San Jose mayor unveils ‘scorecards’ to track city’s progress
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan discusses new "scorecards" tracking the city's progress on its focus areas. Photo By Ben Irwin.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan unveiled the first iteration of city “scorecards” to track progress in key areas,  hoping this will serve as a model nationwide.

San Jose City Council on Tuesday got its first taste of Mahan’s scorecard system and its focus areas: community safety, reducing unsheltered homelessness, cleaning up neighborhoods and blight, attracting investment in jobs and housing. Mahan called the scorecards an MVP, or “minimum viable product” as its known in the tech world, with a plan to track other city programs in the future. This initiative will move the government closer to running much like a software company, Mahan said.

“This is performance management. It’s what literally any software company in the world does, and increasingly any company or organization (does),” Mahan said. “I think in the future what government is going to do is be fully transparent … Where are we today? What are we doing to change where we are today to be better?”

Inspired by requests from community members, the scorecards are guided by a “north star” data point that Mahan said represents the outcomes in those focus areas. Dolan Beckel, chief of staff for the city manager, said some of the data reflected in the scorecards—like the “north star” percentage of residents who feel safe in their neighborhoods and downtown—are collected through surveying 800 residents quarterly.

A new group of 800 residents will be surveyed every quarter adding data to the scorecards for as long as it’s funded, Beckel said. All of the data collected in the scorecards is audited by the city’s external auditor, Beckel said.

“By the end of the year we’ll have (surveyed) 3,000 people, which is three times more than we have for any of the other surveys we use to make policy decisions,” Beckel said.

Just 29% of the 800 residents surveyed in the first round said they feel safe downtown, with homelessness the main factor. Of the residents surveyed, just 24% feel downtown is clean. Mahan said he doesn’t expect outcomes like that to change dramatically on a quarterly basis, but he wants to see the programs responsible for those outcomes adjusted quickly based on feedback.

“Like any CEO would do with any board of directors … is come back every 90 days with updated data,” Mahan said.

The data point that stood out to several city leaders and members of the public was homelessness. For every family that finds housing after living on the streets, city data shows two more become homeless.

“It’s disheartening,” Councilmember Peter Ortiz said. “These people aren’t just numbers.”

Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei said she found the data scorecards “interesting and informative.” Though she said the perceptions of downtown from the survey data didn’t resonate with what she’s been hearing from residents.

“I’ve been going to a lot of community meetings … I’m getting it clearly that people are taking note of some of the (downtown) changes,” Kamei said. “We have to give it some time so that people can see that, yes, they can come downtown and do things in different areas. And guess what? It’s going to be great.”

Mahan has spent years working in the tech industry, including selling his startup. He said in his experience in government so far, he hears a lot of personal anecdotes—all important things, he said, but once a quarter, he wants to have a conversation rooted in performance data and looking at the progress of funded projects.

“We’ve got data coming out of our ears, it’s part of the problem … once every 12 months we look at a 1,000-page (budget) documents with thousands of data points, and its overwhelming,” Mahan said. “What we want to do is make it focused … bite-sized, and increase the frequency of conversations.”

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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