Magazine article Government Finance Review

Blazing a Trail in Publicly Engaged Performance Measurement and Management

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Blazing a Trail in Publicly Engaged Performance Measurement and Management

Article excerpt

When Governments Listen: Moving Toward Publicly Engaged Governing

By Barbara J. Cohn Berman

Fund for the City of New York

2012, 118 pages, $17

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Measuring performance in the public sector is a dicey proposition. Governments need to ask and answer several key questions before they commit their resources to such an initiative. What is the main purpose of measuring performance? How will performance data be collected, stored, analyzed, and communicated? How will measures be used for managing and decision making? And, perhaps most critically, what will improve for the public as a result? When Governments Listen sheds light on all of these questions, focusing on the public's role.

The book can be read on three levels. First, it tells the story of the Trailblazers, who represented 70 public jurisdictions in the United States and Canada, working to make their performance information resonate with the citizens they served. Second, it can be read as a guidebook for governments that want to institute citizen-driven performance measurement and management. The third level is the way performance measurement and management can help bridge the gap in understanding, trust and confidence--so ubiquitous in contemporary America--between governmental entities and the constituents they serve.

THE TRAILBLAZER PROJECT

The impetus for the Trailblazers came from an earlier project of the National Center for Civic Innovation's Center on Government Performance. That project, described in Berman's Listening to the Public: Adding the Voices of the People to Government Performance Measurement and Reporting (Fund for the City of New York, 2005), used contemporary market research methodologies in seeking to understand how the public evaluates governmental performance and to translate that information into citizen-focused performance measures. Among the main conclusions of that research were: 1) that there is a substantial gap between how the public perceives government performance and how governments typically perceive their performance internally; and 2) that it is possible for governments to create measures that reflect the public's perspective and use those measures to better align government services and programs with the public's needs and expectations.

When Governments Listen describes how the Center on Government Performance used what was learned in the previous research and put it to use in the grant-funded Trailblazers program. The new book explains why the program was initiated, who the Trailblazers are, what they did that was different, what they learned, and what changed as a result.

THE DISCONNECT

The Trailblazers' experience will be very useful to governments that use or want to use performance measurement to meet the public's expectations, but the larger topic the book addresses is the use of citizen-informed performance measurement to lessen the disconnect between governments and those they govern. While citizen-informed performance measurement provides the means, decreasing the disconnect is a hoped-for end result.

The author's argument is that absent publicly engaged governing, governments assess how they are doing based on internal perspectives of what the public wants. This is frequently not in sync with what the public really wants. Government insiders typically focus on workloads, inputs and outputs, and personnel and financial performance. The public, although it cares about efficiency and financial condition, cares mainly about results. Moreover, individual members of the public perceive a government's results based on their own interactions with the government, its staff, and its agencies, and this is not necessarily the way insiders perceive results. Thus begins the disconnect. It gets worse as public agencies use their own perceptions and metrics to make decisions about services, programs, and policies without consulting the public. …

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