Citizen Participation: Legitimizing Performance Measurement as a Decision Tool

Article excerpt

Involving citizens in the development and implementation of performance measurement systems can legitimize such initiatives among elected officials, thereby enhancing their value in the decision-making process.

Since the mid-1990s, there have been two major movements in the field of public administration. The first is the reinvention of government through citizen participation. (1) Elected officials, public managers, and citizens alike are coming to understand that citizens are more than customers--they are the owners of government. This shift in attitudes is especially important to local governments, which provide direct services to and have tremendous impact on the daily lives of many citizens. The second major movement is performance measurement. A number of professional organizations, including the Government Finance Officers Association, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and the International City/County Management Association, have actively encouraged governments to adopt performance measurement so that public officials can more effectively evaluate the inputs, outputs, and outcomes of the public services they manage.

Although some may regard these two movements as separate developments, the public administration community should consider integrating them in order to enhance the quality of governance and the delivery of public services. (2) Unfortunately, the campaign for performance measurement so far has been focused primarily on internal managerial needs. Indeed, performance measurement systems are usually designed and used by managers without regard for what citizens want to know about the operations of their government. (3)

The lack of citizen participation in the design and implementation of performance measurement is problematic for several reasons. Local government performance measures often fail to help citizens understand what their tax money is paying for and how well the government is serving them. In most cases, they also fail to empower citizens with the information they need to become informed participants in the democratic process. (4) Perhaps most significantly, the lack of citizen involvement can undermine the value of performance measurement by minimizing its importance in the eyes of elected officials. When elected officials disregard performance information, administrators tend to be less enthusiastic about the tool, often rendering it irrelevant in the decision-making process.

Iowa's Citizen-Initiated Performance Assessment

With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a team of representatives from Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the Iowa League of Cities launched a unique project in the summer of 2001 that came to be known as Citizen-Initiated Performance Assessment, or CIPA. The goal of CIPA is to engage citizens in the design and use of performance measurement, thus making it more politically credible and increasing its value in the decision-making process. The project team approached 32 Iowa cities with populations of 10,000 or more about the project, 18 of which showed initial interest in participating. The team visited each of these cities, presenting CIPA to mayors, city council members, city managers, staff, and citizen groups. Nine of these cities decided to participate in the three-year project, with the full support of their respective city councils, staff, and citizen representatives.

Exhibit 1 illustrates the conceptual framework and process of the CIPA program. The first action is the formation of a "citizen performance team" comprised of city council members, administrators, and citizen representatives. These citizen representatives are culled from a variety of sources. Some of them are current members of various citizen advisory boards. Some are leaders in their respective neighborhoods. Others simply responded to public announcements about the project, eager to have a say in the effort to enhance service delivery and accountability. …