Experts Tout Results-Driven State Government
By Mary Branham and Mikel Chavers, CSG Editors
Performance measurement isn’t a fad—it’s here to stay.
That’s according to speakers at The Council of State Governments’ half-day workshop on performance measurement during the Spring Conference in May in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“It’s something that clearly has become widely accepted,” said Harry Hatry, director of the Public Management Program at the Urban Institute. “It’s just obvious that you should be concerned about results for citizens.”
After all, every state is doing some form of performance measurement—but they are all doing it in varying degrees, Hatry said.
From measuring how many children have health insurance coverage to measuring how well state roads are maintained, performance measurement—no matter how complex and daunting the concept sounds—is actually going on in every state already.
“There are a variety of programs around the country that go beyond what we think of as performance management at the budget and planning office,” said John Mountjoy, director of policy and research at CSG. That’s why CSG has taken on a new project called the State Comparative Performance Measurement Project in partnership with the Urban Institute.
The project, launched early last year, aims to create a first-ever state-based program for performance measurement. Although models exist at the county level comparing performance data, “interestingly, this does not exist at the state level,” Mountjoy said.
The CSG effort seeks to look at state government as a whole when it comes to performance measurement and aims to be the clearinghouse and resource for the folks at the state level, Mountjoy said.
But even though states are measuring their performance in various areas, it’s what the states actually do with that information to hold make government more accountable and transparent that has experts talking.
More than Just the Data
Performance measurement shouldn’t set up a “gotcha” situation. In other words, gathering performance data shouldn’t be about playing the blame game.
Instead, it should inform public policy. That’s according to Mike Lawson, director of the Center for Performance Measurement at the International City/County Managers Association. “It should not absolutely drive public policy and public management,” he said.
Performance measurement, he said, is a tool to drive performance management—setting goals and meeting them through the use of data.
Collecting data on state performance is performance measurement—that’s largely a science, Lawson said. But what’s done with the statistics and data is another concept—the concept of performance management. “But performance management is largely an art,” Lawson said.
That’s because in order for data to drive a sort of revolution in the way government works and help officials to determine what’s working and what’s not working, it has to be a real team effort, drawing input from all stakeholders.
“The idea that you put a number down on a piece of paper and tell everyone in your state about it (and) that it will make something happen is a huge leap,” said George Grob, president of the Center for Public Program Evaluation. “You’re counting on a certain mass psychology to happen here.”
For that to happen, people up and down the chain of command—the executive branch, the legislature and even the frontline employees working in various state government agencies—must work together.
Robin Campbell, from Washington’s Government Management Accountability and Performance program, or GMAP for short, gives a good example of why communication across all levels of government is important for performance management initiatives.
Washington’s program stands as an example.
In the area of social services, state officials found that Washington residents were concerned about the safety of children. They determined that one way to measure that is the number of children who are repeated victims of abuse.
Officials theorized that a quick response time could help lower that number, so Gov. Christine Gregoire set a goal for local social service offices to respond to a call of child abuse within 24 hours in at least 90 percent of the cases.
When some regions in the state weren’t meeting that target, GMAP officials talked to frontline social workers to find out that the regions didn’t need what you might automatically think—more staff or more money. One region in particular just needed more vehicles. The only thing standing in between them and the vehicles they needed was an outdated state policy.
The state changed that policy.
“If you’re not having the conversation about what those numbers mean, you’re not going to get the whole story,” Campbell said.
“We’re all in this together and it doesn’t work if we all don’t work together,” Grob said.
“So often people get bogged down about talking about relevance and reliability and validity and coming up with fancy processes but they forget that it is taking place in a political process,” said Rakesh Mohan, director of Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluations.
And that means, performance management “needs to involve stakeholders,” Mohan said. It’s about the ongoing dialogue, spanning all three branches of government, he said.