Performance Management: A View from the Front
We were asked to address ourselves to trends in performance management in states and localities over recent years. Having recently completed our book, Making Government Work: The Promises and Pitfalls of Performance-Informed Management, (to be released in January by Rowman & Littlefield), this was a topic that we had been thinking a great deal about over the last year, and thought we’d share some of the significant trends that we’ve discovered.
Here are six:
- First - We see an increasing realization that performance measurement is not an end in and of itself. It is part of the broader discipline of performance management. When we first began to look at this topic nearly thirty years ago, there was a general perception that tracking measures of success or failure in a wide variety of government services was a direct route to making change. That turned out to be something like assuming that planting plenty of seeds will always lead to a bumper crop. Measures are just a starting point. There’s a growing understanding that the focus has to be on how the measures can be used to change and adjust management methods and policy approaches.
- Second - There is an increasing acceptance of the idea that performance management is not just about data. Charts, graphs and tables may be persuasive to a portion of users but using that information to tell stories is critical. There’s a curious boomerang effect here. Years back, governments relied on anecdotes to guide them. Then, a seemingly more scientific approach, involving performance data came to the ascendency. Now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that both are vital.
- Third - We are happily witnessing a drive toward integrating the data used by a variety of agencies in order to provide leaders with a more complete picture. Though there continues to be resistance to data sharing --- often in the name of privacy – there’s little question that keeping information siloed makes it less useful. Consider mental health, for example. The information gathered by departments of mental health, education, drug and alcohol abuse and health care may be useful to the individual efforts involved. But combining them all can help avoid duplication of services as well as improved notions of the keys to success.
- Fourth - There are better, easier ways to use technology in the service of performance efforts. A few: GIS systems for service mapping; mobile apps to gather information; better ways to gather citizen input through online services; and a growing capacity of staff to use technology to disaggregate and analyze the data.
- Fifth - Despite all the hoopla in some circles, performance management systems are still often insufficiently funded in many entities. This can lead to tremendous resistance on the part of people who are implementing them and who eschew orders to fight battles without enough ammunition. We’re particularly concerned about this issue given the seemingly inevitable onset of a recession in the foreseeable future. We’ve learned from history that management techniques aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness are among the first to be cut when it’s difficult to balance a budget. After all, if a city must choose between adequately staffing its police department or the elements of the city that contribute to management, you know which one will be the first to go.
- Sixth - One final word of caution. The trends listed above were derived from seemingly endless interviews in the field over the last couple of years. But this is an ever-changing world. The list of alterations in the way the performance rivers flow are accelerated by improving technology, shifting government leaders, ups and downs in economic cycles, relatively new issues, like coast to coast problems with affordable housing, and innovations in the way that measurements can be better disseminated and more widely used in the decision-making process.
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