Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Moving beyond Innovation Diffusion in Smaller Local Governments: Does Performance Management Exist?

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Moving beyond Innovation Diffusion in Smaller Local Governments: Does Performance Management Exist?

Article excerpt


There has been a shift in the literature since the early 2000s regarding the performance paradigm in local government. The normative and descriptive research is no longer confined to the adoption of performance measurement for the benefits of accountability and transparency, where studies have relied on an inventory approach to document the prevalence of the management tool among local governments inside and outside of the United States (Poister and Streib, 1999 and Kuhlmann, 2010). The performance paradigm of today, which is commonly referred to as performance management, includes the two distinct stages of adoption (development of measures) and implementation (actual use of them) as described by de Lancer Julnes and Holzer (2001). Therefore, the literature now contains studies on the adoption rates of performance measures and on the organizational dimensions of performance management that promote the actual use of performance data for decision-making. Sanger (2008) also made the critical distinction between performance measurement and performance management when concluding that more scholarship is needed on the determinants that promote data use given that research on performance management remains in its infancy.

The good news is that the literature contains evidence that performance management does exist to some extent among local governments in the United States (Ammons and Rivenbark, 2008) and in other countries (Jansen, 2008). This same literature also has identified certain organizational factors that increase the likelihood of local managers actually using performance data and has provided concrete examples on how performance data have been used for service improvement. The issue is that most studies focus predominantly on larger organizations, which aligns with research on other management tools in local government (Poister and Streib, 2005). The traditional inventory approach of assessing the practice of adopting performance measures, however, has provided some evidence of innovation diffusion in smaller local governments (Rivenbark and Kelly, 2003), resulting in a void in the literature regarding performance management.

This exploratory research represents a first step toward responding to this void by presenting a case study on performance management in municipalities within the population range of 1,000 to 4,999 in order to determine whether or not smaller local governments have the organizational capacity to move from measurement to management and to identify the possible organizational factors necessary for making this transition. We begin this article with a literature review on performance measurement and performance management in local government before describing how the three municipalities were selected for our case study. Based on a comparative analysis between two municipalities from the United States and one municipality from Italy, we then present the findings of our research that suggest performance management can be found in smaller local governments when the necessary leadership is in place and when they embrace the higher-order measures of efficiency and effectiveness. While we acknowledge the limitations of being able to generalize results from the case study approach, we conclude this article by discussing the implications of our findings for smaller local governments and by presenting possibilities for next steps regarding future performance management research.


What we know about management innovation in local government is based primarily on research from jurisdictions with populations of 25,000 and above, which is consistent across national and international studies (Rivenbark and Kelly, 2003; Nisio, De Carolis, and Losurdo, 2013). The advantage of this approach is that larger organizations are more likely to adopt performance measurement systems, and researchers are more likely to obtain the performance information that they need from larger organizations through case study approaches and survey research designs. …

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