Transcripts

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Joe Supervielle:

Welcome to Voices in Local Government, an ICMA podcast. Today's episode on using data to manage change in local government features Boulder, Colorado City Manager, Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde. The guest host is Claudia Arriaga from ICMA's strategic partner, OpenGov. They discuss the impact data has on budgeting, improved transparency, and making informed decisions on strategic initiatives.

Claudia Arriaga:

Hello, Nuria.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Hello.

Claudia Arriaga:

So nice to connecting with you today. How are you?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

I am doing great. So good to see you again.

Claudia Arriaga:

Yeah, absolutely. I'm really excited about our talk today. So just to jump right in, let's talk a bit about you. How did you come into the government space? What was your path?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

My path was an accidental one, really. I'm a lawyer by profession. I had practiced in the states and family circumstances took me back to Puerto Rico, which is where I'm from, and started working part-time for the Department of Justice, who tagged me and said, "Hey, could you help work on the longest running then class action suit in the United States, happened to be around prison conditions, something I knew nothing about. And what I learned, as I said yes, is A that I don't know how to do part-time work and that B what they didn't need was a lawyer. What they really needed was somebody who understood organizational change. And it's funny to me because that's where the power of data to really think about are we staffing correctly? Are our programs effective? Are we setting folks up for success as they leave the correctional setting and go into community, which is part of the rehabilitative process?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

How do we measure that? How do we know we're doing the right thing? So for me, government came very strangely and not linearly, but I found a love in supporting communities. And in that case, it was a community of a correctional population. It was a community of correctional staff who were trying to professionalize. And as I moved back to the states and found other opportunities in government, when I started living in Minneapolis, I married into Minneapolis and got into local government there that continued passion for serving people and serving community, and also wanting to make sure that what we're doing actually matters and counts. That measurement of data I think sort of continued me on that path.

Claudia Arriaga:

This is fascinating and super interesting. You mentioned how you didn't go on a linear path. You kind of went into it in different directions and got into government. And then you also said change and how to manage to change and how to use data to manage the change. And that brings us more deeper into what we're going to talk more about today, which is how does that technology emphasis that you've had throughout your local government career, how has that impacted your career journey? How important is that in what you do day to day?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Oh, it's so critical. Claudia. I recall when I first started with the City of Minneapolis many years ago I inherited The Department of Regulatory Services. They do housing inspections and commercial inspections and so forth, and all governments suffer from lack of, we don't have full resources. There are only a certain amount of monies and resources that we're able to do. So the challenge and the task is really how do we do more with less, right? And as I was thinking about that it occurred to me that as we're looking at the data it was only maybe 10 or 15% of property managers and landlords in a community that was over 50% renters that were causing us the most difficulty that we're calling for resources that were generating the most calls for service. And it was data that helped us lay that out.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

So as we were looking to how to better address some of those complaints in community, what we realized through looking at that with a data lens was that we actually had to be more scalpel like, and be more precise about what actions we took. Doing a broad swath of tools and interventions really wouldn't have given us the bang for the buck that we needed because 80, 85% of people were actually doing the right thing. It was how do we really target those folks who are causing the most harm? And in that case we were able to tier our systems.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We were able to charge people more for the services that they were requiring because we had to go out more. I was able to make the case for increased budget allocation because I knew how much time it took. We measured the time for inspections. We measured the frequency of going out into community. So that first instance in Minneapolis was the one that stuck with me the most and really has continued to build in any city that I have been a part of that really intense look at data because it's being more focused about interventions and using your resources to produce the highest, best outcomes that are important. And you can't usually just do that out of thin air.

