The Future of Performance Management

I was at an AGA breakfast a few months ago and the point was raised that people in government had been talking about performance management for “some time”, with few results. It got me to thinking abut whether there is a future in performance management and what it might look like. A couple of publications I recently read struck me as two different thoughts on where we’re headed in this field, one being an “academic” piece on performance management and the other more grounded in practical approaches. The first was a point/counterpoint look at the history of performance management (largely using examples from New York city) and how it might inform better practices in municipal management around the country. The counterpoint in the article focuses on some of the failures at the Federal level in creating a useful performance measurement framework. The authors, Dennis Smith and Beryl Radin, have a largely academic debate which at times gets muddled in teasing out the nuances of performance “management” vs. “measurement”. But generally speaking it’s a good article with a few highlights that I took from it:

– Cities like New York took decades getting to an effective performance management program so we shouldn’t be too hard on cities that don’t get it right away.
– In the case of New York, moving from an input/output focused metrics to outcome based measures seem to be the turning point where measuring performance becomes effective.
– Local efforts seem to have been more effective than national efforts in this space.
There’s a lot more to the article and it must be purchased from JPAM, but it’s an excellent piece.

The other is a series published by the Urban Institute called “Legislating for Results” and offers a framework not only for performance management within individual agencies, but also a more broad plan for managing an entire jurisdiction. What I liked about the series is that it’s a practical, step-by-step guide to getting results from government (in contrast to more academic approaches in other pieces). One of the nuances that Urban employs in the series is using the term “information” synonymously with metrics/measures. In fact, what we’re looking for from performance measures is actually nothing more than information, and the Urban plan emphasizes providing quality information to government decisions makers in the hope of improving outcomes. My main problem with the piece is that there are many moving parts and it incorporates budgeting, communicating to the media, etc. into the framework. As a whole the series is a little too much, but I see most of the value from the three pieces on getting the right information, getting quality information, and using that information for planning purposes.

From the two pieces I got that there are clearly failures in performance management, but also some successes. Additionally, even though some academics have been talking about performance measures and management for “some time”, the approaches are under constant revision and dare I say, improving. The important thing is to continue to push for jurisdictions to use performance measures, and to assist those with existing performance management programs to constantly improve them.

This was originally published on my blog at

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