Mid-Atlantic StatNet: Fostering Peer Collaboration in Performance Management

January 12, 2016 7:00 am PDT | Data as a Service, Effective Governing

Performance management is an evolving, if not elusive, practice for many municipalities and it’s never the same from city to city. Getting started in performance measurement can be fraught with challenges — departmental participation, data access, citizen engagement, and politics to name a few. Complicating the matter are all the different approaches with some groups focusing on Martin O’Malley’s CitiStat model, some on performance based-budgeting, and many groups just figuring out how to get started.

As with anything government, there are a lot of acronyms, buzzwords, and best practices. Cascading hierarchies is a personal favorite! With all the big talk, it’s not surprising that performance management can confuse and even strike fear into the heart of municipal leaders and departments given the potential to put someone in the “hot seat.”

Simplicity and Peer Collaboration Can Drive Results

A friend recently shared this video on performance measurement with me. Between bouts of laughter there’s an underlying truth: we’re making it more complicated than it needs to be. Simplicity and collaboration are essential to performance success. The combination of the two can create a cooperative process that results in real change.

The recent Mid-Atlantic StatNet bi-annual meeting emphasized this vision. By creating a collaborative dialogue about performance measurement, budgeting, programs, and policy across cities and counties in the Capital region we can help raise all ships. “Although we all know that keeping performance management simple facilitates success, it’s easier said than done. By discussing our common challenges and successes at MASN we help each other improve implementing performance management from processes like performance based budgeting to helping find a meaningful indicator,” says Greg Useem, Chief Performance Officer for the city of Alexandria, Va.

The Mid-Atlantic StatNet organization grew out of the Fairfax County Regional Performance Measurement Consortium, begun in 1997 by Barbara Emerson, former Performance Measurement Coordinator with Fairfax County, Va. The consortium’s early efforts focused primarily on sharing performance management practices between D.C. metropolitan jurisdictions. In 2013, Fairfax County, Va., Montgomery County, Md., and the city of Alexandria, Va., partnered to grow the organization.

Meeting attendees ranged from first timers to repeat participants, large counties to small municipalities. Universally everyone is looking for answers, knowledge, and ideas to improve regardless of their performance program’s maturity.

“One of the first questions asked by public sector leaders, managers, and our residents is how are we doing as compared to such and such jurisdiction. It could be a neighbor, a similar city, or county elsewhere in the country, but being able to make some comparisons can be useful. The comparisons don’t necessarily have to be related to outputs or outcomes, but can be about process or initiatives that we can all learn from to improve,” says David Gottesman, Director of Montgomery County’s CountyStat, an established performance program.

What’s Next for the Mid-Atlantic StatNet Organization?

For relative newcomers like Virginia Beach, led by Management Services Director Catheryn Whitesell, the event provided an opportunity to share their practices and hear from others across the region. Whitesell says, “What was interesting about attending the MASN meeting was seeing how other communities were coming together to learn from each other about ways to measure government services and how to use that data to improve service delivery. I can’t tell you how many times we call around to other communities to get comparative data. To have it all in on location, in one format, with standard definitions would be a dream!”

As the group works towards greater peer benchmarking the foundation is being set to facilitate richer and specific conversations around public safety and other major themes. Greater participation, in terms of both municipalities and depth of shared knowledge, will have the potential to impact policies, metrics, and data collection across municipal lines in the greater D.C. metro area.

To learn more about the Mid-Atlantic StatNet or to get involved, visit their website or email Greg Useem. With Socrata Open Performance, governments can establish and communicate goals, as well as tracking progress with real-time data.

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