A Roadmap to Measuring Performance

Since 1994, the Center for Performance Measurement, created by ICMA, has helped participating jurisdictions improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their public services through the collection, analysis and application of performance information.
March 12, 2008
Bob O'Neill
By Robert J. O'Neill Jr.  |  Contributor
Past executive director of the International City/County Management Association

There can be little dispute these days among state and local government officials about the importance of communicating accurate, fair, and comparable data about the quality and efficiency of service delivery to citizens.

Performance data is essential to developing strategic plans, measuring progress toward goals, assessing policy alternatives, and making sound management decisions. Since 1994, the Center for Performance Measurement, created by ICMA (International City/County Management Association), has helped participating jurisdictions improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their public services through the collection, analysis and application of performance information. The ICMA center and other organizations have helped local governments to implement the following best practices:

Citizen participation: A diverse collection of local governments now routinely uses citizen surveys to establish priorities, get feedback from residents regarding city services and to examine community perceptions regarding quality-of-life indicators.

Budgeting for performance: Other jurisdictions have effectively implemented broad performance measurement and management as a permanent tool when developing the annual budget -- linking strategic goals with departmental objectives, establishing specific performance objectives and identifying and adhering to best practices.

Long-term and cross-agency measurement: Some jurisdictions use performance management to align department services and programs with strategic priorities, report on service efforts and accomplishments, conduct multiyear comparisons, and provide quantitative information regarding the economic, financial, and demographic status of the jurisdiction.

Despite the increasing and successful use of performance management among state and local governments, there exists no commonly accepted framework or guidelines. In response to this challenge, 10 leading state and local government organizations have joined forces to create the National Performance Management Advisory Commission.*

The work of the Performance Commission will build on the successful model of the National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting, which was established in 1995 and whose three-year work plan produced a comprehensive set of budgeting principles and practices that has become the guide for state and local governments. The Performance Commission's two-year mission will be to design a voluntary, comprehensive framework for performance management that supports and guides state and local government efforts in accessing and implementing performance management and measurement systems.

These guidelines will identify general approaches and practices that are characteristic of successful performance measurement and management; emphasize the value of evidence-based and data-driven decision making in delivering effective government services; and provide a flexible framework that is adaptable to the unique and diverse environments of state and local government. It is imperative that these guidelines reflect the issues and challenges associated with development and implementation of performance management systems from a broad range of perspectives, including elected and appointed officials and program and operational managers.

The resulting framework will help state and local leaders assess existing performance management and measurement systems and design new ones. The guidelines will not be prescriptive. Rather, they will be principles both general and flexible enough for state and local government organizations to adapt to their unique and diverse environments, while providing a common frame of reference and an arsenal of examples of leading practices.

The Performance Commission held an organizational meeting in early February, in Denver, and the first meeting of the principals will take place in the spring. The group's work over the next two years will revolve around four phases that focus on identifying critical issues and challenges; researching best-practice case studies; producing a set of recommendations and a final report; and developing the tools, resources and training opportunities state and local governments can use to implement performance management systems.

The National Performance Management Advisory Commission guidelines will significantly advance the state of the practice of performance management among state and local governments. I encourage you to learn more and to follow the Commission's progress by visiting its Web site at http://www.pmcommission.org.

*The commission will be comprised of elected and appointed officials representing each of the 10 sponsoring organizations: the Association of School Business Officials International; the National Association of State Budget Officers; the Council of State Governments; the Government Finance Officers Association; the International City/County Management Association; the National Association of Counties; the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers; the National Conference of State Legislatures; the National League of Cities; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The group will also engage leaders in the fields of management, research and academia.