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Performance Measurement: 3 Challenges Every Government Faces

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The World Bank held a series of forums and invited presenters from Europe (Ireland, Britain), Africa (Kenya, South Africa), South America (Columbia, Brazil), and Southeast Asia/Pacific (Malaysia, New Zealand). The presentations and following discussions were both inspiring and cautionary, and I’ve been mulling over the past couple of months over what it all means for the future of the movement.

First, I was particularly impressed with the level of enthusiasm and sophistication in both the development and use of performance management frameworks around the world.  Interestingly, there seem to be some common challenges, regardless as to whether a country was more or less developed.

Common Challenges.  While most of the case studies presented seemed to be context-dependent, several common challenges still seem to transcend national boundaries! 

  • Moving from compliance to use. The biggest challenge is to ensure any performance management system does not become a gigantic paperwork and compliance exercise.  Bill Dorotinsky, with the World Bank, observed that the state of the art is still focused on producing – not using – information.  This is, in part, because of both a distrust of the quality of the data and the fear of unintended consequences (or some might say, fear of the intended consequences!!).
  • Creating a performance culture.  Dr. Richard Boyle, head of research for the Irish Institute of Public Administration, in his presentation, observed that performance management “isn’t a model so much as it is a way of thinking.” As a consequence, the mechanics of performance reforms (creating strategic plans, measuring, reporting, etc.) are less important than how managers are trained to make fact-based decisions in the context of broader strategic priorities, in ways that improve results.
  • A fear of unintended consequences.  This element seemed to rank higher in instances where governments considered linking performance measures with incentives or sanctions.  In the United Kingdom, for example, league tables ranking schools are published, but this practice is banned by law in Ireland. 

In the next several posts in this short series, I’ll highlight the progress over the past quarter century in New Zealand (a country typically seen as the vanguard in performance management); the achievements in three developing countries (Columbia, Kenya, and Malaysia); and some broader insights they portent for the performance management movement in coming years.

What are your biggest performance measurement challenges? 

(Image via Nadina /

John M. Kamensky is a Senior Research Fellow for the IBM Center for the Business of Government. He previously served as deputy director of Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, a special assistant at the Office of Management and Budget, and as an assistant director at the Government Accountability Office. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and received a Masters in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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