Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Value of a National Comparative Performance Database

Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Value of a National Comparative Performance Database

Article excerpt

Performance matters, and when the chief executive and CFO agree to support performance management systems, the process prospers.

The basic principles of performance management--such as efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery, the importance of measurement, and the value of benchmarking and comparing with peers--have endured. At the same time, dissatisfaction levels with state and federal government are high, and citizens tend not to see officials in these levels of government as effective problem solvers. In this environment, the solutions to many of the nation's problems increasingly reside at the local level, where public officials must focus intensely on accountability, performance, transparency, and the engagement of residents in decision making to maintain the unique credibility that local government still enjoys.

Frankly, performance does matter, and when the chief executive and chief financial officer agree to support performance management systems, the process prospers. Performance management systems can be best implemented throughout the enterprise to harness the power of analytical platforms. This is why the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Center for Performance Analytics is creating a national database of performance management metrics for the benefit of all local governments.

The reasons for this undertaking remain the same today as they were when ICMA began its work in the area in the 1930s. Performance management is intended to inform better decision making. It also empowers:

* Performance reporting to elected officials and citizens.

* Budget preparation and resource allocation.

* Better management and direction of operational units.

* Baseline information for process reengineering and testing new procedures.

* Developing scopes of work and monitoring contracts.

* Supporting planning and budgeting systems.

* Program evaluation and resource realignment.

* Benchmarking with comparable jurisdictions to determine best practices.

* Providing meaning, scale, and context to staff reports and recommendations.


Without performance management, governments do not truly know how well they are performing. They lack a means of defining, communicating, and measuring their success. Performance management can, for instance, help jurisdictions see why others get better results with similar resources. In addition, the growth of open databases and the analytical tools available to citizens have increased the risk that performance data reported to other organizations will be mined and reported by reporters, bloggers, or others, increasing the risk that a government will be caught unaware and lose credibility.

One author' describes this point in time as "the intersection of more to know, more tools to help us know, and the expectations that we will do something with what we know." It is no accident that a fast-growing field of journalism is the exploration of public records and open data sources to seek out and report on failures, creating or worsening administrative credibility with a jurisdictions' own information. Few organizations can afford to have their critics or a hostile news media define their performance and reputations unjustly.


In many jurisdictions, the administrative tasks and the management capital required to mandate the enterprise-wide collection of performance data remains challenging in the face of passive or direct staff resistance, lack of legislative focus on the benefits for taxpayers, and legacy software or spreadsheet technology. The "will" to maintain the process also frequently wanes over time with staff changes. If the performance management process is not institutionalized, staff may come to view it as a fad, thinking "this too shall pass." It must therefore become a prevailing practice. …

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