Performance Reporting and “The Public”


Are you a mid-to upper-level State or Local public servant that has experienced their Department or Agency “operations” performance reporting critiqued by society — sometimes positively, but perhaps more often, in “the other direction?”

Wish you could do something about it?

We take for granted measuring our own actions. Because humans can be held morally accountable or legally liable, we seek on-the-spot corrective action to prevent further mishap.

Of course that’s not always been the case in the history of public authorities delivering decreed services and goods.

American governments have appraised their own amenities since the 1780’s, when New York City was the largest city (and national capitol); Virginia, the largest state. Then, taxpayers and landed citizens wanted details on how well civic services were “done.”  In time, regimes issued confidently-worded (if not misleading) communiqués of carefully chosen operations so to mute criticism, while fostering cooperation and trust with “watchful” local citizenry and elected legislators in and outside a state.

Fast-forward to 2015, when policymakers and administrators are much more law and procedural-liable than ever before.

Demands from an increasing transparency movement and intense, “prove-your-effective” task (and financial) disclosures forced onto non-federal organizations are making right and proper performance reporting vital for the continued existence of any public body, anywhere.

So what are suggestible features and endeavors that help lead to a manuscript that can withstand a storm of criticism?

Here are two reference sources I’ve found useful in past reporting commitments.

One is “A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents”  by the Securities and Exchange Commission, developed to  aid compliances with the Plain Writing Act of 2010, requiring federal agencies to write “…clear government communication the public can understand and use.”

The second resource (referred to for the remainder of this post) is the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s  “Green Book,” formally titled: “Reporting Performance Information: Suggested Criteria for Effective Communication.”  This book sets forth notions guiding to a prideful, suitable product.

Here’s a sum-up of “Green Book” tips:

–An entity’s performance information ought to be released to public inquiry on a regular basis (customarily, once a year), as soon after the end of a designated reporting period.

–Those chosen to prepare the document should fully reflect on demographics, needs, demands and perceptions of their constituents and other affected citizens.  Anticipated “treatment” by local and regional media also deserves contemplation.

—The document should start off with a “Statement of Scope,” a managerial analysis of major results and challenges faced within the reporting period. A “Mission Statement” should be provided, listing key and high-priority goals and objectives–explaining how citizens, officials, management and staff were involved in this process.

–Performance information should be related to stated or assumed missions, goals and objectives, resources used or costs of services, outputs or outcomes. A discussion of identified external and internal factors bearing weight on performances should be identified for as many programs or services as possible.

—Using consistent, year-to-year trend data (three- to-five years preferred) in tabular, chart and graph form for measuring results with other periods, targets, norms, internal and external sources and similar organizations, is encouraged. Measures should not obscure true performance and be relevant to customers with diverse interests.  Suggested reporting can include geographic areas, demographic groups, and the type of users and their consumption of a delivered service or good.

–A reader’s statement that evaluates and affirms the validity and reliability of data offered in the report should be incorporated.  If measures or methodologies are ever changed, rationales for those changes need to be noted.

–Public perception of major and critical programs and services merit inclusion. Results and feedback from surveys, comment cards, focus groups, complaint/compliment tracking programs and social media make illustrious sources.

–The releasable draft should not be overly lengthy or difficult to read. Attempt to create a product with a standard “similar look” year to year, so users can expect to find familiar, understandable measures in each version. The front cover (highly advised) should (in legible print) have the entity’s head office street and email address, central phone number and Facebook/Twitter contacts. Make sure the issuance date is visible on the cover or immediately opening page.

–Lastly, widely communicate all mediums and methods available for obtaining the report. References can be made through press releases and Media/Internet communications.

Steve Spacek is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Thanks for this post Steve! We definitely need to focus on helping State and Local government agencies release readable and consistent performance reports.


Thank you for the kind words, Francesca. I have found quite a few states, counties, localities still bungling, misreporting or even hiding efforts and accomplishments that citizens and state legislators need to know about.

Brenda Dennis

Thank you Steve! I really appreciate your comments about finding a consistent way to package the reporting in a way that makes it easy to compare over time. It is interesting to me that frequently these reports appear to be hiding something in the way they are written, yet the reality is in most cases people have worked exceptionally hard over the reporting period to bring good results.


Thank you, Brenda. Quite a few jurisdictions still have weak data/public performance mandates and/or holding back servants from doing recognized, beyond the call of duty tasks for their constituents, for fear of reprisal, demotion, termination. Sometimes, it takes a brave, credible servant to break thru the red tape, ignore any threatened yet often illegal punishment, show the other so-called “leaders” for an entity “how its…” supposed to be “…done.”