Doing What Works

The Obama Administration’s favorite think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP), has launched a new project, Doing What Works.” Led by Reece Rushing and Jitinder Kohli, it has three objectives:

  • Eliminating or redesigning misguided spending programs and tax expenditures focused o priority areas such as health care, energy, and education;
  • Boosting government productivity by streamlining management and strengthening operations in the areas of human resources, information technology, and procurement; and
  • Building a foundation for smarter decision making by enhancing transparency, performance measurement, and evaluation.

At their kick-off event, they released a pair of reports:

Doing What Works: Building a Government That Delivers Greater Value and Results to the American People,” which lays out some specific steps the project will take:

  • Challenge the status quo.  Highlight misguided spending priorities and tax expenditures that should be eliminated or reformed, with particular attention to CAP priorities:  health care, energy, and education.
  • Measure what works.  Showcase examples of what a stronger measurement and evaluation system might look like to guide policy and management choices.
  • Experiment and innovate.  Test different approaches to improving results and apply lessons to other programs and agencies.
  • Coordinate and consolidate.  Identify federal programs that perform similar functions or serve the same people, and find ways that they could be better coordinated or consolidated.
  • Enlist the public.  Thousands of extra eyes can be employed to spot problems, offer solutions, and bring fresh perspectives. 
  • Be ready to execute.  Identify best practices to improve basic government systems, such as  information technology investments, contracting procedures, and the hiring process.

The report notes that such efforts are necessary because “a serious discussion of fiscal choices will only be possible if there is greater confidence that scare public resources will be wisely spent.”

The second report, “Golden Goals for Government Performance” offers five case studies on how to establish goals to achieve results.  The five case studies – the state of Victoria (Australia), Virginia, Scotland, the state of Washington, and the United Kingdom – each created an institutional focus on achieving broad societal outcomes.  Their experiences offer a possible path for the federal governmental performance model:

  • Define clear “outcome” goals at the highest level feasible.
  • Focus on the handful of goals that can only be achieved through collaboration across agencies.
  • Make sure public servants and the public are clear about what the goals are, and who in government is responsible for delivering them.
  • Build strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Evaluation agency programs on the basis of the contributions they make toward these goals.
  • Make the data on progress toward these goals transparent to the public.
  • Make the effort a joint one between the executive and legislative branches.

The case studies are both inspiring and revealing.  The report is worth reading.


Model 4: Performance Governance

(a continuation from the December 23, 2009  blog on “Managing Performance”)

The fourth “idealistic” performance model described by Bouckaert and Halligan is the “performance governance” model, which offers a prominent role for citizens.  None of the countries covered by the book had such an approach in place at the time it was published in early 2009.  This model was more of a prediction by the authors.  However, subsequent to the publication of their book, three of their case study countries have launched such initiatives:  United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States

This model differs from the “performance framework” model in that the framework model focuses on government while the “performance governance” model focuses on a broader policy ecosystem to include citizens, non-profits, and the private sector as well.

In this model, multiple interdependent actors contribute to the delivery of public services.

British business author, Stephan Osborne, describes “new public governance” as a “plural state where multiple inter-dependent actors contribute to the delivery of public services and a pluralist state where multiple processes inform the policy making system.”

Bouckaert and Halligan say there are several strands of performance governance:

  • The broad and diverse movement to embrace “joined up government, horizontal management, whole of government, integrated governance and more generally collaboration and networks.” And . . .
  • “The engagement with the citizen as governance becomes more externally focused and encompasses the movement to engage citizens in performance measurement and re-evaluation of performance in an democracy.” This includes deliberative democracy and stakeholder analysis.

Defining the value added of networks is one key challenge for performance governance.  American academic Robert Agranoff writes that it is possible to measure collaborative performance along four perspectives:  specialists, the participating organizations, the network itself, and the network outcomes.

One way to operationalize the notion of “value added” in networks is to look at it through the lens of a “production of welfare” framework that goes beyond economy, efficiency, and effectiveness to also include equity, participation, advocacy, and innovation.

The performance governance model extends beyond the performance framework model in that it consists of co-governance, co-management, and co-production with the third sector and the public/citizens (and possibly adds the elements of co-design, co-decisions, co-implementation, and co-evaluation as described in the framework model).

Interestingly, the performance governance model is reflected in an institutional mechanism gaining popularity in the U.S. called “national strategies.”  This approach began as a congressional requirement for national defense in the late 1990s and was used more widely in the homeland security arena under President Bush.  It was also used in several domestic arenas, such as the 2005 National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.  However, it is also being promoted again by Congress as part of the pending healthcare reform legislation, which requires the development of a national strategy for quality improvement in healthcare.

