Better, Faster, Cheaper

An Essential Guide to the ‘Stat’ Revolution in Government

The concept of the "Stat" program" -- created by Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani in New York City and taken to new levels by Martin O'Malley as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland -- appears in a variety of forms. While some state and local governments merely appropriate the "-Stat" suffix as an inoculation against public complaints, others pursue this performance-management technique rigorously in a way that enhances public accountability and drives organizational improvement.

PerformanceStat book coverTranslating performance measurement into true productivity gains is the subject of a new book of intensely relevant case studies by my Harvard Kennedy School colleague Robert Behn, The PerformanceStat Potential: a Leadership Strategy for Producing Results. Each of its 16 crisply composed chapters stands alone -- indeed, this book is a veritable encyclopedia on the management practice that has come to saturate the public sector since its first incarnation two decades as the New York Police Department's CompStat. Then and now, as Behn points out, its success depends on four fundamental principles: "accurate and timely intelligence shared by all"; "rapid deployment of resources"; "effective tactics and strategies"; and "relentless follow-up and assessment." Behn is aggressively comprehensive in teasing out the key operational components that spur these aphorisms into action -- and produce results. READ MORE

City Finances and the Promise of Data Visualization

For local governments, financial reporting is about more than simply ensuring that the numbers add up. Public officials also have to be able to communicate the data in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to target audiences, whether it's city officials making decisions about resource allocation or voters making decisions about whether to trust their governments.

That's the challenge for municipalities: How can local governments provide a comprehensive, yet accessible medium for distributing budgetary and other financial data? And from a practical standpoint, how can city leaders make this happen with limited resources and staff capacity? READ MORE

Taking the Bypass on Transportation Funding

As is usual when the weather's warm, the "Road Work Ahead" signs are everywhere. In Washington, though, not much of that kind of work has been going on, at least on Capitol Hill, with Congress again fumbling with how to provide money for transportation projects across the country.

Over the summer, the Highway Trust Fund, which is the source of federal funding for state highway projects, nearly went broke once again. As the end of the congressional session closed in, lawmakers did finally agree on a stopgap 10-month, $10.8 billion measure to avoid the job losses and other economic harm that would have resulted from stopping the flow of federal money during the height of road-construction season. READ MORE

'Pay for Success': A Better Way to Deliver Social Services?

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but I suspect that most people would find it a little easier to take if they knew their tax dollars were funding the achievement of concrete public goals. That's the idea behind "pay-for-success" programs that have been launched during the last year in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York state and are being developed or considered in several others.

Under these programs, government outlines a set of specific goals in areas such as mental illness, homelessness or preventive health care. Private investors and philanthropic organizations then finance the work of nonprofits to deliver cost-effective, evidence-based social services on behalf of the state. The investors receive "success payments" only if the desired results are achieved. READ MORE

Do We Really Need to Keep Building Convention Centers?

Politically, it's almost irresistible. Revenue from hotel and other taxes, paid largely by people from other places, will be used to subsidize convention centers that lure those visitors to town to spend in hotels, stores and restaurants.

But a new book demonstrates a far less appealing reality. In "Convention Center Follies," Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, tells the tale of projects that continue to be built and expanded at a record pace even though they almost always fail to deliver the promised benefits. READ MORE