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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Performance Measurement: Delivering on its Promise?

By John Grundy

Three things to know about performance measurement

1. Performance measurement is at the centre of public sector reform initiatives across a range of jurisdictions. It involves establishing performance measures and benchmarks, tracking organizational activity and publicly reporting results.

2. Performance measurement is the basis for gauging the achievements of third party organizations contracted to deliver an increasing range of public services.

3. A large body of public administration research calls into question several tenets of the performance measurement movement.

Three myths about performance measurement

Myth # 1: Performance measurement necessarily enhances transparency and accountability.

Reality: Many studies show that organizations often seek to ‘make the numbers’ in ways that may run up against the norms of equity, due process or quality service delivery. Performance measurement may actually worsen the problems of transparency and accountability that it intends to resolve.

Myth # 2: Performance measurement leads to unequivocal information about organizational activity.
Reality: Measured outcomes are often the result of influences other than organizational activity, including chance. This is especially the case in social service settings where results tend to be co-produced by various actors, and cannot be easily credited to any one source. Performance measurement initiatives often simply side-step this issue of causality.

Myth # 3: Performance measurement will enhance staff efficiency and performance.

Reality: Research paints a more mixed picture. Increased organizational efficiencies may be accompanied by the eroded morale of staff. Workers in third party service organizations often face job insecurity if performance targets are missed, and undue administrative burden given the performance reporting requirements of often multiple government funders. These conditions may undermine efforts to recruit and retain highly skilled workers.

Performance measurement is therefore much more than a neutral administrative exercise, and both its benefits and shortcomings warrant greater attention in public deliberation over how governments coordinate public service delivery.

Further reading:

Brodkin, E. 2011. “Policy work: Street-level organizations under new managerialism.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21: i253–i277.

John Grundy is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Occupational Therapy at Western University.  His research focuses on public policy and public administration, with a focus on labour market policy implementation.