From Compstat to Gov 2.0: Big Data in New York City Management


SIPA-14-0004.0 From 2002-13, New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg made dramatic advances in adapting “big data” to governance, from instituting the 311 citizen hotline to creating an office of data analytics. Those improvements were possible thanks to a solid baseline established by preceding administrations. This case traces the use of data in making wiser policy decisions, from the adoption by the New York Police Department in the 1990s of Compstat (computerized comparison crime statistics) to the 2013 implementation by the Fire Department of a computerized building inspection system. It ends in 2013, as the Bloomberg administration draws to a close, to ask whether data on city functions, services and residents should be centralized or kept specific to individual departments. Is there an optimal balance? What about citizen privacy issues? Should other cities imitate New York?

Students will be introduced to the gripping history of Compstat, which helped reduce the city’s crime rate by 50 percent. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton made history with his crime-fighting approach, of which Compstat was a crucial element. They will learn about the reforms which allowed FDNY to better detect serious building violations before a deadly fire resulted. The detection rate jumped from some 10 percent to over 70 percent. Finally, they will gain insight into the thinking behind the decision to use data analytics proactively to identify offenders in such schemes as prescription drug abuse (pharmacies) and illegal dumping (restaurants). Ask students how these examples might apply to problems in their own cities. What are the ingredients for a successful public sector reform effort? How can an individual public manager make a difference in the agency where s/he works?

Use this case in a course on public management; technology in government; public sector performance evaluation; or government innovation.


This case study was written by Kathleen Gilsinan and Adam Stepan for the Case Consortium @ Columbia and the Picker Center for Executive Education, SIPA. Research assistance was provided by Nora Shannon Johnson. The faculty sponsors were Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs William B. Eimicke of Columbia University and Associate Professor of Public Policy Dennis Smith of New York University. Funding for the audiovisual piece came from the Lemann Foundation. (0514)

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