November 12, 2013

Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives

Photo Credit: Gui Jun Peng/

A growing number of American cities are using data and evidence of what services are working well to improve service delivery and residents’ quality of life. This report highlights efforts in six US cities plus London to harness data analysis to spend public and philanthropic dollars more wisely—all innovations worthy of broader adoption.

By: Henry Platt, Laura Lanzerotti, Stephanie Sud

Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives explores how more and more cities are becoming the incubators of innovation and delivering better services to their residents. Working with Results for America, an initiative of the nonprofit America Achieves, The Bridgespan Group interviewed more than 45 people to better understand how some of America’s most innovative cities are using hard data and evidence to steer funding decisions and set priorities. From dozens of pioneering efforts underway across the country we chose initiatives in six US cities: Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York, Providence, and San Antonio. We also feature one initiative from London. These examples illustrate the major trends we saw in how leaders are embedding the use of data and evidence into practice.


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Table of Contents


Written by:

  • Michele Jolin, Managing Partner, Results for America
  • Mayor Julián Castro, San Antonio, Texas
  • Patrick T. McCarthy, President and CEO, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Executive Summary

Geek Cities: Introduction

#1 Measure What Matters

City innovations mentioned in this section:

  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools uses data to boost student achievement
  • Denver Public Schools uses data to drive continuous improvement
  • New York uses data to tackle chronic absenteeism

#2 Build the Evidence Base

City innovations mentioned in this section:

  • New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity identifies and scales what works to fight poverty
  • Project Oracle establishes itself as London's "children’s and youth evidence hub"

#3 Invest in What Works

City innovations mentioned in this section:

  • San Antonio’s new pre-K initiative seeks to use evidence every step of the way
  • Providence intervenes at the community level to get better outcomes for youth
  • Baltimore's B'More for Health Babies uses evidence-based programs to reduce infant mortality

#4 Budget for What Works

City innovations mentioned in this section:

  • A new way of budgeting in Baltimore dramatically changes how funding decisions are made


Actions city leaders and federal, state, and philanthropic partners can take to improve lives of residents and support cities.

The Path Forward

Concluding thoughts from the authors.


Glossary of Terms

Overview of City Innovations Featured in This Report

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