Is Tracking Outcomes as Performance Indicators of Government Programs Fair?

December 4, 2015 7:43 am PST | Data as a Service, Effective Governing

Designing metrics to measure performance is one of the more challenging aspects of developing a performance management program.

Outcomes can be thought of as the really important stuff — these are the big challenges that cities, states, and federal agencies grapple with and want to change but that are affected by a number of different variables. Outcomes are things like reducing infant mortality, improving congestion and commute times, increasing graduation rates, and addressing unemployment. Governments can influence these issues by the investments they make and programs they introduce, but because these issues are the result of many forces, governments can only affect change on these issues so much.

Given that governments do not have absolute control over outcomes, is it fair to expect them to include such large scale problems as metrics by which the performance of agencies might be judged? Absolutely. First, outcomes are the issues we all care about and so publicly tracking outcomes for one’s city, state, or jurisdiction can not only help to bring attention to these issues but it also demonstrates a government’s commitment to doing its part to addressing these issues. Second, tracking outcomes and linking those outcomes to the particular programs and activities a government is implementing helps to understanding whether investments in those programs and activities are valuable.

It would be unfair to disregard the importance of a government program because in a year’s time there is no change in an outcome. Fairly complicated statistical analyses are required to obtain a better understanding of a government’s potential ability to influence important outcomes. Yet the investments of cities, states, and federal programs are some of the most significant dollars available to improve our nation’s outcomes. Tracking outcome data side-by-side with the outputs of government programs — those activities over which public agencies have absolute control — are important in ongoing efforts to better understand our investments and our efforts to make our cities, states, and nations more vibrant and equitable places.


Learn more about Socrata Open Performance, which utilizes performance metrics based on real, up-to-date data for governments of all sizes.

Find out about Socrata Open Performance


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