PhillyStat suspended for evaluation

PhillyStat, a well-publicized management tool adopted early on by Mayor Nutter to enhance government accountability, has been temporarily suspended.

The data-driven system was closely identified with former Managing Director Camille Barnett, who resigned June 30.

"We will be on a brief hiatus from our regular PhillyStat schedule this summer," Rich Negrin, Philadelphia's new managing director, wrote in a note to the public on the PhillyStat website. "During the next two to three months, we will reevaluate our current model for performance management and consider changes to the PhillyStat model."

Negrin shelved PhillyStat July 1, his first day on the job because "while it is an interesting reporting mechanism, it's not really performance management," he said in an interview Monday.

His blunt assessment raises questions about the essence of the PhillyStat program, touted by Nutter as key to improving customer service. It was also one of the reasons Nutter recruited Barnett, a seasoned government administrator whose management skills seemed a good match for the efficient government he planned to lead. She left June 30.

"PhillyStat has introduced a reporting structure and established accountability within government. To that end it has been highly successful," Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said. "But now, during this hiatus, the Mayor has asked the managing director to take a closer look to ensure that it continues to evolve."

Oliver added: "The information that PhillyStat gathers is only as powerful as what is done with it and we want to make sure that PhillyStat measures those things that are most relevant to improved outcomes."

Negrin said the program's suspension was not meant as a criticism of Barnett, or her work. "Just the concept of reporting out is a big sea change in city government," he said. "In many ways, she did the hard part for me. This is about taking it to the next level."

At its core, PhillyStat is a data-driven management system designed to enhance the responsiveness of city officials by publicizing their work.

Under the program, selected department heads and their aides, on a monthly or other rotational basis, gathered twice a week in a conference room in the Municipal Services Building.

There, under the watch of Barnett and a television camera that recorded the meeting for public viewing on Channel 64, department officials offered numeric-based reports of their operations as a way of measuring results.

For example, the Streets Department disclosed recycling rates, neighborhood by neighborhood. The Police Department showed how a high number of vacationing officers drove up overtime costs during peak crime periods. And the Prisons Department discussed the impact of different initiatives on the number of prisoners.

But Negrin said the program failed to align individual agencies, and employees, under a central core mission. "There was a lot of buy in at the beginning, but it got to the point where it needed to evolve," he said.

There were also complaints about Barnett's demanding tone, which at times left department officials cringing in public.

As Negrin put it: "Folks were just trying to get through the meeting, that's what they were doing."

He said there was no set date for PhillyStat to restart, only that he hoped to relaunch the program by the year's end.

For now, Negrin and PhillyStat Director Catherine Lamb are meeting with deputy mayors and commissioners to seek input on the program and share their view that a viable performance management system must have support throughout the city government, not only from department managers.

Deputy Police Commissioner Patricia Fox, who has attended PhillyStat meetings since their inception, said the program was a valuable tool in that it forces departments to "continuously look at where you are, where you said you wanted to go, and how close you are to getting there.

"I give them a lot of credit for doing something for awhile, going back and revisiting it, and attempting to make it more relevant for us and for the public," she said. "My sense is when it comes back, it will come back with the same type of mission, but probably retooled a little."


Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.