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Know Your WWC Criteria: Evaluations and Behavioral Insights

Blog Post
What Works Cities certification provides a national standard for management of local governments using data and evidence. In this blog series, we highlight WWC certification criteria and what the City of Portland is doing to achieve them.

Evaluations #2: Defining Standards for Evaluation

Here’s your monthly scoop on What Works Cities’ 45 criteria for best practices in data governance, performance analytics, evaluation, stakeholder engagement, and more. This month’s featured criterion examines how cities tap into structured evaluations and the science of decision-making to address real-world challenges and optimize operations with Evaluations criterion #2:  

"Your local government has defined standards, methodologies, or tools to help staff rigorously evaluate practices, programs, and/or policies.”

A blue banner across the top of this infographic reads "Certification Criteria" and shows the What Works Cities and Bloomberg Philanthropies logos. Icons arranged in two rows read "Data Governance," "Evaluations," "Performance & Analytics," "Open Data," "General Management," "Repurposing," "Results-Driven Contracting," and "Stakeholder Engagement."

Does your bureau struggle to collect fees, fines, or  bills? Or maybe your bureau has an incredible service but faces a challenge in encouraging residents to sign up? Perhaps you want to promote water conservation or community engagement? Or you want to recruit a diverse group of people into the City? Behind each of these goals are a set of decisions you hope your audience or residents will make and, a set of opportunities to evaluate how your interaction with them impacts behavior toward desired outcomes. Enter Evaluations and Behavioral Science. 

While Evaluation allows us to test what works and what doesn’t, Behavioral Science is the systematic study of how people think about the world and how they make decisions. It’s practice yield insights that  help us understand how people actually make decisions, so we can design communications or programs that work for real people. At What Works Cities, expert partners on the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) work to ensure that realistic models of human behavior are used to make better policies and services.  The BIT team provides a hands-on opportunity to use tried and tested methods to address  real-world challenges, using the science of decision-making and the tools of randomized field experiments to test what actually works. 

In Portland, City employees are making progress and gaining insights into behavioral patterns of residents with results from Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) and testing. During the Covid-19 pandemic, City staff employed rigorous, real-time testing which provided data and evidence to make informed decisions about grocery store posters aimed at encouraging customers to keep a six-feet distance. From  trial to testing, they employed tools and techniques to redesigned email communication, which yielded great results. However, moving from a one-time effort to Citywide institutionalization of such practices is a goal Portland is working hard to achieve.

So, does your bureau have defined standards, methodologies, or tools to help staff evaluate practices, programs, and/or policies?   

Let us know, email: whatworksportland@portlandorego…


Douglas Imaralu

Financial & Policy Analyst