Now, Now, more than ever, strategies for measuring and reporting public sector results are in high demand. Whether working with limited resources or conditions in which the public and legislators are eager to see how public funds are affecting the economy and the well-being of citizens, public managers are charged with the task of showing the results of government efforts. This involves a fundamental shift in the way the public sector does business--in the nature of thinking, acting, and managing that moves away from a focus on process and regulations to a focus on measuring outcomes and showing results.
While some may assume that current government performance measurement efforts are nimble enough to meet the demands for measuring and showing results, there are some significant challenges. One of the problems associated with measuring outcomes is determining what the desired outcomes of government will look like. What, for example, are the desired results of a school enrichment program or a job training program? It's one thing to count the number of participants and quite another thing to capture the outcome, or impact, the programs had on participants.
Another challenge rests in determining what specifically should be accountable. Is it appropriate to hold public managers and public sector programs accountable for high level outcomes such as economic vitality and healthy communities? The trick is getting the staff to think about the big picture while at the same time assuring them that while they are expected to report on broad community outcomes, they are not fully responsible for realizing those outcomes.
Two Levels of Measurement
As public managers develop outcome-oriented performance measurement systems, they are in essence finding new ways to connect the dots between the deliverables of their programs and services and their impact on broader societal concerns.
They are generally working with two levels of measurement: one that shows how everyday actions contribute to the efficiencies and effectiveness of service deliveries with performance measures such as the number of new jobs created, number of influenza vaccinations, or response times for emergency calls; and the other that shows how such actions contribute to societal indicators representing broader economic and social concerns, such as quality jobs and engaged, caring, and safe communities.
Finding the potential linkages between program-specific performance measures and broader societal indicators, however, is difficult. Measuring government performance, for example, often is a process crafted and implemented by internal players such as public managers and their staff. More often than not, performance measures are designed to capture agency or program performance with an emphasis on determining outputs and efficiencies. They tend to run the risk of being data-rich in the sense that an inordinate amount of government performance data is collected.
With so much to account for, it can be overwhelming to figure out what the data actually means and whether the desired program outcomes and results are being achieved. Reporting practices typically have a vertical focus. In other words, they report information up and down within an organization, with few opportunities to share information and strategize across departments or agencies. For the most part, public managers attempt to measure the outcomes and results they appear to have control over rather than broad outcomes of collaborative efforts or community conditions.
In contrast to traditional government-sponsored performance measures and processes, taking a societal approach to measurement generally involves a significant shift in focus, from internal to external, and includes diverse perspectives for identifying what indicators matter to the public. Measuring societal …