Magazine article Government Finance Review

Monitoring Government Performance toward a Lean-Informed Approach

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Monitoring Government Performance toward a Lean-Informed Approach

Article excerpt

A well-run and financially sustainable local government must monitor performance to ensure that resources are used wisely. Monitoring assures stakeholders that resources are being put to good use, making it more likely that they will be willing to support the government. Monitoring systems will be most effective when they are continuous, and those involved with daily government operations are closely involved.

When performance measurement first gained prominence in public management, many governments began by measuring outputs or efficiency, such as the number of potholes filled. These measures could help public employees, but didn't speak to whether constituents were better off. With the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, the pendulum swung away from focusing solely on output and efficiency measures.' Public management emphasized measuring results such as perceptions of public safety, literacy rates, and infant mortality.

However, outcome measures don't lend themselves well to the two features of an effective monitoring system described above. Outcome measures can seem removed from the daily operational concerns of staff.2 And it's often impractical to measure outcomes frequently enough to make it feel like a continuous process. Shortterm monitoring may provide little more than random variation or statistical noise. For example, year-over-year school graduation rates often aren't useful - meaningful trends take years to emerge.

Over the last 10 years, King County, Washington, has been one of the more active local governments in measuring, monitoring, and managing organizational performance. This article traces the evolution of King County's approach from a Stat model to its current system, which is Lean-informed, in an attempt to strike a balance between operational measures of daily value to public managers and outcome measures that address the broader value of county services while making the monitoring process a continuous part of how work is done there.

IN THE BEGINNING: KINGSTAT

In 2006, King County launched a new performance monitoring system, KingStat, after hearing about Baltimore's widely imitated CitiStat program. These systems are known as PerformanceStat programs.3 They feature regular reviews of performance data, with meetings chaired by a prominent official such as the mayor, county executive, or city manager. These regular meetings have a singular focus on data (including mapping data) to inform local government service adjustment.

After developing a set of linked output and outcome measures, the King County leadership team holds regular, frequent, integrated meetings as part of a strategy designed to achieve specific public purposes. At these meetings, the leadership team:

* Uses current data lu analyze specific, previously defined aspects of recent performance.

* Provides feedback on performance versus targets.

* Follows up on previous decisions and commitments to produce results and learn from efforts to improve.

* Identifies and solves performancedeficit problems and sets the next performance targets.

King County put its own spin on the PerformanceStat concept by focusing more on outcomes such as improved mental health, reduced jail recidivism rates, and preventable injuries and deaths caused by automobiles and firearms.

When a new executive took office in 2010, the county changed KingStat to focus on operational measures in the county's divisions that delivered the day-to-day services to residents. KingStat had emphasized outcome measures relevant to county departments, not their constituents. The change proved to be crucial. The revised system, called Performance Forums, helped the administration focus on the operational details of the county and helped the executive office provide feedback to each division on its strategic and operational direction.

THE LATEST: TIER BOARDS AND ROUNDING

Part of the county executive's vision was continuous improvement and Lean management. …

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