According to the Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative What Works Cities, which recognizes local governments that excel in using data and evidence, the answer is a resounding yes.
Thanks to Baltimore’s data administration work with Open Baltimore, a website with hundreds of datasets published by the city and its partners, the city has been noted for its data employment and leadership. That recognition extends worldwide, as evidenced by Chief Data Officer Justin Elszasz speaking at Bloomberg CityLab last October.
In 2021, Baltimore achieved the What Works Cities Certification, which has become a national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government. The Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), a partner of What Works Cities, helps agencies use data to make informed decisions that improve people’s lives. JHU developed GovEx in 2015 as a consulting group that works with large datasets to improve city government operations.
According to GovEx Founder Beth Blauer, Baltimore has pioneered evidence-based, data-driven decision-making among US cities.
“We have some of the most talented public thinkers in Baltimore and a tremendous amount of opportunity,” said Blauer, who previously worked with governments worldwide to establish data practices.
She now carries that expertise into the Baltimore Chief Administrative Officer’s office to advance these practices in the city.
Mayor Scott announced the appointment of Blauer, JHU’s associate vice provost for public sector innovation and cofounder of the Centers for Civic Impact, during last week’s address. Civic Impact, under which GovEx operates, was founded in 2019 and provides coaching, public sector training and evidence-based research to help governments solve problems. Blauer also played an integral role in the development of a Johns Hopkins-produced map that tracked COVID-19’s spread in Baltimore until it stopped collecting data on March 10.
Mayor Scott noted the importance of Bauer’s appointment in his State of the City remarks.
“Now, Beth Blauer is answering the call in a big way,” Mayor Scott said, referring to his remarks’ overarching theme of everybody being a stakeholder in this work. “Beth, the current associate vice provost for public sector innovation at Johns Hopkins, is joining my administration on a temporary assignment to help us better leverage data and performance to drive innovation and improvements to city service delivery. Beth will work in close partnership with our [Chief Administrative Officer, or] CAO, Faith Leach.”
Leach’s name may be familiar since she previously served as the deputy mayor for equity, health and human services in 2021, before her CAO appointment.
Blauer will continue in her role at Johns Hopkins University while working part-time at City Hall. Johns Hopkins and the city make a “powerful team,” she said, and are collectively committed to using data to drive its decisions. Blauer previously worked with Elszasz to launch the Baltimore Data Academy, which improves data skills and habits among city employees.
Otherwise, Blauer’s immediate focus is on identifying areas for improvement and creating a plan to accelerate progress.
“I plan to spend these first days doing a lot of listening, a lot of information-gathering and a lot of strategy work side-by-side with the CAO,” she said.
Blauer added that any inertia experienced or perceived in this work is usually legitimate. She aims to better understand why people push back, as well as integrate changes that reflect all experiences.
“That means investing in people’s skills, creating professional opportunities and leading by example,” she said.
Blauer also provided examples of how data work benefited Baltimore residents. The first involved using AI and advanced analytics to detect collapsed roofs on vacant buildings, making communities safer and prioritizing public investment in housing infrastructure. Second, the city uses data-informed strategies to connect residents to emergency care faster and more efficiently, improving health outcomes and creating a more efficient EMS service — all in partnership with Baltimore’s hospitals.
“We learned so much about the function of public data during COVID,” Blauer noted. One significant lesson was that demographic data is in disarray across the public sector, and failing to fix it would propagate the practices that create division and disparity. The JHU coronavirus tracker was incredibly popular, with billions of views; it showed that people hungered for trusted and informed public health expertise.
Blauer was previously selected by former Governor Martin O’Malley to lead his nationally recognized StateStat program. StateStat was ended during Governor Larry Hogan’s administration and absorbed into the Governor’s Office of Performance Improvement. The aforementioned StateStat Twitter is frozen in time, but developments in how Baltimore leads the nation with data are not.
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