Policy Study

Citizen’s Budget Reports

Improving Performance and Accountability in Government

Executive Summary

Civic leaders bemoan the lack of attention or engagement citizens display toward municipal governance. Citizens remain unenergetic and removed from the level of government closest to them, often because they lack the simple knowledge of what government services have been provided and in what quantities, and are unable to determine such information from government documents. Even today, most citizens would be hard pressed to determine how their tax dollars are being spent, and whether or not they are spent wisely. Most municipal documents serve internal purposes and do little to educate or assist the citizen. It is no surprise then, that citizens have little trust or confidence in how governments spend their money.

To improve the relationship between the governed and the governing, governments need to focus on better performance, more efficient government, and an informed citizenry. Citizens want to know how effectively and efficiently their city delivers services. To properly serve their citizens, governments need to make data available so that policymakers and citizens fully understand the array of results that can be accomplished through different levels of spending. Citizens want to know what resources it takes to pick up the trash, fix the streets, and provide fire protection. They want to know how their city stacks up against neighboring or similarly situated cities. Do some cities use more or fewer resources than others? Are there other management options that officials can use, like privatization or public-private partnerships? Constrained budgets are forcing many governments to become more interested in improving productivity and answering these questions.

What matters at the end of the day is what type and level of services are provided. These areas, evidence suggests, can improve when organizations that focus on results and performance, broadly defined, develop budget systems that fund outcomes rather than inputs. To accomplish this, spending needs to link measured results with funding levels and departments must be held accountable for outcomes. An agency is thereby able to demonstrate its effectiveness in carrying out policy goals and efforts to improve performance by budgeting to focus on what citizens really want and need.

Further improvement of government efficiency and effectiveness involves two essential management tools: strategic planning and performance measurement. Widely used in the private sector, strategic planning is a powerful business tool that helps set priorities and allocate scarce resources. Strategic planning looks ahead toward goals to be accomplished, while performance measurement looks back to see what was achieved. When used together they form a continuous process. In essence, strategic planning defines the performance to be measured, while performance measurement provides the feedback loop that keeps the focus on target.

When institutions are focused on inputs they have no reason to strive for better performance. However, when they focus on outcomes, they seek improved performance. When management becomes interested in performance and measurement, it sets a tone that success and performance are imperative, for what gets measured, gets done. More importantly though, measurement allows policymakers to distinguish policy successes from policy failures.

There are many reasons why performance measurement has become an essential management tool. Some of them are:

  • Ability to focus on core missions and competencies;
  • Increased civic discourse and engagement;
  • Increased accountability and efficiency;
  • More effective mandates and quality controls; and
  • Informed policy discussions.

Basically, the real power of performance measurement is the power to reform, as seen through the influence it has exerted on getting those in government to rethink what they do and how they do it.

In order for performance-measurement systems to work, several different types of data need to be collected. In the absence of a single overriding metric such as earnings or shareholder value, governments and their citizens need to look at five different types of data to get the total picture. The five main categories are:

  • Input indicators;
  • Output/Workload indicators;
  • Intermediate outcomes;
  • End outcome/Effectiveness indicators; and
  • Explanatory information.

Emphasis on end outcomes forces the organization to focus there first and, going backward, derive all means for production or services from the desired result, as in the performance measurement model below.

Another critical element of government’s success is being receptive and responsive to the needs and wants of citizens. Citizens, as the recipients of government services, can best identify which areas of government are functioning well and which areas need improvement. They can also be instrumental in identifying how best to improve quality and efficiency. To this end, surveying is a valuable and intricate tool available to policymakers.

Citizens are demanding results-they want to know how their money is being spent, why it’s being spent that way, and how much they’re getting for their money. Pressure has been thrust upon policymakers to continually strive for better, more efficient service delivery. Strategic planning, performance-measurement budgeting and citizen surveys provide the framework for a government to be efficient, effective, and responsive to its citizenry.