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Our newest solution brings ‘City Voices’ into government decision making

– Ask a young mother about how she likes living in her city and she’ll talk about the quality of the schools, the parks, and the grocery stores. A small-business owner will focus on parking for suppliers, the pool of qualified applicants for sales help, and managing paperwork online. A vacationing family will want affordable hotels, easy-to-use transportation, and unique sightseeing.

With such diverse, competing needs across different populations, how can city managers make the best use of already stretched resources?

City Voices, our newest solution, captures and analyzes citizen sentiment across key aspects of city life to help leaders understand what matters most to their constituents. It gathers feedback, at a very local level, across a variety of demographic groups as they experience some 30-plus interactions with their cities—for example, a neighborhood bus service.

The idea for City Voices evolved a couple of years ago, during a series of McKinsey urban-planning projects in Brazil. Fabiano Tiba, an engagement manager, was leading a city planning initiative in a southern metropolis. “At the time, social media technologies and the use of analytics were just emerging, and we used a pretty simple platform so that citizens could crowdsource ideas and vote on them. We could hear from and understand their hopes and frustrations directly, on a very granular basis,” he remembers.

Soon afterward, Fabiano was helping to develop a strategic plan for a major metropolitan area. “What usually happens is that strategic plans are developed around the traditional government organizations—health, education, housing. But in this case, it immediately became clear, from the citizen feedback, that cleaning up a nearby river was top of mind for the public. This wasn’t even the government’s responsibility, but with such strong citizen demand, the mayor’s office defined a role in restoring the river use,” he recalls. “Similarly, there was a very strong mandate for a comprehensive youth-development program.”

Because citizen input proved so valuable in planning across these cities, he said, they looked for ways to refine the very basic platform into a solution that could have broader use. A small team began to lay the groundwork. The greatest challenge was understanding the varying quality and types of citizen-related and other data sources available across cities and making sure these sources were relevant, granular enough to use, and translatable across different geographies.

The solution got a jump start in 2016, when it won McKinsey’s New Ventures competition, created to surface and develop innovations within the firm. The prize included a team, resources from McKinsey Digital Labs, and the mentorship of McKinsey partner Patricia Ellen, who was based in Rio. Drawing from her experience in consumer products, she encouraged the team to think about citizens the same way a business views its customers and to apply the firm’s customer-journey framework. That way, the team could segment populations, identify and prioritize needs across groups, and organize the many types of data.

“We conducted extensive interviews and field research, ultimately identifying six key demographic groups among city dwellers, such as student, tourist, and senior citizen,” explains Katarzyna Dudycz, a McKinsey urban-planning specialist. “We looked at the most common ways in which they experienced the city on a daily, monthly, and long-term basis, and identified key touchpoints in which they experienced city services that were frustrating or gratifying. We called these ‘moments of truth’ and used the touchpoints for gathering data—for example, a daily commute, access to good schools, feeling safe in the neighborhood, finding an affordable home.”

The performance data from such moments of truth are drawn from a variety of local, national, and global sources, such as high-school graduation rates, help-desk records, and murder rates. These data are combined with citizen-perception data gathered through surveys, social-media analysis, and crowdsourcing databases.

“With very defined, repeatable citizen experiences, we had a framework which could be applied across any city and enough data to populate an index, so a city could measure itself as well as compare how it was doing against its peers,” she explains. The solution includes data from 100 cities. “City Voices offers one more way our public-sector specialists can help clients develop initiatives that more closely address their constituents’ needs,” says Raman Julka, who helped with the early stages of developing the solution.

“In some ways, cities are becoming the most important form of government we experience today, because of the effect they have on our everyday lives,” points out Isabel Adler, who is now managing the delivery of the solution. “Running our cities well, with guidance from our citizens’ voices, can be the key to improving the quality of life anywhere in the world.”