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Performance Measurement, Reporting, Obstacles and Accountability

Performance Measurement, Reporting, Obstacles and Accountability: Recent Trends and Future Directions

Paul G. Thomas
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Performance Measurement, Reporting, Obstacles and Accountability
    Book Description:

    This monograph identifies the ways that 'politics' enters into the creation of performance measurement systems, the selection of the official and unofficial aims of such systems, the selection of performance criteria and measures, the interpretation of findings, the responses to such findings and the implications of performance reporting for the accountability of both politicians and public servants. Along the way, both the conditions favouring and the obstacles to successful performance measurement will be highlighted.  

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-79-3
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    John Wanna

    Paul G. Thomas has taken a major interest in the issue of performance measurement and management and has written extensively on the subject. The following monograph first appeared as two articles:

    ʹPerformance Measurement, Reporting and Accountability: Recent Trends and Future Directionsʹ, Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy Paper No 23 February 2004; ( and

    ʹPerformance Management and Management in the Public Sectorʹ, Optimum Online—The Journal of Public Sector Management Vol 35, Issue 2, July 2005. (

    They are re-presented here in a single, wide-ranging and provocative monograph that offers much to the academic researcher, the policy practitioner and those at...

  4. About the Author
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    As the quotation from Sir Josiah Stamp suggests, governments have long collected information about their own performance and about their impacts on society. A healthy scepticism has always surrounded such data. However, in recent years performance measurement and performance reporting have become even more important within most governments. 'If you canʹt measure it, you canʹt manage it' has become a familiar refrain.

    Performance measurement and a number of related processes are seen as the key tools of performance management within public organisations. There is a confusing array of buzzwords used on this general topic: reinventing government, new public management, performance...

  6. The Origins of Performance Measurement
    (pp. 5-8)

    Many trends and conditions inside and outside of government have driven the current widespread interest in the use of performance measurement to improve the performance of government in general and the individual organisations which comprise it. These factors are discussed at length elsewhere and therefore need only be briefly listed here:

    the stressed financial condition of most governments with accumulated debts and annual deficits, which are only now being brought under control;

    the turbulent and unpredictable environment of todayʹs public sector which requires governments to have both a sense of direction and the capacity to respond expeditiously to unforeseen changes,...

  7. The Lexicon of Performance
    (pp. 9-10)

    Wherever there is government, there is government performance. On the basis of such obvious statements, modest reputations are earned! However, what constitutes performance within government is more complicated, pluralistic, value laden, and controversial than is true with the performance of private firms where the meaning and the yardsticks to measure successful performance are more limited and more universally accepted. In government, performance is usually thought of as progress toward goals and objectives, but measurement is complicated by the fact that the outcomes being sought are often multiple, vague, shifting, and even conflicting; this reflects the fact that they emerge out...

  8. The Aims of Performance Measurement
    (pp. 11-14)

    Given their diverse origins, it is not surprising that multiple aims have been attached to the recently launched performance measurement systems. Often the aims are stated in highly positive terms. For example, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University begins its case for the use of performance measurement with the following statement: 'Effective performance management leads to better outcomes and strengthens democracy.'¹ As Exhibit 1 indicates, the aims of performance measurement range from the narrowly managerial to the broadly political. Different purposes will require different types of measures. There is not one single magical measure or set of measures...

  9. The Ideal of Performance Measurement
    (pp. 15-18)

    Implicit in the government reports and the secondary literature promoting performance measurement is an image of an ʹidealʹ system. The key features of this ideal system are as follows. (See Exhibit 2.) It gives most attention to impacts or outcomes, not just to descriptions of activities and to volumes of outputs. It employs a focused, manageable and cost-effective set of measures. The measures are valid, clear, consistent, comparable, and controllable, in the sense that they measure matters over which the organisation has control. The measures must also be relevant, meaningful and informative to the leaders/funders of the organisation. Evidence from...

  10. Defining Performance
    (pp. 19-20)

    Given the multiple aims and multiple potential users of performance evidence, controversy can arise from the outset over how to define ʹperformanceʹ. Much of the literature implies that performance is an objective phenomenon, consisting of a set of attributes of a program and its measurable impacts on society. It is as if ʹperformanceʹ was ʹout thereʹ, just waiting to be discovered and documented through a set of measures or indicators. In reality, however, performance is a social construct. The interpretations and the measures of performance arises as much, if not more, out of an interactive process among individuals and institutions,...

  11. Comparing Approaches to Performance Measurement
    (pp. 21-26)

    Performance measurement has become so widespread that it is impossible to know all that is taking place within governments across the world.¹ Also, the labels and the focus of performance measurement systems shift, usually when a new government takes office. Positive, action-oriented words are usually chosen as names for such systems — 'Measuring Up' in Alberta, the 'Oregon Benchmarks', the 'Minnesota Milestones' and 'Best Value' in the United Kingdom. Despite such inspirational language, some of the early leading performance measurement systems have recently been reduced in scope or dropped entirely. Keeping track of the rise and fall of performance measurement...

  12. Choosing Measures/Indicators
    (pp. 27-30)

    Regardless of the approach adopted, a sound performance measurement system must have three qualities: it must be technically valid, it must be functional, and it must be legitimate. For a system to be legitimate in the eyes of those who operate programs or are directly affected by them, it is usually necessary to involve such institutions and individuals in the development of the measures. Stakeholder agreement on measures will not only improve the measures themselves, as it will also help to overcome potential resistance and to increase the prospects for actual utilisation. There is general agreement on the desirable technical...