Claudia Arriaga:

So you went from Puerto Rico to Minneapolis. Where did you go next?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

I did. Well I married into Minneapolis and I was there for quite a few years. I still love Minneapolis and my husband's entire family is there. I was working with a city coordinator in Minneapolis is what we call it. I had taken his position as he went down to Austin. And after a year of talking to me about how do I come down and help him I took the leap and went down to Austin. I was deputy city manager there and expected, frankly, to spend quite a few years there before this job opportunity in Boulder came up and Boulder was a city just personally for my husband and I, that we had visited.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Frankly, over a few drinks said this is the place that if we ever get the chance to talk to or to come to and to live, this place calls us in a variety of respects. I was amazed when the opportunity came up and we chose to move here rather abruptly unfortunately for the city of Austin. And thankfully I have great relationships in all three cities, but to me it's actually enabled me to have a broader sense of what government does. Now this is the smallest city I've been in. Minneapolis is a mid side city and Austin is a larger city, but they all share similar values. They're all struggling, quite frankly, with similar issues of housing affordability and growth and homelessness and police community relationship and trust. I mean, we're all working in that in different ways, but that is currently where I find myself here in Boulder.

Claudia Arriaga:

What types of tools and systems are you using to try to work on those challenges today in Boulder?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

You know, there's a variety of tools and I'll say that as much as I appreciate, and I do, quantifiable data we're also really being cautious and intentional about qualitative data as well. And so really proud that the city of Boulder has created this cadre of community connectors, folks and community that are really invested and deep. There are trusted leaders in their communities and are really helping us spread the word, use data, get feedback to inform our decisions in great ways. But then I'll say things like, and I know you know this, but we just have started using OpenGov here.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We are soon and poised to put out an online budget tool, which is not something that the city has done before. And I know that it's not the sexiest kind of thing, but being able to be transparent about financial matters about the city's budget I think it's really critically important to get community to really start rebuilding that pathway towards trusting government, to seeing where we spend our money to frankly, seeing the limitations and helping us figure out collectively, where do we want to prioritize our spend as we move forward. So we're embarking on that journey now and it's super exciting. My budget director keeps saying that at some point I'm going to have to stop clapping in zoom when they talk about OpenGov and it hasn't happened yet, but it will at some point,

Claudia Arriaga:

Tell me a little bit more about Boulder.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Now that I'm in the city and I'm working in the city it strikes me that even though it's a small city, man, does it fight above its weight? It is a leader on climate action, both just regionally, but also at the legislature. It is astonishing to me to see the passion that not just staff, but community as a whole brings to climate initiatives and things that I have never had to think about like the health of our soil or doing regenerative farming tactics. Those are just things that had not been in my foresight. I'm learning so much from staff and community who really put not just climate change and climate initiatives at the core of it, but are really thinking about climate justice and making sure that as we move forward to protect our environment, that the burdens aren't falling disproportionately on those that can't afford those burdens right? So I'm really excited about that.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

It is a community. Every community I've been in has had an active community voice and Boulder is no different. There is the amount of engagement and participation in good ways, right? Of really people loving what their government stands for and getting really passionate and not just complaining about government, because we all hear some of those complaints. Some of those are rightly aimed at government. As we struggle to do things faster, non bureaucratically, to do more when we know that we have limited amount of resources. So I get those concerns and those complaints when we get them.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

What I love about this community is you have so many really smart and dedicated people who offer suggestions and guidance and recommendations are really involved in our boards and commissions in ways that I've seen in other communities, but truly I can feel that here. It is palpable as you talk about, or you're going to council meetings or you're going to a board and commission meetings, or you get emails of people who just are truly, truly constructive about how they think and how they can support the city in moving forward and advancing those initiatives

Claudia Arriaga:

Well with that, some of the strategic initiatives that you're working on. Can you share a little bit more about that? And also I know you're obviously working the budget side with OpenGov, but how are you tying it all together here at Boulder?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Yeah. So I think as many of the cities have come out of the pandemic, right? I think we're all struggling with similar issues. And as I think about strategic initiatives right now I'm actually going back to the basics. I'm thinking about what are the critical foundation items that we think about. And frankly, it's one of the reasons we decided to join the OpenGov family, right? We are thinking about how best to use our resources. We lost a lot of people in the pandemic. Boulder had to furlough before my time, but certainly had to furlough over 700 employees as we were moving forward. So we're rebuilding from that and we're putting a lot of emphasis. I say it constantly and will say it again here that my number one priority is retention and recruitment as we move forward. But frankly, those online technological tools will allow us to do that.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

