Orange looks for benefits from data-gathering
ORANGE — Right now, Orange is the only Franklin County town participating in a state-wide performance management program to help communities use data to drive big decisions, but they would like to see more small and neighboring towns sign up.
The program is facilitated by the Collins Center of University of Massachusetts/Boston and funded through the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
Performance management is a broad term for management strategies using data to set goals, guide decisions and improve outcomes.
Orange officials see the program as a way to make their own operations as efficient and effective as possible, putting the town’s scarce resources to best possible use. The program has focused on gathering data on police, fire and public works departments so far.
Program participation costs $2,000 a year, which the Finance Committee balked at, and trimmed from its recommended budget.
But Town Administrator Diana Schindler advocated for continuing participation in the program, and voters approved the fee, which includes data analysis through the Collins Center and participation in the Stat-Net meetings with 35 other communities.
Schindler said the program “allowed us to present data to town meeting, showing voters it was more cost-effective to hire another police officer” rather than paying overtime for full-time officers to staff uncovered shifts.
In other areas, the benefits have yet to emerge.
Water Department Superintendent Michael Heidorn said, “We put a lot of work into collecting data and I’ve not yet seen the results of those efforts.”
Schindler said a more robust collection of data was funded last year through a state grant that ended. The public works data collected during the grant has not yet been analyzed as the grant-funded consultant now spends less time in Orange.
Cemeteries and Parks Superintendent Josh Knechtel said, “I think that performance management can be a great tool for us in the future, but we need to be very focused in what data we are going to collect and how we are going to use it.”
Schindler said that of the communities participating in the program, Orange is the smallest by far, which she admits is problematic.
“They have all this data that’s been collected and analyze that would be great to access but we’re so much smaller — than any other town in the program.” Schindler said the town’s data is now compared to towns that are several times larger than Orange.
If other western Massachusetts towns would sign up, she said, it would help in comparing apples to apples. She said two small Hampshire County communities are slated to join the program next year.
Until that time, Schindler said she will need to collect data herself in order to run some of the comparison analyses she thinks will be important for town officials and voters to make informed decisions next year.