When Troy Schulte took over as interim city manager of Kansas City, Missouri, in 2009, the local economy was struggling and the government faced hard choices about how to use scarce resources. With a slashed budget and a diminished workforce, Schulte had to figure out how to deliver city services without reducing quality. Together with a small team of employees, he began to create a culture of data-driven decision making in municipal offices, to invest selectively in technology, and to give nonprofit organizations and firms an opportunity to develop their own, innovative solutions to city problems by making more information available to them. Schulte found a kindred spirit in Mayor Sly James, who negotiated a public–private partnership with a view to developing what Kansas City’s chief innovation officer called “the smartest 54 blocks in the country” along the city’s new streetcar corridor. As initial efforts came to a close and a new mayor entered office, Schulte and other officials stepped back to assess what they had learned. The new, data-driven culture had yielded positive improvements, whereas the technology-based smart-city initiative had had a more limited impact—at least in the shorter term. The experience generated important lessons about the scale of the benefits that technology could generate in midsize cities and in what kind of time frame.
Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Kansas City, Missouri, in January 2020. Case published March 2020.