Residency Requirements, Connecting Citizens to Performance Reporting, and the Problem with Surveys
Plus: Questions about restructuring, and more management news
About 4 percent of Kansas state employees live outside the state, mostly in Missouri with a smattering in Oklahoma. Some legislators didn't like the idea of paying employees whose tax dollars were siphoned out of state. So now, Kansas is considering establishing a residency requirement that would largely limit those jobs, and the tax dollars they generate, to in-staters. A year ago, New Jersey established a new residency requirement of its own, though it only applies to new employees.
We've seen various types of residency requirements over the years, mostly at the local level. And while we're sympathetic to the desire to bring in every dollar of cash to state coffers, this maneuver is not without potentially unpleasant consequences. A report from the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit points out that while $2 million in tax revenue might be generated from a new residency requirement, it would also cut down on the applicant pool, which could mean that the quality of the workforce would suffer. In addition, the audit warns that such a mandate could uproot current employees — or terminate those who aren't willing to move — and potentially lead other states to retaliate with residency requirements of their own.
We've long admired the work of Barbara Cohn Berman and her Trailblazers program, which helps governments connect performance reporting with citizens. Over the nine years that the program has been in existence, Berman has picked up a great many lessons from the 70 participating governments about how to tap citizen opinion, generate interest and create reports that are understandable, accessible and engaging. She shares these lessons in a new book, When Governments Listen: Moving Toward Publicly Engaged Governing, which is now available at the Center on Government Performance.
Thanks to ever more advanced technology, a revolution is coming in the way data will be used by governments and the private sector to better inform and help citizens.
We got a glimpse of the possibilities when we chatted recently with Francisca Rojas, research director at the Transparency Policy Project. She's been looking into the use of widely available data to communicate with transit riders in Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington and Portland, Ore. These apps — which are mostly designed by private software developers with some guidance from the cities — give users information on their smartphones about how many minutes (or in New York's case, how many blocks) away a bus is. This is a piece of government data that people access every day of their working lives and the comments that come back from users are "overwhelmingly positive," says Rojas, who has written about the topic on Google's Policy by the Numbers blog.
As Rojas said to us, "I think the most important thing with this type of information [is that] you really need to anticipate who the users of the information are going to be and deliver the information in a way that will meet their motivations and their needs to use it."
If you're interested in more on this issue, take a look at the short video interviews on the topic by Steve Towns of Government Technology.
"It's a puzzling fact that one of the most costly and stressful organizational change strategies — restructuring — is virtually NEVER subjected to any serious evaluation." — from the Genuine Evaluation blog, which is written by program evaluators from Melbourne, Australia; and Aukland, New Zealand; and which is consistently informative and entertaining.
When we recently asked you about significant opposition to the use of results-based performance information, a number of intriguing comments came back to us. You'll be hearing lots about this in weeks to come, but we wanted to share one of the most interesting with you right now. It was written by Dele Lowman Smith, assistant to the county manager of Fulton County, Ga.
An excerpt: "I've been partially or entirely responsible for performance management and other related areas in two large county governments in the past 10 years. I can't say that I've experienced 'significant opposition' as much as lukewarm support from elected officials. From what I can tell, they are reluctant to endorse results-based decision making too strongly in case the data doesn't support a decision they feel they must make politically. If it makes their case, then performance information is the best thing since sliced bread. When the data contradicts their chosen political path, that's when things get hairy and they start challenging the credibility of the measures, the people doing the measurement or even performance measurement itself! It's really quite ridiculous."
We're regularly surprised by the sheer quantity of surveys being published these days, ranging from those that ask about "faith in government," to those that look into questions of unfaithful spouses. A great many of these results don't pass our own smell test, and yet many are presented as though they represent absolute truth.
We recently talked with George Beam, an associate professor in the department of public administration at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Beam explained why he worries about over-reliance on surveys. For starters, there are the many external factors that affect how someone answers a question — the gender of the person who is asking, the way the question is worded and the format of the survey itself. "No matter what sorts of questions we ask, or how carefully we try to word them," he says, "we're still always getting responses that may or may not be correct."
Beam, who has written a new book on this topic, The Problem with Survey Research, says the drive to get people to give their opinions and feelings on issues pervades all aspects of current culture, from academia to consulting to newspaper reporting and TV interviews. "Everyone is asking everyone about everything everywhere," he says, adding that he'd like to see much more reliance on observation, experimentation and document and content analysis.
If you're looking for health data, check out the new Health System Measurement Project website, which provides trend data from eight federal agencies. Very useful.
What are the ingredients for political corruption? A new Harvard study provides a fascinating analysis of the varying levels of corruption in different state capitals. Examining federal corruption charges over a roughly 25-year period (1976-2002), it compared the nation's 50 state capitals and found that the "most corrupt" tended to be those located at a distance from the state's center of population, like Albany, N.Y.; or Springfield, Ill. One theory that emerges from this notion: A strong media, like sunlight, is a good antiseptic and provides a good check on folks inclined to the unsavory deed.
An article in The Los Angeles Times noted one "troubling implication" of the study. Since less newspaper coverage seemed to point to greater corruption, the 30 percent drop in the number of state capital reporters between 2003 and 2009 may lead to "plenty of work for prosecutors in years to come."
While we're on the topic of media, Lee Schiffel, an assistant professor of accounting at Valparaiso University in Indiana, has done extensive work showing that reporters are less experienced than they used to be. This means, in turn, that the reportage about government is likely to be less sophisticated than it could be. "It's not only the number of reporters," she told us, "but the decline in the expertise of the reporters."
"The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks." — Mortimer Adler, as quoted by the Farnam Street blog.