Harvard Professor Ed Glaeser writes in today's Globe that "Transparency is the cure for those fifth-term blues" and that the Boston About Results website "is a significant Menino innovation that provides easy-to-use data about city services".
I've written in the past about the impressive scorecards used in New York City to measure how well NYC does things like keep the streets clean, so after reading Glaeser's op-ed I took a look at the Boston About Results website to see the reports that the City is publishing for each department.
Honestly, I don't see much "big innovation" over at Boston About Results. When I think about the results that I hope we are getting from the School Department, Public Works, Transportation, and Inspectional Services, it is mostly about how much our kids are learning and quality of life issues about street cleanliness and snow shoveling, potholes, and rats.
Glaeser writes that "when I checked “Boston About Results,’’ the link to the education performance page was broken". I am surprised that in the 16 or so hours since the story went on-line nobody has bothered to fix this link that is supposed to provide the "FY09 Annual Performance Report" for Boston Public Schools but instead reports that "Sorry, you have reached a nonexistent page on the City of Boston's webserver."
For departments whose links do work, I don't see much that tells the voters, citizens, and taxpayers of Boston about the results that we are getting from our City government. "Big Innovation" might be the ability to enter a zip code, ward/precinct, or street address, and get relevant information about "results" that are local to your home or business. Instead, Boston About Results gives only citywide data.
I thought it was admirable when Boston announced a goal to plant 100,000 street trees by 2020, but the Parks Department report doesn't tell much about our progress towards that goal. Sixty trees were planted between July 1, 2009 and September 30, 2009. The goal for this period was zero. What does that mean? Was there some emergency that necessitated planting trees when the City planned to plant none? Where in the City were they planted or how many of them were planted in Allston and Brighton? The PDF doesn't tell us. Are we on track to meet the 2020 goal? How clean and safe are Smith Field and Ringer Park?
Do you see "Big Innovation" in these reports that I am missing? (Admittedly I didn't have the time today to review every report in detail).