  13. Linking Performance Measurement to Planning
    (pp. 31-34)

    As mentioned above, many jurisdictions now insist that performance measurement be directly linked to strategic planning and/or ʹbusiness lineʹ planning. Ideally, strategic planning helps organisations to clarify their mission, mandate and goals, to scan the future external and internal environments for threats and opportunities, to identify strategic issues and alternative ways to deal with them, and to develop a set of outcome indicators to track progress towards their goals. All of these elements are to be linked to annual operational planning and to forthcoming budgets. This might be called the ʹtextbook modelʹ of strategic planning. It represents the aspiration to...

  14. Integrating Budgeting and Performance Measurement
    (pp. 35-40)

    All of the advocates of performance measurement favour incorporating performance-based information into the formulation of budgets. The real issue is how this is to be done and the extent to which performance information should drive budgetary decision-making. It is more than a coincidence that performance measurement initiatives in most governments have been launched and controlled by central budgetary agencies (whether these are called Treasury Boards, Management Boards or other titles) and by the funding authorities for outside third parties engaged in the delivery of public services. However, the relative merits of a centralised unilateral, uniform, forced and strictly regimented approach...

  15. Performance Measurement and Evaluation
    (pp. 41-42)

    Performance reports might play their most useful role in signalling to responsible decision-makers and to others the need to conduct more systematic and in-depth evaluations of policies and programs which do appear to be working very well based on the latest published performance evidence. In some ways, performance measurement represents the successor managerial approach to program evaluation which enjoyed great popularity during the 1960s and the 1970s. Evaluation promised better informed decision-making about programs based upon periodic, systematic and objective investigations into their economy, efficiency and effectiveness in serving their declared goals. Many countries, but particularly the United States, made...

  16. Telling the ʹPerformance Storyʹ
    (pp. 43-44)

    With more governments issuing annual ʹreport cardsʹ, there is the danger that politicians, public managers, interest groups, the media, and the public at large will become mesmerised by the numbers. Excellence in the public sector could become equated with scoring high results on a limited number of measures over a short period of time. To promote deeper understanding of what the numbers mean, public organisations need to be able to ʹtell their storiesʹ, as departments of the Australian government do in their impressive annual reports. Storytelling should not be dismissed as merely self-serving anecdotes. Stories serve to put measures in...

  17. The Utilisation Problem
    (pp. 45-46)

    As the above discussion suggests, the ultimate worth of any performance measurement system is the use to which it is put. The functionality of the system is therefore very important. Providing relevant and reliable information to the right people at the right time is the ideal. The depressing news from the world of practice is that the utilisation of performance evidence on all levels appears to be limited. This strong statement must be immediately qualified, however. We simply do not have many good empirical studies of the actual use of performance information at different levels and for different purposes. Governments...

  18. Complications
    (pp. 47-50)

    Many of the complications associated with the use of performance information have been referred to earlier in this paper. Therefore, a brief analysis will be presented of four types of complications: technical, institutional, financial and political.

    The conceptual and technical problems involved with valid and reliable performance measurement are numerous. Grenier sums up the problems as follows:

    Public sector performance measurement is, in effect, like putting a meter on a black box: we have little knowledge of the mechanism inside and no theory linking inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes to explain why a particular result occurred or to prescribe what...

  19. The Disappointing Record of Performance Measurement/Management (PMM)
    (pp. 51-54)

    During the 1980s and 1990s, governments embraced PMM with enthusiasm, and often there was great fanfare involved with the launch of ambitious PMM systems. Effective PMM, it was promised, would lead to better outcomes and would strengthen democracy. The ʹidealʹ PMM system would do the following: have clearly defined purposes; focus on outcomes (not just inputs and outputs); use a limited number of measures; use measures that are valid, reliable, comparable and controllable; produce information that is timely, relevant, meaningful, balanced, and valued by key decision-makers; be integrated with planning, budgeting and evaluation activities; and would be widely understood, supported,...

  20. The Obstacles to PMM
    (pp. 55-58)

    Why are Canada and other countries finding it so difficult to create a relevant set of performance measures and use them as a basis for action to improve performance? The reasons are numerous, and some of the more concrete constraints are discussed below. However, on the most fundamental level, the challenge arises from the inherent difficulty of the central tasks involved. Both performance measurement and performance management represent a contemporary version of the scientific management theory that dominated management thinking many decades ago. Derived from the experiences of private firms, performance measurement and performance management were oversold as offering an...

  21. Accountability Versus Performance?
    (pp. 59-62)

    Accountability has always been a central concern of both the study and the practice of public management. The concept has also been elusive and controversial. Critics have seldom been hard pressed to find fault with existing accountability arrangements and procedures. When something has gone seriously wrong within government, the tendency has been to adopt wider definitions of accountability and to add new layers of accountability requirements. An ironic consequence of the expansion of the meaning of accountability has been to create even greater confusion about who is accountable for what in government.

    As I have argued elsewhere, my own preference...

  22. The Future of PMM
    (pp. 63-66)

    Up to now, governments have focused on designing and implementing measurement systems. As these systems move into a more mature phase, the emphasis must shift to how we use measurement to manage better. How can we define and operationalise various concepts and dimensions of performance to make them more amenable to meaningful measurement? How can we extract greater insight about what works, and why, from available data? How can we better communicate those insights to the multiple audiences served by the performance measurement system? How can we ensure that measurement influences policy formation and managerial behaviour, which in turn leads...

  23. Conclusions
    (pp. 67-68)

    The above discussion was not meant to debunk performance measurement or to produce a sense of futility that the approach will contribute nothing of value to government. Rather, the purpose was to explain why performance measurement systems have delivered less than was hoped for. The explanation has been wide ranging, drawing attention to a number of factors but the main emphasis has been on the fact that performance measurement is a ʹrationalʹ management technique operating in a political context where other types of rationality often prevail. The most appropriate stance to adopt on performance measurement is realism about its potential...

  24. Selected Bibliography on Performance Measurement and Accountability
    (pp. 69-74)