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State News: August 2009



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Performance Measurement Goes Beyond Data

By Mikel Chavers
The concept of performance measurement starts with something pretty simple: collecting, analyzing and reporting data.
But performance measurement is so much more than just collecting data on state services, according to Rakesh Mohan, director of Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluations. Mohan will speak at the special half-day session on performance management in the states from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the CSG Spring Conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The session will highlight The Council of State Governments’ work in this area with its State Comparative Performance Measurement Project, in partnership with the Urban Institute.
Idaho has a front seat to the evolution of performance measurement because the process is still in its formative stages there, according to Mohan.
Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluations was created 15 years ago to provide information to the legislature by conducting performance evaluations of state agencies and programs.
But in the early days, performance measurement consisted of a really thick book with a whole bunch of statistics from different state agencies—from the transportation department to the department of environmental quality—that was sent around to legislators and others officials, Mohan said.
Problem was, no one actually read what was inside that big book, Mohan said, so it did little good.
So last year, representatives from state agencies started presenting their performance data orally to the different legislative committees. The oral presentations were mandated through a law passed in 2005, Mohan said.
So it’s not just about the data, he said, people starting talking about the data. The different branches of state government were communicating with each other. “All of a sudden, they were working on problems together rather than guessing what each side is doing,” Mohan said.
That’s effective performance management, Mohan said.
“Performance measurement won’t solve all your problems and it may not solve any of your problems just by looking at the numbers,” Mohan said. By orally presenting the data, agency officials and legislators, for example, started to get to the real heart of the problems, determining through discussion if the right data was collected, and what’s more—if it’s even cost-efficient to measure certain things.
This way, “they will have a better relationship with the agencies as a result—now there will be a communication between the two bodies of government, and they can say, ‘now I understand what the legislative intent is,’” Mohan said.
Because Mohan knows that in the public policy process, rarely is the legislative intent of a law clear to both the state legislature and the agency in charge of carrying out the law. The agency has its own interpretation of what the legislature wants and what the government wants and the public has a different interpretation of what the new law will bring, Mohan said.
So data is often collected on what the agencies think the goals of the policies were, he said.
The key is to get information that’s meaningful and “makes you ask smarter questions about the issue,” Mohan said. And smarter questions lead to more targeted measures, better results and in the end, hopefully better government.
“Good government is not possible without an effective accountability system,” Mohan said. “Citizens need performance reporting to hold their governments accountable.”
Performance measurement is the subject of a special half-day workshop at CSG’s upcoming Spring Conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called Performance Management in the States: Looking Within to Manage Change. The workshop will take place on Saturday, May 16, from 8 a.m. to noon. For live blogging from the workshop, check Capitol Comments, the CSG blog.


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