Performance measurement and performance reporting (as key tools of performance management in public organization) have gained importance in most governments over time. Performance measurement can be defined as the regular generation, collection, analysis, reporting and utilization of a range of data (including data on inputs, outputs and outcomes) related to the operation of public organizations and public programs. This paper seeks to explore what makes performance measurement so attractive in theory, yet so difficult in practice. Though the explanation to this question has been wide ranging, drawing attention to a number of factors, yet the emphasis has been on the fact that performance measurement is a “rational” technique operating in a “political” context, where other types of rationality often prevail. The most appropriate stance to adopt on performance measurement is realism about its potential and its problems.
Performance measurement is undoubtedly here to stay. Interested members of the public are becoming accustomed to the regular appearance of performance reports in many public fields. There is a growing commitment by politicians at all levels of government to the idea of regular and meaningful reporting on performance. Not only have most public servants embraced the notion of performance management, they have developed their knowledge and skills in performance measurement. Real progress has been made in measuring dimensions thought to be un-measurable. Headway has been made in demonstrating the linkage between activities and outcomes. In places, there has also been an evolution away from narrow bottom lines to multidimensional assessments, from reliance merely on quantitative information toward the integration of qualitative information, and from single perspectives to multiple perspectives on performance. If there is still a sense of disappointment despite this real progress, it arises partly from the inflated claims made on behalf of performance measurement schemes at the beginning.
There has been a tendency in public organizations to follow the “best practices” approach, searching for what works elsewhere. The risk of this approach is that it takes inadequate account of the particular circumstances of different organizations. One needs to examine both successful and unsuccessful efforts to introduce performance measurement to assess what may work for any particular jurisdiction. Decades of past efforts to improve public sector performance suggest that progress is more likely to be made on a gradual, incremental basis than on the basis of a single spectacular breakthrough.
Dr. Paul Thomas