Examining the characteristics of high-performing cities

Source: Smart Cities Dive | Katie Pyzyk

Local governments are solution-driven and strive to improve residents' lives. But not all cities seek solutions in the same manner, or have the same success. 

The latest "Equipt to Innovate" survey published by Governing magazine in partnership with Living Cities focuses on the topic "Profiles in High-Performance Government: Cities on the move." The report compiled 74 cities' responses in seven areas it considers key for having a high-performing government: being dynamically planned, broadly partnered, resident-involved, race-informed, smartly resourced, employee-engaged and data-driven.

Smart Cities Dive broke down the main findings in each of the seven categories.

Dynamically planned

Ideal: Have a clearly stated long-term vision supported by a wide-reaching strategic plan. Get buy-in from leadership and departments, and track progress in a transparent manner.

Findings: City leaders recognize the importance of strategic planning and boosting transparency. Currently 66% of cities have a long-term strategic plan and post it online, but "long-term" is relative and could use more attention. Only 18% of cities report having a plan that looks more than one or two years into the future, and 32% have plans that look ahead by three to five years. A lack of long-term planning makes cities more reactive than proactive.

Broadly partnered

Ideal: Collaborate internally and externally and participate in cross-sector initiatives.

Findings: Cities increasingly encourage and embrace collaboration as they realize they can't tackle large issues alone. Of those surveyed, 95% report taking part in cross-sector initiatives, although 34% report their collaboration with other levels of government could use improvement. Plus, 78% report that they could improve testing and adopting private sector and community group ideas.


Ideal:  Employ effective engagement tactics that are supported by data and technology to reach all residents, especially underrepresented groups. Use resident feedback to make decisions and let them know their feedback was used.

Findings: Cities are quite aware of the need for transparent engagement with residents. All survey respondents use some type of technology to engage residents and more than three-quarters have a dedicated employee who oversees community engagement. About 90% of the cities believe that resident input is meaningfully incorporated into policy and improved services. To reach all residents, 85% provide materials, meetings and services in other languages, and 69% rank their ability to reach harder-to-engage and underrepresented populations at a score of 7/10. High-performing cities should do annual or biannual resident surveys to find areas where government isn't adequately meeting the community's needs.


Ideal: Intentionally address racial disparities and work to close the gaps, both in policies and practices. Educate employees and stakeholders on the impact of racial challenges on a city, and use data to track change.

Findings: More cities are analyzing racial disparities and improving their practices that could contribute to such gaps, but the approach is often limited in scope and not across all departments. Only 21% have a committee focused on system-wide equity, and 47% do not have a racial equity plan in place or under development. Cities should treat racial equity as a system-wide effort essential to their successful operation. The educational achievement gap presents a particular area for improvement, with 62% of cities classifying their gap as constant, increasing or increasing dramatically. On the positive side, 67% said relations between their police departments and citizens are good or improving.

Smartly resourced

Ideal: Strategically use resources to achieve the best outcomes and decommission programs that don't achieve the desired outcomes. Use evidence-based budget allocations and long-term financial planning, and leverage private and philanthropic capital. 

Findings: In this tight financial climate, cities are identifying innovative resource allocations for new projects, as well as reallocating resources in a quick and flexible manner. A lot of the innovation rests in public-private partnerships, which 78% of cities rely on. However, few cities report effectively using performance metrics to impact programs and decision making, with 81% saying this area could use improvement. High-performing cities achieve success by linking spending and investments to an overall plan.


Ideal: Employees at all levels of government contribute to goals, drive innovation and work to improve municipal operations. Employees feel empowered and their achievements are recognized.

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