It has been more than 15 years since the CompStat management model
was first introduced by the New York City Police Department (NYPD),
sparking a movement that has profoundly affected public
administration. CompStat has been successfully replicated in a wide
variety of contexts in the United States and abroada testament to
its valuable and lasting nature.
The CompStat model has proven to be far more than merely an
effective crime-fighting tool. It is a fungible management method
that has blossomed into a promising and effective means of managing
organizational, municipal, and regional performance. Now is an
opportune moment to reflect on its core principles and practices,
its influence, and its promise for the future.
New Yorks CompStat
CompStat was initially designed as a means of analyzing timely and
accurate crime data to inform management decisions and to enhance
organizational performance. It uses regularly scheduled meetings,
whereby field commanders are called before the highest echelons of
their agencies to review and discuss performancetheir ability to
reduce crime. Crime data is openly shared, and managers are
challenged to look for patterns or anomalies and provide
explanations and solutions.
Rather than being a simple staff meeting, a CompStat meeting is a
dynamic interactive forum that all levels of administration
regularly attend to contribute to the decision-making process.
Lessons are immediately learned. Poor performance is corrected
while superior performance is replicated. The NYPD experienced
unprecedented success with this model and quickly drew the
attention of forward-thinking managers.
Martin OMalley, former Baltimore mayor, brought the original
CitiStat model to the city in 2000 and advanced the original
concept to manage all essential services. By linking its 311 call
centers to the CitiStat database, Baltimore now tracks citizen
service requests via geographic mapping to ensure timely trash
collection, pothole repairs, and snow removal. Baltimore credits
CitiStat with a total savings of more than $350 million since its
inception (Behn; Perez and Rushing).
According to Small Group and Team Communicationby Thomas E. Harris and John C. Sherblom, CitiStat
represents a dramatic departure from traditional hierarchical
administration, in which workers "were not expected to be creative
in their thinking or to have ideas for improving their methods."
Robert D. Behn, professor at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of
Government, has coined the phrase "PerformanceStat" to serve as an
umbrella term describing the core practices and philosophy of
CitiStat and CompStat: "[A]n on-going series of regular, frequent,
periodic integrated meetings [designed to] use data to analyze the
units past performance, to follow up on previous decisions and
commitments to improve performance, to establish its next
performance objectives, and to examine the effectiveness of its
overall performance strategies."
Harris and Sherblom contend that CitiStat is a joint
problem-solving forum that can "take advantage of a situations
opportunities and overcome its restraints" by unleashing knowledge
and creativity that would otherwise go untapped. It enables an
organization to create, share, and apply knowledge across
organizational boundaries. Most organizations probably already
possess the information they need. The problem is that they lack an
effective mechanism to obtain, analyze, and use this information.
They need a means of deriving meaning from the data.
"Stat" meetings accomplish this by substantially altering normal
systems of discourse. Personnel situated at the field level are
able to directly communicate with the highest level of
administration, such as the commissioner or deputy mayor. This
process forces management to take a step back to analyze and
reflect. Such opportunities are rare in todays dynamic environment
where immediacy drowns out reflection.
CitiStat emphasizes mission focus and a structured, collaborative
approach to problem solving. It demonstrates how the organization
can pool its resources to collectively address current
opportunities, threats, and challenges. The underlying purpose is
to shift from process-oriented and rule-driven management to a
performance-oriented and results-driven model. This change conveys
a clear message to people situated in the lower ranks of the
organization that they too have a stake in the organizations
business and that their ideas and opinions have value.
Baltimore Deputy Mayor and CitiStat Director Christopher
Thomaskutty notes that CitiStat represents a structured approach to
problem solving, not necessarily group decision making. He
explains, "We present the data to the entire group and essentially
say, Heres where we are on this and Heres what our expectations
are. If there are various options, we call on the managers to
choose the best course of action for their department." CitiStat
does not necessarily alter the structure of decision making; it
alters the structure of discourse.
Thomaskutty recommends that managers not only become adept at
measuring organizational outputs, but also at keeping in mind
long-term outcomes and the big picture. "Its easy to remain focused
on measuring how quickly you fill potholes, but at some point, you
need to be able to take a step back and ask yourself whether it
would be wiser to repave the entire street," he says.
Authentic Discourse and Organizational Learning
What differs about Stat discussions is the extent of, and attitude
toward, open and honest exchange during fact-finding and analysis.
But why do managers speak so freely? Perhaps its because of the
unique mission focus, as well as a sense of collaboration and
The Stat process is analogous to the practice of multidisciplinary
grand rounds, whereby medical professionals regularly meet to
engage in open discussions regarding patient care and hospital
operations. For centuries, physicians have engaged in group
consultations to discuss patient care. In this way, a cardiologist
can avail herself of the expertise of a neurologist, for example.
Physicians institutionalized these consultations into regular
meetings that occur today, in one form or another, in nearly all
The process serves both as a traditional educational format and as
a means of bringing an organizations collective resources to bear
on clinical issues and individual patient care. Its ultimate
purpose is to improve the overall quality of decisions and
outcomes. Past cases are reviewed and real-time decisions are made
concerning the clinical care of current patients. While opinions
are openly solicited, there is an underlying assumption that they
must all be evidence-based. Grand rounds have proven to be a very
powerful tool for reacting to and learning from errors,
complications, and unanticipated outcomes. The process forces
reflection into the schedules of medical professionals and their
institutions. Impact on organizational decision making is profound.
Why is it that doctors naturally speak freely to one another about
their work and seek opinions from their peers? Perhaps it is
because each member of the group is a physician and is therefore
recognized to be a professional. Can the same be said of
individuals working in large public service organizations?
