I live in a small town where most of the town services are contracted out. Our police services are provided by the County Sherriff and our fire and ambulance by a private company. Living in the Arizona desert, we get a few unique services like removal of snakes by the fire department. A few years ago, I found a Gila Monster near my garage and knowing it was venomous, I called the fire department. I was shocked to see 3 fire trucks show up and I said to the fire chief, “Wow, I had no idea it was this dangerous!”
He just laughed and said, “No. None of us have seen a Gila Monster before so we all came out to see what it looks like!”
When we had a spate of burglaries in a number of high class homes, the Sherriff responded to criticism that he was not doing enough to solve the crimes by bringing a tank (yes, a fully armored tank!) and a hundred deputies into town to make a sweep of the area. He never caught the burglars but a few of the town citizens appeared impressed!
However, overall my town performs a lot of services that are essential and I would be hard pressed to live without. It provides services like maintaining the roads, clearing up after storms, controlling development and growth, managing parks and much more. We also have one of the best school districts in the State.
As many State, County and City governments find themselves with unprecedented deficits and budget shortfalls , they are not only having to make some difficult cost reductions but they also find themselves needing to improve their public reporting to more clearly explain and justify their expenditures. The majority of the public does not attend or listen to public sector budget meetings and even if they did, they would find them difficult to follow. Likewise, the budget reports themselves are often incomprehensible spreadsheets of items and numbers that few will take the time to study.
In addition, the services that these public entities provide are often difficult to measure in conventional terms since they are not businesses out to make a profit. When we look for meaningful performance indicators for our public services, it would be wrong to only use measurements like “cost per citizen “. There are other significant and important metrics that should be reported that the public wants to know about as well as the fact that they can help explain and justify the cost side. Some examples are items like number of emergency calls, call response time and nature of calls for emergency services or types and numbers of crimes reported and resolved for police departments or type , number and outcome of court cases.
So how can these public sector organizations better report their key metrics to the people they serve and help build both justification and support for their existence and funding? Well, one way is to provide a visual, dynamic and easy-to-use reporting solution like an Xcelsius dashboard.
Xcelsius, with its ability to provide visually compelling graphical displays of data, dynamic user interaction, “what if?” scenarios and by viewed in commodity products like a web browser, a PDF or Word document, a PowerPoint slide or an email, makes it a perfect choice for this type of public reporting application. It also can be developed and deployed at a very reasonable (and justifiable) cost which is equally important.
One City government that has already started to take such an initiative is the City of Rock Hill in South Carolina. In just a few weeks and with dashboard development assistance from InfoSol, the City of Rock Hill deployed their first public facing Xcelsius dashboard on their web site enabling both their citizens and anyone else interested to view a whole bunch of different metrics to show how different City initiatives and departments are performing. Right now there is only a few months of data incorporated but over the coming months there will be much more data and more significant comparisons. The City plans to continue to add to it in terms of metrics also.
It has already caused a buzz of excitement from city employees and is a simply brilliant example of how public reporting could and should be done. Go check it out at
Meanwhile, I plan to offer to build some interesting dashboard prototypes for my town and local school district – you can draw a lot of attention with Gila Monsters and Tanks!