This year is the first one we're building our budget through the OpenGov system. And staff is really getting firsthand look at where they stand in relationship to all the other departments as requests are coming in. And so that really leaves to a more collaborative conversation as we're making budget choices. It allows us to see where departments have been more impacted than not from the recruitment and retention point of view. And so we're really honing in on those because data's now letting us know here are we feeling the hurt the most so we know that we have to focus a little bit on that. So I think that's, for me, one of the main priorities that we think about because we are competing now on a regional basis and in a world that the pandemic has given us, which means that more people want to work remotely and they want to work from home or closer to where they live.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We need to make sure that A we're set up for that structurally and that we have the tools, the technological tools to allow that because if we go back to business as usual we will lose people. And that's just the reality of this new hybrid work environment that we have in. And so happy to say that continues and that has been a really strong initiative as we move forward. We're also really focused on advancing racial equity initiatives. That is near and dear to my heart. One of the critical things to do that is frankly data. If we don't disaggregate and find better ways to know what the impacts of all of our decision making on communities of color generally then we're doing ourselves a disservice and that we are not at a place yet where we have been able to disaggregate all our data.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

That is where we are really heading to because the more we're able to do that the deeper we'll be able to really measure, not just that we're putting our services out there, I want to stop measuring outputs. I really want to get to the point where we're measuring outcomes and the impact that we're having in community. To me, ultimately, I came into government because I serve people. And if we're not doing right by people then that is a problem that we need to address. And this disaggregation of data to me will be the platform by which we do so much. We're also focusing on some of the most critical issues of our time and we're not alone in that, right? So I know that so many cities are working on housing affordability and frankly it's impact on homelessness, which continues to increase across the nation.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We're also looking at sort of seeing the increasing impacts of climate change. For those that know Boulder and know this area, we know that climate change is real. We only have to look at the two recent fires that we had at the beginning of the year. We had another one here in Boulder proper just a few months ago to know that we are getting hotter, that fires are burning longer. Winds are impacting what we do that we really have to be thinking about fire response and mitigation and prevention in ways that we have no other choice than to do on an urgent basis, right? This isn't just business as usual, we are seeing the huge impact of climate change in our community. So thinking about fire and just climate resilience in general are some of the critical strategies or strategic initiatives that we had before us in the coming year.

Claudia Arriaga:

All extremely important. In top of mind in a lot of the different city managers that I speak across the country, climate change, obviously being extremely important. You're talking about equality, recruitment. That is a topic that is important for the entire country because it has become very difficult to attract new talent into government to help number one with the retirement that we're about to see right? Folks being in the government for over 30 years and then equally important as what are you bringing to that new talent? Obviously Boulder having a top university right there in your backyard, right? How you are attracting them to stay and come work for government versus going into the private industry? That's a big challenge. So when you talk about things of a strategic initiative of being climate change, which is very important for the youth, right? And you talk about equality, another great initiative, that's also very important, I feel like you are jumping ahead and getting ahead of the curve there. Can you give some examples of what you use for this next generation of recruiting? How do you try to attract the talent in?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

I will say that we're trying to use every tool in our toolbox, right? We know, frankly, this is an employee's market. Right now jobs are coming to people that are looking for them. People don't have to look for jobs in this current market. So we're using every platform we can. We're announcing on social media. We're using LinkedIn. We're using technology platforms where we know frankly this generation is looking at and employing. So we're really mindful of that. We still think that face to face is important so we're still going out and doing job fairs and going to the university and trying to recruit there. I'm looking to create a master contract with the university where we can actually partner more closely together because the more their students are able to actually work with the city and on city projects, we hope that will be a pipeline for continued work and continued employees of the city in the future. I'm excited about that.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We're looking to promote in nontraditional venues, right? Word of mouth and certainly our community connectors are being able to share some of those opportunities, but we are taking advantage of every network, every social platform, every tool that people have at their disposal and not just relying on HR. HR does a great job, but I have my own networks and I'm able to put those out there as we do. The folks in our individual departments they have their own network. So we're looking to advertise both formally and informally and hopefully change those advertisements in ways that really show the passion and the sort of uniqueness of Boulder. So many times, I'm sure it was like that for Claudia in your past, you saw this job description and it read so dry, right? It was like, I don't know if I really want to go there. It doesn't sound like fun at all. We're really trying to promote some of the best things.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

