Thursday, August 7, 2014
The Urban Institute’s Harry Hatry is one of the pioneers of the late 20th century performance measurement movement. He has just released a new guide on transforming performance measurement that sums his best practical advice in one place.

Harry Hatry is legendary.  His indefatigable commitment to measuring government performance stretches back to his days as a Pentagon analyst on Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s fabled “Whiz Kids” team before joining the Urban Institute in 1968.

He helped revitalize the performance measurement movement in the early 1970s as a part of national efforts to assess and manage the many civilian programs that grew out of the War on Poverty. The earlier performance measurement movement, which grew out of the Progressive Movement in the early 1900s, focused on reporting financial information.  Hatry says: “Beginning in the 1970s, the key element of the performance measurement movement has been the focus on measuring outcomes, that is, the results of services . . . to improve the lives of citizens.”

He writes in his new guide that the current performance measurement movement has entered “a major new phase” that embraces greater analysis of performance information as well as an increased emphasis on performance management – using performance information to make evidence-based decisions.

Hatry says three sets of limitations tend to inhibit most existing performance measurement systems in organizations at all levels of government:

  • Data. Usable information produced by most performance measurement systems has been limited.
  • Analysis and Reporting. The data available has not be analyzed and interpreted in order to make it useful to decisionmakers.
  • Use. Performance information is not fully used by public managers to make decisions, “most likely in part because of the limitation mentioned above.”

He notes that advances in technology, the drop in cost to collect data, the widespread growth in the acceptance of performance measurement, and an increased demand for reliable evidence have cumulatively created a demand for more performance information in order to make informed decisions.

His goal in writing the guide is to offer “suggestions that do not require ongoing use of highly specialized personnel or are likely to require substantial added resources.”  Some of his advice is, of course, centered on tools and techniques that he has pioneered or promoted over the years, including:

  • Use logic models, or “outcome sequence charts,” to diagram how various program activities interact to contribute to an outcome.  Hatry says logic models are  helpful in “highlighting the relative importance of the various ‘intermediate’ and ‘end’ outcomes” so managers will know where to place their attention and resources.
  • Use stakeholder and customer surveys to help ensure you are focusing on the right outcomes, as well as understand customer satisfaction and client conditions.
  • Disaggregate performance data by key major customer characteristics, such as demographics, level of difficulty to serve, or level of risk of failure.  Overly aggregated data can hide what is really happening.
  • If using a “PerformanceStat” approach in headquarters, cascade its use to divisions and field levels as a strategic leadership strategy.
  • Provide transparency into performance information to frontline employees, so they can be empowered to identify and solve problems on their own.

Hatry’s guide is brief, readable, and actionable – under 90 pages.  It was written from an unparalleled vantage point of years of practice.  It’s worth the read, even if only to serve to self-assess your existing performance measurement and management systems.


Graphic Credit: Courtesy of Matt Johnson/Urban Institute