Evolving towards a data-driven culture: The City of Carlsbad’s reflections from LEVER’s Training Sprint

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Rachel Maltz
A street in Carlsbad, California, with a large sign reading "Carlsbad", cars waiting at a traffic light and a Victoria-style building in the background
Photo credit: Simone Hogan, Shutterstock.com

The LEVER Training Sprint, run by Results for America, is a ten-week program that provides government agencies and jurisdictions with tools and coaching to develop data and evidence-driven internal decision-making processes. We sat down with Rachel Maltz—Senior Program Manager of the City of Carlsbad California’s Innovation and Economic Development Department—to learn more about her experience in the 2023 Training Sprint, how the city’s approach to evidence and data usage has evolved, and her advice for other jurisdictions that are looking to build a data-driven culture. 

What is your role in the City of Carlsbad’s Innovation and Economic Development Department and how does it connect to data and evidence generation and use? 

As a Senior Program Manager, I lead the design, development, and implementation of a comprehensive performance management program. I work to identify patterns and challenges and use data and evidence to provide recommendations for improving operational efficiency. I collaborate with other departments to derive insights from their data and information, which informs the policies, programs, and practices across the organization. By leveraging data-driven insights, we can identify opportunities, address challenges, and allocate resources effectively, ultimately driving economic prosperity for our community.

How would you describe the current state of evidence-based policymaking within the City of Carlsbad?

It is constantly evolving. There is a growing recognition of the importance of data and evidence in informing policy decisions, and efforts are being made to incorporate more evidence-based practices into policymaking processes. Our leaders are increasingly championing the use of data and evidence in decision-making, and the city is investing in robust data infrastructure that promotes transparency and accountability. There is also an effort to increase staff and department knowledge of new technologies and approaches while inviting further collaboration between different teams to continuously improve. We are cultivating partnerships with research institutions to leverage their expertise and resources in helping the city make more informed decisions. There is still room for improvement in terms of fully integrating data and evidence into all aspects of policymaking, but we are making substantial progress in particular around the adoption of evidence-based practices.

How did participating in the Training Sprint advance your thinking around evaluation, culture, and policy?

The Training Sprint expanded our ideas of data and evidence-based practices, especially in how we can use them in our internal operations. It also enhanced my team’s skill sets, which allowed us to translate our learnings up to our leadership and show them why data and evidence is important and how we can use this information to conduct evaluations of our programs more efficiently.

An additional, unanticipated benefit was the many networking opportunities that the Training Sprint provided. We had cities, jurisdictions, and state agencies all on different parts of this data and evidence journey that we could tap into. For our city, thinking about a data and evidence culture is fairly new, so it was great for us to reach out and collaborate with other cities and jurisdictions. Evaluations are not one size fits all, so learning about the best practices identified by agencies has helped us advance our thinking about how to incorporate them into our own procedures.

Which tools and resources from the Training Sprint have you found to be most helpful and brought about the most changes?

The Training Sprint has been a transformative experience, fundamentally changing how I approach policymaking and decision-making. One tangible training outcome was the production of a framework for an evidence-based policy for evaluating programs and services. This framework has provided a structured approach to evaluating the impact of our initiatives, ensuring that our resources are being used effectively and efficiently.

The program also provided best practices and guidance on engaging with the community, which has allowed us to better understand community needs, preferences, and priorities. This is crucial when designing and implementing programs that are responsive to the people we serve. 
The tools we received for effective data communication have also been a game-changer. They have helped me present complex data in a clear and concise manner, making it easier for decision-makers to act upon their insights. This has been instrumental in driving my projects forward and achieving our goals.

Overall, the Training Sprint has equipped me with the tools and resources needed to excel in my role as a Senior Program Manager. These new skills and built knowledge have not only improved my work but have also enhanced my ability to make informed decisions and drive positive change within my organization. I am now able to approach policymaking and decision-making from a more evidence-based perspective, ultimately leading to more informed and effective policy decisions.

If you had a piece of advice that you would give to a city, county, or agency starting on this journey, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to set clear goals and expectations of what they are trying to accomplish. Whether you aim to improve service delivery, measure the impact of your programs, or increase transparency, setting clear goals and understanding their connection to the needs of your city is crucial. For my team, a key priority was to first determine what we wanted to achieve and how we could set ourselves up for success. For others, I think key priorities could include taking a deep look internally and thinking about your city’s operations, such as how leadership might value this work, and how to translate evidence and evaluation practices across departments in order to better understand your jurisdiction and build a data-driven culture.

Do you want to also develop a data-driven culture and policies in your organization? Results for America has a new tool directed at just that: the Evaluation Policy Guide, a blueprint that empowers government leaders to measure their impact and learn where to invest funding to deliver the best results for residents. Download the Guide for the nation's top evaluation policies. 

Authored By

  • J-PAL logo

    Rachel Maltz

    Senior Program Manager, City of Carlsbad Innovation and Economic Development Department