If it Matters, Measure It (and share the metrics!)

This blog entry originally appeared at Reach The Public.

One of my first mentors who ran a region of what was then called Ameritech (a baby bell in the midwest), had a saying, “If you value it, measure it.”

The larger the organization, the more this holds true. In government, tracking results and sharing results promotes transparency, accountability and understanding of the value of the work you’re doing within your agency.

The CDC National Center for Health Marketing has taken impressive steps to get their Web metrics online. They’ve actually been doing this for years. Here’s an example of the kinds of reports they post.

They’ve recently been recognized in NextGov for their new http://www.cdc.gov/metrics page.

Here are just a handful of the benefits of getting the data out there for the world to see:

  • Makes clear to internal and external stakeholders how you measure the impact of what you are doing
  • Gives everyone something to celebrate and work towards
  • Engages colleagues and helps them see and understand how they might be able to assist with your work. For example, if getting people signed up for email alerts is one of your metrics as it is at CDC, your colleagues might see that and decide to promote the email alert option at a future conference
  • Encourages continuous improvement mentality
  • Gives everyone an opportunity to ask tough questions “Is activity A worth the investment? Should we be using more of technology X if it’s working so well?”
  • Helps ensure continuity when personnel changes occur

With the plethora of new technologies out there, it is even more important to share your stats with all stakeholders to make clear that the work you’re doing matters and that you know how to gauge whether it is successful. Just like you track the number of page views, Web visits, and the number of people signining up for your email alerts, you should also track Web 2.0 / Social Media metrics.

You can track your Twitter followership ( If you have a Twitter feed, use TwitterGrader to track followership overtime), number of comments on your blog, number of Facebook fans, and man other metrics without much effort.

There are even external free services that make some of the tracking easy such as Quantcast which I wrote about last year. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they provide additional data points that can be helpful.

I don’t believe that hard metrics are all that matter. In fact, I find it much more compelling when we can go further and tie these metrics directly to mission and to $ savings if cost reduction is a goal.

The Federal Consulting Group Proactive Communication Roundtable in May featured case studies by GPO and HHS on how they had used digital communication to support their missions (drive book sales for GPO and improve H1N1 outreach for HHS). Note how these case studies connect simple metrics with the actual impact on the public as it relates to agency mission.

Are other agencies besides CDC publishing their Web metrics for all to see?

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At my old agency (an Inspector General’s office), I always wanted to know how often my report was downloaded. Just as a sense of numbers of readers. An imperfect measure but it’s something and I’m glad to hear they now provide this data.

People can complain about the problems of metrics (like the rankings of colleges) but pretty good measures are better than no measures at all. The trick is to make sure metrics are valued but aren’t 100%. And that you constantly update the metrics so they are measuring the correct things – people will always look for ways to game the metrics so you got to be on your toes.

Bill Harshaw

Obama ought to require it of every site. Those who do good will get some recognition, those who don’t will be embarrassed, and might be questioned by their appropriations committee as to their failure.

Joshua joseph

Nice post and appreciate the links. Would add that some things are pretty easy to measure, while others are a heavier lift. Big challenges I’ve seen in organizations re: metrics include too little time understanding what’s meaningful to measure, fear that metrics will be used punish the messenger (if bad) rather than support change and a tendency to collect metrics but not actually “use” them (on the last, see sobering results from GAO’s recent Managers Survey on Performance at http://bit.ly/ozyKU. Definite need for more “how-to” guidance!

Scott Burns

Thanks for the comments.

Love Bill’s idea that this be done on every site. I have tried to make the case to a few folks that the government come up with a bunch of standard URLs for any government website where widgets (/widgets), raw data feeds (/data), feedback forms (/feedback), etc. can be available for all agency sites. /metrics would be another great addition.

Yes, the “punish the messenger” concern seems really common. I feel for people who release metrics and then expect them to “speak for themselves.” Metrics can be a great tool for advocating for change and investment in the Web if you release the metrics and explain what you think they mean at the same time. I’m amazed at how often people send out metrics without comment.

CDC’s numbers are impressive and do speak for themselves on most points, but note how they explain and contextualize the ACSI score:

“Significantly increased customer satisfaction with CDC.gov, as measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. CDC.gov’s quarterly score jumped from 76 (Q4- 2006) to 82 (out of 100) in Q4-2008, which is the second highest performing site for Federal Portal Sites in Q4 2008.”

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Scott – great post on metrics here. I immediately bookmarked that page when I saw it and my first thought was like Bill: this needs to be commonplace. One way to make this happen would be to tie it to an agency’s scorecard (“Getting to Green”) a la the e-Gov element of the previous President’s Management Agenda.

When I see metrics or measurement here on GovLoop, I also like to reference a presentation that Ari Herzog and I delivered earlier this year on “Measuring Social Media” with a specific look at government measurement. In addition, you might be interested in this series of posts here on GovLoop that provide context to the slides.

P.S. Yes, that’s my mother on the cover slide…born in Eden Prairie, MN, by the way. 🙂

Scott Burns

Great idea on the scorecard. Eden Prairie is where my mom lives now. Very cool. Now we just have to get you to move back to the homeland! I will check out your slides. Thanks!

cynthia gurne

Only some of the most business systems oriented agencies I meet with ask me about metrics for our solution. Others don’t seem to really care; and, if they did, they wouldn’t know how to begin developing them. Having said that, a government contractor faces two “metric” challenges: the best metrics in the world will not improve performance if leadership is not behind changing processes and employee engagement and support of those processes; and, contractors are being asked for “past performance” information when bidding on a contract. Contractors need to be a true partner in developing the metrics that will be used to judge ultimate value of any solution being measured.