Comparative Performance Measurement: Insights and Lessons Learned from a Consortium Effort

By Kopczynski, Mary; Lombardo, Michael | Public Administration Review, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Comparative Performance Measurement: Insights and Lessons Learned from a Consortium Effort


Kopczynski, Mary, Lombardo, Michael, Public Administration Review


"Regular monitoring of service quality and program results is a key component of informed public management and the identification of opportunities for improved of public-sector performance" (Wholey and Hatry, 1992, 604).

Local governments have routinely compared their own current performance with that in previous reporting periods. In contrast, systematic attempts to make intergovernmental comparisons have occurred less frequently--since differences in how data are collected and reported have often rendered such comparisons meaningless. The Local Government Comparative Performance Measurement Consortium effort represents an ambitious attempt by cities and counties nationwide to capture and report comparative data in several key service delivery areas. The consortium effort is in many ways a first of its kind, and its contribution is particularly noteworthy for the experience it provides to the field of comparative performance measurement regarding implementation challenges and potential solutions. These experiences and related insights have the potential to flatten the learning curve for other local governments and practitioners interested in pursuing comparative performance measurement efforts.

Performance Measurement: Past and Present

Performance measurement evolved largely out of the fields of auditing and budgeting to support management and policy decision making. Performance indicators are "measures of the productivity, quality, timeliness, effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of agency or program activities" (Wholey and Newcomer, 1989). Certainly performance measurement is not new. However, in the 1990s the extent to which government at all levels embraced performance measurement is quite remarkable.

One of the earliest recorded publications on performance measurement dates to 1938, when the International City Management Association (ICMA) published Measuring Municipal Activities: A Survey of Suggested Criteria for Appraising Administration. This was a pioneering work discussing potential ways to measure the performance of a number of municipal services.

Through the middle of the 1970s performance measurement activities by public entities and attempts to report such measurements were rare. During this period, the Urban Institute teamed up with ICMA to produce two volumes to provide practical techniques for municipal governments interested in collecting and analyzing data on local performance--Measuring the Effectiveness of Basic Municipal Services: Initial Report (1974) and How Effective are Your Community Services? (1977).

In the 1980s the private sector experimented with a number of productivity initiatives defined by the total quality management movement, as the performance measurement field expanded to consider the notions of service quality, customer satisfaction, and managing by results. Popular titles of this decade included In Search of Excellence (1982) by Peters and Waterman, and Out of the Crisis (1986) by Deming.

Responding to concerns in the 1990s that state governments "have been hampered by difficulty in developing objective indicators that adequately measure the results of programs or activities," the Governmental Accounting Standards Board released a research report entitled Service Efforts and Accomplishments Reporting: Its Time Has Come (1990). In the landmark book Reinventing Government (1993), Osborne and Gaebler point out that the ability of citizens, elected officials, and others to access information in a manner that they understand is crucial. When concerned parties do not have adequate information their decisions may be flawed. Performance measurement is a vehicle for delivering this information.

Adoption of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 and Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review helped to establish a foundation for strengthening federal agency efforts to improve results (outcomes) through, among other things, performance measurement. …

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