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How the City is Doing on Long-Range Goals

January 2013

Bellingham Performance Measures

How the City is Doing on Long-Range Goals

by Nicole Oliver

Nicole Oliver is the I.T. Project and Training Manager for the city of Bellingham and a former Whatcom Watch editor.

Did you know that the City of Bellingham is annually tracking 85 different sets of data to help measure how well the city and the community are doing towards achieving long-range goals and commitments? Available online, everyone can access the scorecards in the city Performance Measures database, available at

Designed to provide detailed facts over time that reflect progress on city goals, the Performance Measures contain a wealth of information about both our community at large and ongoing city-led efforts.

The foundation of the city’s performance measure system is the Legacies and Strategic Commitments, adopted by the City Council in 2009. These high-level policy statements are intended to be visionary, reflecting the priority and emphasis of city government programs and services. Each of the nine Legacies links to a scorecard that contains about nine specific metrics. The City Council-adopted legacy statements include:

“We are working today so future generations will benefit from...”

• Clean, Safe Drinking Water

• Healthy Environment

• Vibrant Sustainable Economy

• Sense of Place

• Safe and Prepared Community

• Mobility and Connectivity Options

• Access to Quality of Life Amenities

• Equity and Social Justice

• Quality, Responsive City Services

About the Metrics

The database includes two different types of metrics:

• Community Indicators show status at the community level and require community partnership to change results. Annual city sales-tax receipts, high school graduation rates, and levels of chlorophyll in Lake Whatcom are examples of this metric type.

• City Performance Measures reflect City of Bellingham contributions to the goals. Examples include average emergency call response times, city bond credit ratings, and the number of visitors to the Bellingham Public Library.

Many of the metrics are updated annually as the data becomes available; however, some data is updated on a less-frequent basis. Some metrics include county-wide statistics, such as farm gate receipts and average earnings per job. Each metric has a “Measure at a Glance” report that charts the history, provides detailed definitions, and identifies goals or targets for the data if those are available. Many metrics were chosen based on their track record of having a solid data source updated on a consistent basis. On the left are two examples of “Measure at a Glance.”

How Were the Various Metrics Picked?

Many metrics were chosen based on their track record of a solid data source that is updated on a consistent basis. The project goal is to use the metrics to help increase the alignment between long-range strategic goals, department and program budgets, and department work plans. It was a huge undertaking, and took an incredible amount of dedicated staff time to accomplish over a multi-year period.

Each city department, as well as many organizations and individuals, contributed ideas for proposed measurable metrics. The list was pared down from over a thousand suggestions to about one hundred, that then assessed in detail and fine-tuned to the final eighty-five. Community organizations, advisory boards, agencies and others were consulted in the process and, ultimately, the City Council adopted the final list after months of small group analysis and deliberation.

Any changes to the adopted metrics must be approved by City Council. For instance, just last June, after receiving suggestions from the Whatcom County Agricultural Advisory Committee, the Council added county-wide farm gate receipts to the system. This metric, in addition to the existing metric that tracks the total acres of active farmland in Whatcom County, provided a better understanding of the community’s progress towards the strategic commitment of preserving farmland and the agricultural economy. Typically, metrics programs evolve over time as new information becomes available, and the city expects to continue to add to and update the scorecards.

Metrics Were Based on the Following Principles

1. Identify gaps between proposed measurements, and those that are already tracked elsewhere.

2. Ability to accurately track measurements over time.

3. Opportunities to use community partners in tracking and/or developing measurements.

4. Clear definitions and targets when applicable.

5. Verifiable data (with appropriate backup information) to ensure accountability in reporting to the public.

Emphasis was placed on several criteria to help narrow down the myriad of proposed community indicators, including:

1. Communications power

n Does the indicator communicate to a broad and diverse audience? 

n Could you explain this easily to a neighbor?

2. Relevance

n Does the indicator demonstrate a result or outcome of central importance for the Legacy or Strategic Commitment?

n Does it show current status? Over time, would it show a trend in status?

3. Data Quality

n Do we have quality data on a timely basis? Is the data reliable?

n Is it costly to maintain this level of data collection over time?

Selecting how to measure the city’s progress was quite daunting. Some guiding criteria included:

• Alignment with customers and general relevance

• Data quality and cost

• Does the measure accurately demonstrate the following:

• Quantity of work performed

• Quality and efficiency of work performed

• Impact and customer satisfaction, and

• Comparative performance

What Do the Metrics Look Like?

On the facing page are three examples of selected scorecards. Keep in mind that with each measure, the prior value appears, along with the most recent value. The arrow is pointing up when the data trend is increasing, and down when it is decreasing. Color banding (not viewable in black and white) shows target values. Green is within target, yellow depicts a warning, and red means we are in trouble. Color banding is only in place when target values have been defined.

The arrow itself may be colored green or red if there is a preferred trend (i.e. up or down), and appears black if the data is without a target direction and for information only. The number after the arrow is a count of how many periods the data has been trending in the direction of the arrow. The last number is the date of the most recent data tracked in the system.

For true data buffs, anyone can login to the actual software and play around with the various metrics, creating and printing scorecards that include selected metrics of their choosing. Directions to login directly are also located on the page of the city’s website.

How Will the System Be Maintained?

The city is committed to maintaining this incredible array of data over time, and has assigned staff in the Information Technology Services Department to support the task. When interesting new data comes in, the city issues a press release or features the metric on the city’s home page.

During the spring, an initial outreach effort conducted presentations for all the city’s boards and commissions on the Performance Measures to enhance volunteer knowledge of this resource. This winter, presentations will be made to many external organizations, demonstrating and detailing the wealth of information available to the public through this system. To schedule a demonstration with your organization, or for any other questions about the city’s Performance Measures, please contact Nicole Oliver, I.T. Project and Training Manager, at or (360) 778-8078.

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