Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

A Better Way to Link Policy Analysis and Performance Management

Results-based accountability measures results in the real world.

Operation Breakthrough, a Kansas City social service agency founded in 1971 by two nuns, sits in one of the poorest parts of the city. It serves about 400 kids every day, 98 percent of whom come from families who live below the poverty line. About a quarter of the kids are homeless and another quarter are living in foster care.

Operation Breakthrough is one of dozens of nonprofits and government agencies trying to improve the lives of children and families in the city’s urban core. It’s clear that some of these agencies are doing vital work well. Yet Sister Berta Sailer says that conditions in the neighborhoods served have steadily worsened over the decades.

“How is it possible,” asks Mark Friedman, “to have all these successful programs while conditions get worse?” This paradox forms the starting point for his 2005 book, Trying Hard is Not Good Enough. Friedman, who has more than 30 years of experience in public administration and public policy, has developed “results-based accountability,” a system of performance improvement that is radically different from “logic models” and other more widely known approaches to policy analysis.

For most of my government career, I used logic models. When I came across Friedman’s work, I was struck by the power and utility of results-based accountability. Logic models assume a linear relationship between actions and results that simply doesn’t exist in the real world. And the strategies that policy analysts produce are often top-down. Friedman’s approach is cleaner, simpler, more practical and less elitist. It’s designed to answer three questions: How much are you doing? How well are you doing it? Is anyone better off? Think of it as policy analysis and performance management for populists.

The point of social service programs is to improve community conditions. But what about the fact that an individual program cannot do this? Friedman shows how to do “population accountability” at the city, county or state level and “performance accountability” at the program or agency level. Then he shows how to put the two together to demonstrate the linkage between population and customer results.

One strong convert to Friedman’s system is Connecticut state Rep. Diana Urban. When Governing named her a Public Official of the Year in 2010, it called results-based accountability “the defining aspect” of her career. She says it lets legislators become a “functional part” of effective policymaking and cites a results-accountability review of the state’s school-based health-care centers. The review documented that the highest use of the centers was for mental health issues and that the centers also were helping to reduce absenteeism by providing onsite health services. It showed that per-student cost was very low, resulting in funding for additional school health centers.

“The highest form of analysis is using intellect to aid interaction between people,” the late public policy pioneer Aaron Wildavsky wrote more than three decades ago. Friedman’s work shows in practical terms how language and common sense can be used to allow people to find common ground and improve their communities.

Mark Funkhouser, a former publisher of Governing and former mayor of Kansas City, is president of Funkhouse & Associates, an independent consulting firm. He can be reached at mark@mayorfunk.com.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
In recent years, local governments have been forced to adapt to a wildly changing world, especially as it pertains to sending bills and collecting payments.
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?