Protection Against Groupthink
Stat meetings serve as a protection against "groupthink." In their
article, "The CitiStat Model: How Data-Driven Government Can
Increase Efficiency and Effectiveness," authors Teresita Perez and
Reece Rushing write, "[Meetings] foster authentic dialogue to
challenge assumptions, generate alternatives, and draw upon the
collective expertise and wisdom of all participants. Such a process
fosters personal accountability."
When a manager is recalled to the next CitiStat meeting two weeks
later, "there is sure to be follow-up to see if action has been
taken and the numbers are headed in the right direction," add Perez
and Rushing. Once field personnel are assured that their opinions
will be heard and actually be considered, they will think
differently about their responsibilities, speak more freely, and
work to carry through on their personal obligations.
The Promise of PerformanceStat
Not every organization succeeds at using PerformanceStat. Indeed,
many have failed miserably. Behn suggests that failures result from
a lack of understanding and buy-in. Some "are simply copying what
they see rather than making a conscious attempt to understand the
key components of the strategy (and their underlying principles),"
Thomaskutty believes that it is unwise to develop or house a Stat
process within an organizations budget or finance department: "It
sends the wrong message. It suggests that We have to cut! as
opposed to We have to get better."
Unfortunately, the Stat process is sometimes viewed merely as an
ancillary process, an additional layer of "bean counting" that
entails more time and effort for an otherwise overwhelmed
organization. The key point is that PerformanceStat cannot be
viewed as a separate process. It must conform to the organizational
architecture and become the way the organization thinks and
conducts business. It is a mindseta world viewnot an experiment or
a turn-key system that will run on its own. The rewards of the
system are only realized after the costs of establishing the change
are born by leaders and their subordinates.
State of Maryland
The Stat process holds great promise. Former Mayor Martin OMalley,
now governor of Maryland, has introduced CitiStat to the State of
Maryland to coordinate many of its essential services.
Washington State now uses a CitiStat-inspired systemthe Government
Management, Accountability, and Performance initiative (GMAP)to
engage in thematic review, as opposed to departmental review. For
example, GMAP analyzes specific issues, such as vulnerable children
and adults, to promote collective problem-solving and
Baltimore has incorporated this approach as well. In addition to
regularly scheduled CitiStat meetings for department heads,
managers also are likely to find themselves actively participating
with other department heads in that citys CleanStat or GunStat
initiatives. According to Perez and Rushing, "The issues being
addressed cannot be solved by any one department, so there is a
need for departments to share information and come up with
Thomaskutty believes that this is perhaps the future of the
CitiStat modellooking for overlap and identifying shared
objectives, such as the welfare of children or homeless persons,
that are better addressed by multiple agencies working
collaboratively. He suggests that todays public managers "must be
able to look beyond the structures of their agencys normal
operations or budgets" and work to organize their operations more
effectively. This obviously calls for new skill sets for managers,
including the ability to spend more time listening and thinking,
rather than acting. These skills are being taught and honed at
City of Buffalo
The City of Buffalo, New York, is now televising its CitiStat
meetings on public access television. Nearly every other
jurisdiction that uses CitiStat makes performance data available to
the public via websites or some other medium. This begs the
questions, "What is the role of the community in evolving the Stat
management approach?" and "Will there eventually be a seat at the
table reserved for members of the community?"
City of San Francisco
The newly appointed chief of the San Francisco Police Department,
George Gascon, recently announced a bold step in the development of
this model when he indicated his intent to develop citizen advisory
groups to "work with station captains to identify public safety
problems and priorities" in an article in The San Francisco
Gascon intends to have the community work with the police to "set
the course of action" of the department. He also intends to allow
citizens to attend CompStat meetings. "There will be a clear
understanding of what the numbers are and what is being done about
the numbers," he said. This, in many ways, fulfills the promise of
"community policing," whereby the police recognize the need for
partnership with the community.
The Stat Movement in 2023
What began as an innovation for fighting crime in New York City 15
years ago has matured into a powerful framework with applicability
to functions across multiple government agencies. The Stat movement
has become the public sectors response to the need to build
processes and evolve them with a commercial-like mindset of quality
and constant improvement. The results achieved by organizations who
comprehensively embrace this management approach are staggering and
well documented. But as the Stat movement exits its adolescence,
how will it mature into early adulthood?
With its roots grounded in human discourse, the Stat movement has a
bright future. Encouraging reflection amidst technology-driven
immediacy will prove the Stat movements lasting differentiator.
Technology, citizenship involvement, and interagency complexity
will drive more data than most government executives can
contemplate over the next 15 years.
Looking out over the next decade, the movement will further mature
in both process and technology, giving rise to new innovations. The
maturity will continue and present opportunity and new challenges
for leaders to think through. Three elements warrant further
discussion and consideration as the Stat movement matures:
- How will leaders ensure process consistency, adherence to
technology standards, and appropriate management response to
facilitated discourse when Stat-like systems are employed across
seemingly disparate functionseven within one agency? How will
organizations rapidly analyze, procure, and implement appropriate
and scalable technologies that will allow for unprecedented
visualization of data? Will a Stat-like standards board emerge
across government (state, federal, and local) so that innovations
are shared and standards are rapidly evolved for the betterment of
- What incentives will drive organizations to ensure that the
Stat movement lives on and never morphs into a business-as-usual
mindset where action is shunned and process matters above all else?
How will leaders ensure that the maturities of the Stat systems are
always tied to agency mission with transparency and accountability?