the same for the district.

Said Rybak: “Very few people in the city know the name Jay Stroebel, but they see every day the results of Results Minneapolis.”