Meet the Dashboard: Dr. Neil Kleiman, Investigator for City Policy & Partnerships

Sep. 12, 2018

Miriam Gofine

We are excited to introduce Dr. Neil Kleiman, Investigator for City Policy & Partnerships of the City Health Dashboard. Dr. Kleiman has a joint appointment at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service and the Center for Urban Science + Progress. He is a Senior Fellow at The GovLab and an Affiliated Scholar at the Marron Institute of Urban Management. He teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses on policy formation, urban innovation, and new approaches to managing technology and big data. In 2017, he published a book with Stephen Goldsmith on urban governance reform entitled A New City O/S: The Power of Open, Collaborative and Distributed Governance on Brookings Institution press.

CHDB: You direct the City Health Dashboard’s City Policy & Partnerships section in your role as Investigator. What does involvement with this element of the Dashboard entail?

NK: The Dashboard is what I think of as data-in-practice. My role is to focus on the ‘practice’ side of the equation. Meaning we don’t want the metrics to be a static or abstract set of numbers. We want community and government leaders to put the information we generated to good use; that is partly my responsibility. I work with the Dashboard team to help translate what we have produced and market it to the right policy actors. This plays out in many ways such as working closely with local government associations such as the International City/County Management Association, National League of Cities and our founding partner, the National Resource Network.

CHDB: You first noticed interest in city-level health information among city officials in 2015 through your work as Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Research, and Evaluation for the National Resource Network. Can you tell us more about the need the Dashboard is designed to address? How can the Dashboard’s users utilize its actionable insights to solve problems?

NK: The National Resource Network began as a federal response to the severe economic challenges that hundreds of cities are facing across the country. We have provided assistance to Waco, Texas; Kansas City, KS; Flint, Michigan, New Orleans and many others. We didn’t offer a specific type of program or prescribed set of technical assistance. Instead, we were open to hearing what each municipality wanted to work on; where they had the greatest need. We believed at the outset that the majority of issues would be around basic capacity—financial, operational, community development and economic and development. Well, that was not entirely the case with the cities the Network set out to help. A number of cities also wanted to work on health issues. Well there is a significant challenge surrounding the issue of health: most all the data is collected at the state and county level; local governments simply do not have data about what is happening within city limits.

CHDB: Your book, A New City O/S: The Power of Open, Collaborative, and Distributed Governance (Brookings Institute Press, 2017), co-authored with Stephen Goldsmith, proposes a new model of city governance that relies on, among other things, innovation and use of big data in city management. What role would an innovative, data-driven resource like the City Health Dashboard have in this type of context?

NK: The core elements of local government haven’t changed all that much in 100 years. Cities are run as an administrative state that operates in silos. In the book, we discuss how an embrace of data and new technology platforms can transform local government—can allow officials to address high-need areas from multiple perspectives. So a complex issue like homelessness will never be solved through one agency; you must bring together those responsible for housing, criminal justice, employment, mental health and the myriad of other service systems and programs that touch an individual. The Dashboard does that—it brings a wide range of previously unconnected areas together and allows an administrator or a community organizer to see the many interconnected data points. And, equally important the Dashboard allows public officials to compare themselves to 499 other locales. This is really about localities making a pivot—from an analog, soiled approach to one that is data informed and multi-dimensional in nature.

CHDB: You are Director of the NYU Wagner Innovation Labs. What is one lesson about implementing innovation – in local policy or elsewhere – that you can share with Dashboard users?

NK: I think innovation can all too often be isolated in one place: in one neighborhood, in one agency or addressing just one problem. The key is to take an innovation and spread it throughout the city. So those that find the Dashboard helpful should get others to use it and incorporate it into their daily work so that it can become a common resources rather than an innovative platform that just a few people use.

CHDB: The National Resource Network supports economically challenged cities develop the tools and strategies needed to grow their economies. How can the Dashboard’s community health information be used to support local economic development?

NK: Health is economic development and most local officials and community organizers know that. You can’t advance a job creation strategy and attract businesses if people are unhealthy—period! Good health is the foundation for life, for society and certainly for any economic development strategy. And if you take this notion further, businesses are attracted to healthy places. Employers are attracted to communities that prioritize healthy living and the Dashboard provides the data tools to assess local health conditions—and act on them.

CHDB: How do you hope to see the Dashboard develop and be used by cities in the future?

NK: The great thing about cities is they enjoy working with one another. There is this notion that cities fight over businesses or winning the Amazon HQ2 competition, but in reality cities thrive off of knowledge from other locales. I believe the Dashboard is a perfect vehicle to foster greater local peer exchange and sharing as it is purposefully set up to make city-to-city comparisons a simple mouse click. This will allow cities to easily see who their peers are around certain measures; and, my true hope is that will then lead to cities working together on programmatic and policy solutions.

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