Performance Measurement to Achieve Quality of Life: Adding Value through Citizens

Article excerpt

Quality-of-life issues are of growing concern to communities around the world. Movements toward greater environmental quality, sustainable development, and healthy communities across the United States are evidence of a push for an improved quality of life. At the same time, citizens have started to expect from public programs the kinds of results and performance to which they have grown accustomed in our consumer-oriented society.

This article focuses on citizens' roles in performance measurement. Public managers, staff, and elected officials often develop such measurement systems with little direct involvement of citizens. Without meaningful citizen participation, however, discussions of performance measurement risks can become little more than insider conversations, which residents neither consider worthwhile nor take seriously. Involving citizens more actively and appropriately can help build a broader constituency for the performance measurement process, clarify a community's vision and priorities, and strengthen accountability for program performance between citizens and public officials.

Performance measurement - defined here as a sharp clarification of the desired outcomes of public programs and a careful tracking of progress toward their attainment - has boomed in recent years. Measuring how well public programs meet their intended purposes allows an agency to make progress on issues that define a community's quality of life.

Many important national, state, and local efforts are under way to develop clear performance goals for public programs and to begin using performance results in budget reviews and management improvement initiatives. Yet few of these efforts involve citizens, the primary beneficiaries of public services.

Involving Citizens in Performance Measurement

Citizens are among the three major stakeholder groups in the performance measurement process: citizens, elected officials, and public managers and their staffs. The diagram on this page shows these stakeholder groups and suggests important linkages among them. Looked at simply, a primary role for citizens is that of holding public officials accountable for public programs, while the role for elected officials is setting public policy, and the role for managers and their staffs is operating programs and producing results.

The needs and expectations of these three stakeholder groups differ. Citizens want to drive on smooth roads. Elected officials want potholes fixed efficiently. Managers want to make sure that the right mix of asphalt and the correct number of maintenance workers are going toward fixing the highest-priority roads and covering 20 miles of road per day. These differing vantage points are all needed in designing a performance measurement system that reflects a community's needs and works to improve its overall quality of life.

Citizens may play a variety of roles while they are productively involved in a performance measurement process. For issues that define a community's quality of life, it is important that citizens help set the direction for the community, as well as learn about and evaluate the results of the public programs defined by that direction.

Citizens Add Value

Strengthening citizen participation in the performance measurement process can add substantial value as communities pay more attention to quality-of-life matters. Even as communities struggle with these issues, public faith and confidence in government's ability to improve quality of life are at a low ebb. Involving citizens in performance measurement, particularly around quality-of-life improvement efforts, can help rebuild trust in government.

On a basic level, trust in government equates to citizens' believing that government is mostly doing the right things and doing those things right. Citizens may be more likely to believe that government is on track if they have helped decide what government ought to do in their communities - and if they see progress toward those objectives. …