The Context to Reporting Performance in Government
Reporting on performance across the government sector has traditionally been an internal process of providing static indicator reports of current state against baselines and targets to senior managers and elected officials. In parallel, there has been an external process of providing reports and data to a central government agency and an auditing body. Content of performance reports has often been driven by the reporting specifications of the central agency – as such the content and style of reports reflects the needs of this audience but rarely those of others.
However in recent years the situation is changing fast. There are increasing pressures on government bodies worldwide to demonstrate the effective use of public resources. There has been a widespread emergence of performance and results-based management approaches with renewed emphasis on results-oriented business planning, accountability and performance reporting. Agencies are now seeing the benefits of implementing these performance management practices.
How have these developments impacted on performance reporting? Internal reporting is becoming more sophisticated with the use of hierarchical scorecards to present a balanced view of performance tailored to different stakeholders. Visual markers and traffic-light colouring are often used to highlight underachievement and exceptions. Externally, public agencies are being actively encouraged to make their performance reports available to a wider citizen community. There are many challenges to this process not least how to present information to users in a way that is engaging, relevant, understandable and useful in the context of expectations that are rapidly becoming more sophisticated.
In the UK Central Government is committed to public service reform and a key element of their strategy is the introduction of a new set of performance frameworks. Performance reporting is central to these frameworks both in terms of making high quality information more easily accessible leading to a stronger evidence-based approach to decision-making and also using performance information to empower communities.
The organisational performance of public sector organisations is now starting to drive internal policy and practice rather than, traditionally, supporting the external reporting needs of central government. Alongside this is the significant shift away from performance inputs and outputs towards measuring outcomes – the actual and perceived impact that an organisation is having on its local communities. This has a strong locality focus, sometimes referred to as ‘place shaping’. Further detail on the UK context is provided below.
Child and Maternity Health Observatory (ChiMat)
The National Child and Maternal Health Observatory (ChiMat) provides information and intelligence to improve decision-making for high quality, cost effective services. The web site provides on-line tools to support different elements of the commissioning process. These tools are brought together into a central hub for access to data, profiles and reports on child and maternal health.
National report for English local authorities for
Value of Location in Performance Management
The value of utilising location in performance management and reporting is becoming widely recognised. Incorporating location into the way you manage, analyse and deliver performance information allows you to:-
- Build up a more comprehensive picture of the performance landscape through the ability
to integrate a wide range of relevant information based on a common referencing system - location;
- Utilise growing volumes of relevant, geographically referenced statistics, for example
geo-demographic classifications of neighborhoods, to improve analysis and reporting;
- Understand geographic levels of variation and inequality particularly
where there are targets to 'narrow the gap';
- Rapidly benchmark areas of interest with its geographic and statistical neighbors;
- Identify 'problem hotspots' and target policy and practical interventions more effectively;
- Make performance reports more relevant and useful to area-based managers
and elected officials by using localised, recognisable geographic areas; and
- Meet the rising expectations of your citizen audience by making reports
more personalised and useful to citizens.
Context of Performance Reporting in UK government
The 'place shaping' agenda brings a growing awareness of the need to understand geographic variability within a territory of governance. No longer is it sufficient to measure and report many performance measures at the level of the organisation. More localised performance monitoring provides the ability to identify under-performing ‘hotspots’ and deliver more targeted solutions. A focus on organisation level PIs brings with it the risk that intra-area variation is hidden - the actual value of a PI for the organisation may remain fairly constant, but significant changes in one area may be offset by equally significant reverse changes in another area. Top-down target setting also brings risks and can lead to unrealistic expectations. A bottom-up approach that estimates potential impacts of policy and practise at a localised level, then aggregates this to the level of the organisation could lead to more realistic organisational targets.
The requirements for internal performance reporting are becoming ever more tightly linked to ‘place’. The geographic dimension of information acts as a common referencing system, the ‘informational glue’, by which it can be joined-up and presented coherently.
Externally, UK public bodies have a statutory duty to report their performance publicly. Yet, to date, the way this information has been reported has not made it easily accessible. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently described the reform of public services being underpinned by 'an information revolution' (foreword from Working Together - Public Services on Your Side, UK Cabinet Office, March 2009). “..government has been too slow to make use of the enormous democratising power of information. When we give people knowledge about their public services, we give them power to shape and even transform them.” This paper follows an independent Power of Information Task Force that published an internationally recognised report in February 2009 on the value of opening up the information environment.
The same Cabinet Office paper comments (page 11):
For citizens this means...
- Personalised services which fit around people’s lives and needs…and it will be backed by clear information about the performance of local services so that people can see clearly whether those entitlements are being met;
- An information revolution, designed to put the power of information within easy reach so that people can exercise control and shape their services. This includes open-source, real-time data on the performance of services. It also means having the ability to feed back to services and share comments with other patients, parents and local residents.
It also suggests that technology offers a useful platform to support this ‘revolution’ and that information should be delivered in a way that does not require citizens to be expert analysts: "Technology allows for innovative ways to do things. Information can be shared and good ideas can spread. People don't need to be experts to understand."