Data In Action: How Cook County Government Measures Performance


Last week, Cook County Chief Performance Officer Andrew Schwarm participated in a  performance management webinar hosted by GovLoop and Socrata called “Data in Action: How Leading Governments Measure Performance.” More than 500 people joined in the free live webcast. Beth Blauer, the Director of GovStat, hosted the forum. On the panel along with Andrew Schwarm were Reyna Farrales of San Mateo County, California, Kate Bender and Julie Steenson of Kansas City, Missouri.

During the webinar, Andrew discussed how Cook County is using technology to make Cook County performance data available to residents. The panelists discussed keys to making performance management programs successful, including how to get buy in from elected leaders and the public, as well as operational tips for government professionals on how to make a performance management program successful.

Video of the event is above.  Cook County's presentation begins at  46:00.  The following is Q & A for Andrew Schwarm.

1) Did you develop outcome measures that reflected existing data collections or develop new data collections to illustrate outcomes?

When we started the STAR program in 2011, we asked each department to identify outcome measures that captured the improvements that they wanted to drive towards. While some data was already available through existing collection, we found data collection processes needed to be developed to capture some of the desired information. Many of these new processes were manual, especially at first.

As new records management systems are implemented, the Performance Management Office is involved early in the process to make sure that the desired management data is captured. We have also determined in other cases the cost of collecting some data was too great, and so we found other measures to replace those that we originally developed.

2) How many citizens use the website?

While our current viewership is modest, we hope to grow it over the course of the next year. We had around 700 visitors last month.

3) Has using GovStat changed interactions with the media?

Our communications team often directs the media here when they seek statistical information. We work with the communications team to include performance data in press releases and announcements.

4) Impact: Please provide an example of measure driving a change in an operational priority

In 2011, we were reviewing administrative data sets and found, through analysis of our time and attendance data, that sick time usage was comparatively high. Managing attendance and driving down abuse of sick time has the same benefit as hiring more people, without incurring the additional personnel cost. We made tracking and managing sick time usage a priority. Time and attendance data is included in our weekly performance review sessions. Since 2010, the Offices Under the President have reduced the hours of sick time used per employee per month from nearly six hours to under five. This small improvement generates nearly 10,000 additional productivity hours annually. You can track our progress here.

5) What do you do about goals that are difficult to quantify?

Outcome measures are often difficult or costly to quantify. We encourage departments to develop proxy measures if the outcomes they are seeking are especially opaque. For example, The County’s Justice Advisory Council has set a goal of promoting fairness in jail admissions. Justice is a difficult thing to accurately and appropriately capture in a performance metric and requires a delicate balance. To encourage this reduced reliance on pretrial detention the Justice Advisory Council uses “% or orders at bond court that result in release” as their prevailing metric. They also monitor the number and types of orders given at bond court.

6) How do you reach citizens who do not have computer access or are not familiar with computers?

We have incorporated performance information into our printed budget materials and also produce printed summary information of our quarterly report that is available in the County Board President’s Office.

7) Do you get any feedback from citizens on the platform? Can they comment on results or ask questions?

Yes. Our performance site is linked to our crowdsourcing website. We encourage residents to read our performance information and provide ideas to improve or ask questions.

8) Has any of the data driven public/private partnerships?

Through our partnership with the Civic Consulting Alliance, Cook County has been very fortunate to be recipients of many partnerships. The Performance Management Office has specifically benefited from pro bono partnerships with the Boston Consulting Group and KPMG to establish and grow the program.

9) How do you get this information out to the citizens, particularly if you do citizen surveys. How do the citizens know how you are spending their tax dollars?

The STAR performance information was featured prominently in Cook County’s resent annual report. I also try to speak to good government and resident groups to build awareness of the program. Cook County does not conduct a general citizen survey at this time.

10) How does the data appearing on the department pages get into the system?

Data are entered into our SharePoint portal by our department liaisons or pulled from source systems. A data table is then generated and uploaded into GovStat. The master data table lies behind all of the report pages that appear on our website.

11) Why is there not any data on public safety, infrastructure, etc?

Our department reports are listed by functional area, here. For example, information about the County jail can be found on the Sheriff’s Department of Correction page. And infrastructure information can be found on Transportation and Highways.

We will be adding goal pages for the functional areas in the coming months, similar to our Finance and Administration goals, which can be found on the website’s main page.


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