I may not be able to compete with a private sector from the perspective of economics. I don't know that I can, particularly here in Boulder where we have such dynamic and great tech industries that are able, frankly, to pay more than I'm able to pay. I will never be able to financially compete with Microsoft or Google or Ball Aerospace for example. What I can offer though is work that is balanced, that we really believe in work life balance. We believe in really giving staff and empowering staff to bring ideas from wherever you are in the organization. So we're really trying not to be a hierarchical organization, but rather really be more open to be more horizontal, if you can, to let good ideas come from staff wherever they come from.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We know that youth and those that are coming up in the city are closer to some of the work and they have such passion. So we're trying to sort of take those roadblocks of how do I get a good idea up to the people that make decisions. And we're finding that people are really excited about that as we move forward. We're looking to allow people to work remotely and like many other organizations in private and public industries we have a new hybrid policy where we're allowing people to work up to three days remotely if they want and really focus their intentional work in person on teams and doing more cross-divisional work. There is nothing in my mind currently that only is solely the ownership of one department. Everything is so interconnected. So as we are talking about fire resilience and climate resilience we have people from transportation and mobility and climate initiatives and people from our buildings and utilities department, and folks in fire and folks in open space.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

It really is such a conglomeration of ideas that are coming from so many different disciplines. And what we've heard anecdotally is that staff really enjoys that. They love being able to sort of do this exchange of ideas in a cohort fashion and we're doing more and more of that in the city. So from how we advertise to how we're writing our job descriptions and reduce taking away some of those barriers to entry and then offering opportunities in house to truly tap into people's passion. I'm hoping some of those initiatives will really transform our next generation of employees, our next workforce, as we move forward.

Claudia Arriaga:

I can assure you that you're definitely on the right path and that's very exciting. I just keep thinking about folks and what the youth is looking for and it's technology, it's opportunity. It's flexibility of where they work from right? It's also very, very big on social topics right? And you've mentioned them all. So I do believe that you've got a great package and I want to keep close and see how it evolves. Definitely want to keep tabs on that. But I want to also ask you about something that you and I have talked about in the past multiple times, and I know it's very near and dear to both our hearts and that is as a city manager, as a leader, how do you help and how are you mindful of who's at the table and who's missing?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Yeah, I think that's such a critically important question, Claudia, in part because I think our decisions are richer and better if we have more inclusion in all the decision making that we do. I know as a person of color, as a Latina, it's important to me to make sure that all communities are represented because I come from history where our particular communities of color are not represented, do not have equal time at the table. So being thoughtful about who needs to be there and frankly making sure that we're actively thinking about that. Building into that in our community engagement processes as we think about our boards and commissions, and that is one area that we're actually going to be taking some more active role in.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Do we have a youth voice? Do we have a student voice? Do we have a renter voice? When we're talking about housing do we have someone who's been unsheltered or is unsheltered that has lived experience? How do we make all of those voices equal to perhaps those that are in the city or those that have degrees to their names. When it comes to some of these conversations I really do think that it is about equalizing the playing field and making sure we have a bigger tent and not a more narrow tent. And I think it's important for us to be thoughtful about it, but good intention alone doesn't do that, right? So as we think about engagement, those community connectors, which again, I'm just so proud of here in the city, they are intended to go into communities that traditionally have not been involved in government. And when we think about community engagement efforts, they are tapped to make sure that there's a reality lens of are there other people? Do we have people at the table?

