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A Public Sector Performance Management Methodology

Performance management and measurement have taken on a number of different meanings with regard to application in the public sector. In some cases it’s regarded strictly as data reporting and in others it takes on a more qualitative form. It may be useful to start a dialogue on coming up with an actionable, consolidated set of objectives and practices to better define what is meant by government performance management. Future posts will break down how to achieve each point in the outline I present here as well as an attempt at a comprehensive methodology for designing a performance management system. The hope is that the system not only provides data, but also a practical management tool for government leaders. First, a list of the stakeholders and their interests in a performance management system:

1. Government Administrators – Information and tools to help manage the day-to-day operations of their jurisdiction as well as to inform policy formulation. The ability to communicate operational data to the public.
2. Public Interests – Actively engaged citizens interested in keeping track of the services that their government is providing.
3. Academic Interests – Research groups hoping to harness public data for academic studies used in policy formulation.

The question then becomes how to organize a program that will meet the interests of all three stakeholders? Part of the current difficulty in getting governments to report performance data has been that guidelines have largely been written by external groups for the sake of providing data to a third party (i.e. academics, research orgs, etc), with few clear, tangible benefits for the governments providing data. There is always the promise of benchmarked data, the ability to compare metrics across jurisdictions, etc., but the governments providing the data are interested in more immediate benefits. I propose a simple system that is standard practice in the private sector but only seems to have recently crept into the public sector:

1. Report performance metric data on pre-defined schedule.
2. Analyze data for troubling trends or missed targets. Operationally research root cause of problems.
3. Provide corrective action for metrics where target was missed or data is trending in wrong direction.
4. Repeat process for next reporting period.

And in its simplicity the above process will satisfy all three stakeholders. The government has a running narrative of operational data and the policies/actions it is undertaking for improvement. The public also has access to both the data on services that it needs as well as information on government policies. Assuming that the jurisdiction picked a standardized set of metrics, academic groups will have access to data for research purposes. Everybody wins!

The above is a simplification of a system that I will flesh out further in future posts, but the idea is to plant the seed of thought. I’ve looked at various websites and have yet to find this sort of methodology being advertised on government sites and it would be interesting to see it in practice (though I in no way take credit for this as an original idea. It’s basic root-cause analysis. The hope is to find tools relevant to the public sector to implement said analysis). As always, I welcome feedback on this concept, and look forward to providing more detail.

This was originally published on my blog at http://measuresmatter.blogspot.com/

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David Dickerson

A critical area is that the method for reporting the performance data must be standardized…it is true that you can get statistics to say anything and I have seen it done at several agencies (redfine success down to whatever it is you actually achieved).

So benchmarked data is only as good as the underlying methodology and standardization used by agencies.

As for root cause analysis – there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with this and that is the larger battle.

Joseph Peters

Completely agree. These measures are so often not clearly defined and hence the confusion when it comes time to benchmark or even interpret the data. My concern with the current direction of performance management is that it’s being driven by think tanks and other organizations who are interested in gathering the data for reasons that may not be useful to an individual jurisdiction. The hope is to build tools that provide immediate feedback loops for those jurisdictions at the same time it builds datasets for researchers. Both parties have to benefit to keep the process going.