Managing Performance: A Series

"Managing Performance" by Geert Bouckaert & John Halligan

Remember the YouTube phenomena, “The Evolution of Dance?”  I have been reading a book, “Managing Performance: International Comparisons” by two highly-regarded foreign academics – Geert Bouckaert (a Belgian) and John Halligan (an Australian).   Their book could well have been named:  “The Evolution of Performance!” 

Twenty years into a global performance management movement, they describe the evolution of performance management in government and provide detailed case studies for a half-dozen countries:  Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

They lay out a set of four “ideal types” of performance systems as a framework for comparison, and then use these types to comparatively assess the approaches used by a variety of countries, even going beyond the case studies.  While a bit dense for practitioners (e.g., references to “isomorphic mimetic behaviour”), they offer useful insights into ways to frame performance strategies at different levels – for entire countries, individual agencies, or program-level efforts.

Their models roughly describe a continuum that is linked to the evolution and maturity of a country’s or an organization’s performance measures.  This evolution also depends on the underlying philosophy of that country or organization’s approach to management – which oftentimes change over time as well.  For example, do leaders see performance monitoring primarily as a tool to enforce accountability or do they use it primarily to improve performance?

The authors note that different organizations will start at different places in developing their performance management approaches and that there is no one, right spot to begin.  Rather, the approach depends on an organization’s needs and culture.  And, the implementation strategy used may vary depending on the level at which the measurement approach is applied:  governmentwide, at an agency level, or at the program level.

The Models.  The four “idealistic” models developed by Bouckaert and Halligan are:

Each is described further in subsequent blog entries in this multi-part series. . . .

Performance Relationships. In addition to the models, the authors describe a series of six “performance relationships,” each of which need to be addressed in the implementation of any of the four models: There are six potential performance relationships:

  • Performance budgets and audits between executive and legislative branches.
  • General charters between government leaders and citizens
  • Contracts between program executives and the central administration (e.g., in the U.S., this could be executive departments or the Administration)
  • Specific charters between the central administration and citizens (e.g., service level agreements or service quality surveys)
  • Accountability agreements between the central administration and the legislature.
  • Defining the interaction between citizens and the legislature (e.g., via the policy process or an ombudsman)

Which model do you think your agency is using to build its performance approach?  Has your agency organization explicitly considered each of the sets of performance relationships in developing its strategy?

Citizen Participation: Others Step Out

The rumors continue about the impending release of the Obama Administration’s implementation directives for greater transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration.  But thanks to the power of Twitter, I’ve learned that both the United Kingdom and Australia have released reports that begin to detail their approaches to greater citizen participation.  These reports may serve as useful reference points when the Obama directive is released!

United Kingdom. The British report, “Putting the Front Line First:  Smarter Government,” notes that “Demands for accountability and transparency are increasing,” and that citizens want more of a say in shaping public services.  The report almost sounds like President Obama’s inaugural address: “The question is not whether government itself is too big or too small, but whether it delivers for people and communities with rising aspirations and expectations.”

The British initiative is based on three principles:

  • Using technology to create open and accountable public services
  • Devolving decision making, in part by changing the way public services are delivered, and
  • Renewing focus on “value for money” cost-saving efforts.

The report recommends actions in three areas, along with a detailed plan for moving forward:

Australia. The Australian report, “Engage:  Getting on with Government 2.0,” is a draft from its Government 2.0 Taskforce.  It proposes a “Declaration on Open Government” that reflects principles similar to President Obama’s January 2009 memorandum.  The draft recommends that the government declare “public information is a national resource,” that technology should be used to increase collaboration in making policy and providing services in order to be “more consultative, participatory and transparent,” and that “Online engagement by public servants should be enabled and encouraged.”

The report is organized around a series of specific recommendations, including:

  • An inventory across government agencies identifying barriers that inhibit online engagement, and develop plans to reduce their impact within 12 months.
  • Actively encourage and empower civil servants to be engaged online, and “establish awards for individual public servants and agencies” that recognize best practices.
  • Make public information more open, accessible and reusable by using open standards, making it easily discoverable and understandable, and making it machine-readable and freely reusable.  For example, more material would be published under a Creative Common license.

Other Taskforce recommendations address security, privacy, and accessibility.

Many of the issues raised in both the UK and Australia are part of the U.S. Open Government agenda, so it will be interesting to see how the Obama Administration addresses them.

12/22/09 UPDATE:  Here’s a link to the FINAL Australian report, “Engage: Getting on With Government 2.0.