Performance Measurement: The New Norm

May 13, 2015 8:43 am PST | Data as a Service, Effective Governing

When Martin O’Malley took office as Maryland’s governor in 2007, he and his staff set an ambitious goal: eradicate childhood hunger in the state.

Expressing this kind of broad objective is hardly unusual for elected officials, but in this case O’Malley and his team meant business. The team tackled things in what, at that time, was considered innovative for a state government.

For starters, they converted their lofty objective into a measurable, pursuable metric: get 70 percent of children already eating a daily free/reduced school lunch to also eat a daily free/reduced school breakfast.

To help reach this goal, they gathered any relevant data they could get their hands on, from education to agriculture data, and then deployed breakfast programs (among other initiatives) where the data indicated to do so. From there, they frequently met with appropriate state personnel to examine fresh datasets underpinning the programs, and they continually tweaked the programs based on what the data showed was (and was not) working.

Six years later, the initiative is nearing its target. Sixty-two percent of Maryland students receiving a free/reduced lunch now also start their day with a school breakfast—a 38 percent increase from 2007 numbers. 

The program’s success, however, is no surprise to Socrata’s Chris Rieth, a former O’Malley senior aide who helped the governor apply this face-to-face, data-driven, results-oriented approach to government problem solving.

This model, called performance measurement, is the new, effective way of doing things, says Rieth, which is why he’ll be hosting an insightful webinar on the subject on May 27. (Editors note: see the recording of the webinar here). 

What Is Performance Measurement?

One way to understand performance measurement, says Rieth, is to compare it to the common older method for using data to allocate government resources to programs and services.

Traditionally, he says, government departments have measured success by digging up a few stats once a year, compiling an annual report, and then meeting for a pat-on-the-back exercise that aims to maintain the past year’s budget and add a little fiscal growth, all the while paying little heed to program outcomes or changing conditions.

In contrast, as Maryland’s childhood hunger example illustrates, the performance measurement approach is an exercise in agility and real-world results. It calls for relevant personnel to constantly gather data, frequently meet face-to-face to discuss the data, and then use that data to adjust active programs on a weekly or biweekly basis—all with an eye toward achieving specific, overarching results.

Why Is Performance Measurement Important?

Among the numerous benefits of performance measurement, says Rieth, is the model allows government entities to adapt to changing needs, times, and priorities to better serve the public.

“When the last recession hit, unemployment rose dramatically, and tax revenues slowed to a trickle, our [Maryland state government] departments didn’t have to wait until the end of the year to make budget requests after everything had hit a brick wall,” he explains. “Instead, we were able to adapt and deliver the services citizens were demanding in near real time.”

How Is Open Data a Pivotal Element in Performance Measurement?

With its quick, rapid-fire reviews and adjustments to program and service improvements, a performance measurement culture allows government entities to openly showcase progress, as well as engage citizens in the involved program review process.

As Rieth points out, sharing performance measurement meeting agendas, as well as sharing both positive and negative performance measurement reports, increases citizen engagement, which in turn creates public buy-in for the government programs subject to reviews and accountability.

Who Is Doing Performance Measurement Well?

One of the most influential entities to embrace the performance measurement models is the New York Police Department. The organization’s CompStat program, which Rieth calls “legendary,” began when department and mayoral leadership switched from a quarterly crime statistics meeting to a weekly discussion that resulted in continuously redeployed police resources based on shifting crime stats.

Since CompStat’s NYC debut, police departments across the country have adopted similar performance measurement models with great results, says Reith. He further points out that it was the NYPD CompStat program that helped influence Martin O’Malley’s successful Baltimore CitiStat program during O’Malley’s mayoral term, which in turn led to his subsequent, award-winning application of performance measurement to an entire state.

Major municipalities nationwide have since embraced the performance measurement concept, from Cook County’s STAR program to Kansas City’s KCStat to San Mateo, California’s SMC Performance initiative, all of which use Socrata’s Open Performance platform to manage their performance measurement programs.

What’s the Future of Performance Measurement?

According to Steve Goldsmith, New York City’s former deputy mayor and a current professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the growing adoption of performance measurement is evolving toward a new phase.

The key trends: an emphasis on public value, or how well government programs are actually solving social challenges; data visualization, or making open performance stats more usable; predictive analytics, or the ability to harness performance data to solve municipal problems before they happen; and integrating citizen knowledge and wider government employee expertise into the performance data stream.

Of course, if you’d really like to understand the future of performance measurement for your organization, or would just like to get started, make sure to attend Chris Rieth’s next informative performance measurement webinar on May 27.  

Watch the Webinar


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