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We have tremendous work with our racial equity work. Certainly that is, it starts and is housed with the city manager's office. But what I love about the approach that the city is taking is that we are building that capacity in each and every one of the departments so that we're able to bring that up, that it is not dependent on one single person. One single person in my office isn't going to solve racial equity, right? But the being able to spread and do those learnings to make sure that we're conscious about how we do our work is really important. So I'm really excited about that. And then it's too about codifying some of that. As we're thinking about some recommendations we'll be making to council later this year about boards and commissions we want to recommend that we make sure that we put some skill sets. That we have some folks with...

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Do you have somebody who's represented that has a lived experience in this particular area? Do you have someone who is a renter when you're talking about a housing board? Do you have someone who does not own a car who's on our Transportation Advisory Board and frankly that's one area I don't worry about because there are a lot of cyclist enthusiasts in this community. They're certainly on our Transportation Advisory Board, but codifying some of that in our processes is really important as we move forward. Thinking about our hiring panels and making sure that too has representation so that as we're thinking about who we're hiring the folks that are in the field, the folks that are closest to the work, also have a voice in bringing some of that because they will bring a different kind of lens to that kind of decision making as we move forward.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Some of it can happen organically, but a lot of it I think, needs to happen intentionally. And it starts with me as leaders trying to model some of that as I go into the world and go to meetings and find myself being the only Latina representative, am I calling the question? Am I bringing other forward? Am I forming partnerships with other Latina or black or indigenous men and women across the city to make sure that I'm also reaching not just meeting sort of the folks that I'm intended to meet as a city manager. And I was very intentional about that when I came in last year and now continuing to want to see who else have I not met. I have not, for example, had a lot of conversation with the faith community and that will be my year two endeavor as we move forward.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

We'll continue to do some of those thinking about who has not been at the table, who have I not had a meeting with? Who can I learn from in ways that perhaps are not in circles that are the usual forums for which to learn from. And I'm excited to continue meeting people and learning from those so that we can continue to expand that tent.

Claudia Arriaga:

Nuria I like to offer outside of obviously city of Boulder being a great customer and us working day to day, I'd like to offer also on the leadership side, the mentoring side, I love what you said and if there's anything I can do to help you further that movement, I am here. I am available and would love to help in any way you think I can assist the city of Boulder. This is amazing. Opening up is definitely taken very seriously addressing helping people have fair seat at the table, helping folks with change management, helping the new talent come in. So whatever you think we can do to assist we are here for you. You are a true inspiring leader. We thank you for everything you do for our people, for the people of Boulder and for our country. So it's been a pleasure talking to you today. I look forward to hopefully seeing you in person in the near future and coming out to Boulder to visit.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

I would love it next time you're in. We'll take a walk around my new home.

Claudia Arriaga:

I can't wait. I can't wait. You have a wonderful weekend and a great summer.

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde:

Thanks. I appreciate it. I will take you up on your offer. I just have to say I've loved our partnership and really think you hit on something. Mentorship is a really important entry into expanding that tent. Don't be surprised if I call you soon and say, how do we partner together on it?

Claudia Arriaga:

I'm in, give me a ring. Take care. It's good to talk to you Nuria.

 

Episode is sponsored by

Guest Information

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, city manager, Boulder, Colorado

Claudia Arriaga, vice president of customer success, OpenGov

Episode Notes

Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, city manager of Boulder, Colorado, joins guest host Claudia Arriaga of OpenGov for an insightful discussion on why and how to use data to manage change in local government.

  • How data helped allocate budget and justify adjusting charges to create a focused approach to solve specific, repeated challenges and community complaints.
  • What tools and systems can be implemented to collect, organize, and understand quantitative and qualitative data to make informed decisions.
  • How to make government spending more transparent, including internally for better staff communication.
  • How Boulder went back to the basics with strategic initiatives around:
    • Retention and recruitment
    • Data on diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • Housing affordability and homelessness
    • Climate change
    • Change management

Resources

Free EBook: Measure What Matters: Tips for Aligned Strategic Priorities

Video: How Minneapolis Prepares for the Future with Strategic Budgeting

 

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