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By Alicia Schatteman
Public performance management is now firmly entrenched with the focus on results and accountability. Governments around the world, at all levels, have invested significant time and resources into measuring and reporting performance with very mixed results. Some are voluntary performance systems. Some are mandated, although those mandated are much fewer. Those considering measurement systems or looking to improve their existing systems often look to Ontario, Canada with a mandated system as an example. The majority of state and local governments in the United States still had not adopted performance measurement programs. There are lessons in the Ontario, Canada example that may indicate why this work is challenging.
In 2000, the Province of Ontario, Canada (Province) became the first state or province in North America to mandate a municipal performance measurement program [MPMP] for all 445 municipalities. The MPMP program seeks to promote “local government transparency and accountability. It also provides municipalities with useful data to make informed municipal service level decisions while optimizing available resources.”
Ontario’s MPMP mandates that each municipality must collect data on a specified number of measures in different service areas, depending on the year. Measures and service areas have been added since the program was rolled out. Municipalities submit their results to the Province by June each year for review and analysis. By September, they must report to citizens.
Municipalities are encouraged to report to taxpayers in a simple and accessible manner, which might include the following:
Although this program is not tied specifically to provincial funding or transfer payments, the Province encourages municipalities to use their results in their annual business plans and budget reviews for setting new targets and measuring achievements. The municipalities began reporting in 2001. Municipal data must be submitted to the Province using the Financial Information Return.
But how are these results available to the public? Each municipality chooses how to release their results. Most municipalities will post their financial information returns, including the performance measurement results, in a report posted on their website such as the City of Cambridge, Ontario and the City of Toronto. These reports may not serve the intended goal of accountability and transparency because the information is created in a way that is not accessible.
We can and should do better. Public administration has been studying and producing guides to performance and annual reports for decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, The International City Managers’ Association (ICMA) promoted the idea of better annual reports, which will be discussed in detail in the following section. However, after this time, performance reporting fell out of favor until near the end of the 20th century. In the late 1980s, the reinventing government movement changed from an output focus to an outcome focus, to focus on results, not just the process of managing. Since the 1990s, the performance measurement movement has gained strength and commitment but we are not doing any better reporting on municipal performance.
In 2008, the Province rolled out an online platform called MIDAS. One of the major improvements the Province touted was the ability for municipalities to customize reports and select appropriate jurisdictions to compare their results. You would therefore expect to see more municipalities showing comparative information with other jurisdictions. However, this system is completely closed to the public so the program does not improve transparency to the public. The Province of Nova Scotia has taken the Ontario model a step further by making all reports available and searchable.
Challenges in setting up a municipal performance system
Author: Alicia Schatteman is an assistant professor in the School of Public and Global Affairs, Department of Public Administration and the Center for NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University. She received her Ph.D. from the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University, Newark. The author can be reached at www.nonprofitscholar.com.