Magazine article Government Finance Review

Making a Commitment to Performance Measurement

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Making a Commitment to Performance Measurement

Article excerpt

Salisbury city officials chose to include performance measurement as an established component of operations, allowing staff to be more accountable for effectiveness and efficiency.

The City of Salisbury, North Carolina, with a population of 28,480, is committed to performance measurement - but that wasn't always the case. The cornerstone of the city's program is the University of North Carolina School of Government's North Carolina Benchmarking Project, which introduced Salisbury to performance measurement and allowed it to compare itself with other communities in the state. Since joining the benchmarking project, the city has also become involved in other regional performance measurement efforts through the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the Community Research Council. Performance measurement has become an important part of the city's organizational culture.


Salisbury got involved with the North Carolina Benchmarking Project in the late 1990s through the efforts of the city manager. A few years later, the city created a full-time performance-measurement position: budget and benchmarking analyst. The post was added, despite a citywide reduction in staff, because of a real and meaningful commitment to performance measurement on the part of city officials who realized that an effective performance management effort could not be achieved as an afterthought. They recognized the value of performance measurement as a tool to help overcome the obstacle of "not knowing what you don't know." The city's goal in this initiative is to be a responsible steward of community resources and to report back to citizens.

After the first few years, city officials decided they wanted to take another step and make performance measurement, which had been a part of the city's annual goal-setting process, an established component of the city's operations. Staff is now expected to be able to answer questions about effectiveness and efficiency so there has to be a system for making that information available.

Salisbury regularly collects workload, efficiency, and effectiveness measures. Both the data and the data-collection measures are audited annually to ensure their accuracy and validity. The data are then compiled into an annual performance document, which reports on the service areas that are of primary interest to the public, and a report for the benchmarking project, which includes extensive graphs and text outlining departmental performance. The city also takes part in an annual data-cleaning process with the other participants in the North Carolina Bench-marking Project to assure an "apples-to-apples" comparison of data, verifying that everyone is using the same collection processes and definitions.

Salisbury's process for gathering performance information has been determined largely by its participation in the benchmarking project. The city attempted to track as much specific information as possible in areas where it would be able to take action.


Over time, city staff members have become more comfortable with the data they collect and have come to rely on it, increasingly using performance measurement to improve city operations. One example of this is recycling services, for which Salisbury uses an outside contractor. Upon conducting follow-up inspections to look at the percentage of recycling, the city discovered that its 30 percent reported recycling rate was being grossly inflated, and that the actual rate was 18 percent. This data allowed the city to see the real level of participation in the program and act accordingly, increasing citizen awareness of the program and monitoring the vendor's usage data more closely. The city also used performance data to discover that its rate of false alarm calls to the police and fire departments was higher than that of its peers. In response, the city adopted a false alarm ordinance, which resulted in fewer wasteful deployments of police and fire staff and also saved the city money. …

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