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The Case for Performance Management

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Dodd
May 4, 2018

After seven years of managing and implementing public sector performance management programs, I am constantly asked versions of the question, “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” In other words, if a city seems to be running municipal services “on time and on budget” without any major service delivery complaints, why would they develop a performance management program? This is considering that, at their core, performance management programs are systems of management and accountability determined to improve performance by using data to drive decisions. With the absence of data, municipal officials make decisions about what is working and what is not from a variety of sources such as resident surveys, comments from the general public and opinions expressed by staff members. Most cities that implement performance management programs do so because of major service delivery programs, and typically consider the implementation of a performance program if they believe there is a need to improve service delivery.

This approach is understandable, especially considering the first city-wide implementation of a performance management program was driven by the need to improve service delivery. In 1999, Martin O’Malley became the Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. Even before taking office, he realized that the city faced multiple performance delivery challenges, including rampant absenteeism and delays in filling potholes. As a result, he developed CitiStat, a management tool that uses data to drive decisions which was based on CompStat, pioneered by the New York City Police Department. Initially, CitiStat focused on the Bureau of Solid Waste with the Department of Public Works in 2000 to 16 departments in 2002. Eighteen years and four mayors later, CitiStat still exists as a management program using data to drive decisions. For the most part, CitiStat meetings are organized around departments, such as FireStat and PoliceStat, and primarily focuses on monitoring and improving city services. Since the early 2000s, cities large and small across the United States (and around the world), implemented versions of CitiStat, including New Orleans, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Often, the absence of major service delivery problems leads city leaders to conclude that developing a performance management program is not worth the time, money, and effort. To go through the effort of implementing a performance management program, there must be a “why,” a reason for a city to implement the program. While improvement of service is the “why” of most cities, there are other reasons for implementing performance management, specifically the desire to achieve large scale goals and outcomes. Examples include a reduction in homelessness, developing a new model of mobility, creating strong partnerships with community groups or improving the strength and sense of community in a city. The achievement of these large goals is complicated from the beginning, as defining an outcome and a method of measuring success is much harder than measuring success on a process metric related to service delivery, such as the decrease in the time a city takes to fill a pothole. But while complicated, it helps to develop and name important goals tied to the mission of a city, and uses the CitiStat model as a means of achieving them.

This process can be challenging for many reasons, chief among them that cities are not structured around goals or issues, they are organized in long-established departments focused on service delivery. Another challenge is that data is housed in silos, and that while different departments work on similar issues, the systems the use to collect it and their methods for collection and use could not be more different.

This approach is slowly taking hold across the United States as a means of identifying and achieving large-scale goals. Even cities such as Baltimore with long-established performance management programs focused on improving city services, are implementing stat meetings around goal areas, such as HomelessStat. For the achievement of goals to be the “why” of a performance management program, cities must clearly define the goals they want to achieve, and there must also be a willingness on the part of leaders at the top of an organization and employees throughout it to want to develop a new model of collaboration. While this approach is worthwhile of setting and achieving important results, it also could help cities to adapt from the old structure and method of approaching challenges to one that is more collaborative and nimble.


Author: Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]

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