FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT/Comparisons aid local jurisdictions
Local governments and professional associations are taking a renewed interest in performance measurement systems. Nowhere is that more evident than in North Carolina, where 35 cities and counties are measuring performance and comparing results across jurisdictions.
The North Carolina Local Government Performance Measurement Project was started in 1995 by local officials to allow cities and counties to compare selected
services with those of other participating units over time. The project included providing detailed service and cost information, calculating performance measures and preparing reports that compared the results. Assistance for the project was provided by the Institute of Government at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the Raleigh-based state League of Municipalities and state Association of County Commissioners.
The North Carolina Project generated performance measurement data that allowed local officials to benchmark their performances with those of other jurisdictions and to improve their own performance measurement systems. Participants also were able to talk with other officials who were interested in improving service delivery.
Meetings were held with managers, program directors and budget officials to highlight information gleaned from the data and to help identify best practices that could be emulated. Participants compared service delivery techniques and adopted specific methods to improve service.
The North Carolina project highlighted several key characteristics that are essential for productive performance measurement systems. Local officials can help create successful measurement systems in their own communities by: * carefully selecting and clearly defining the services that are to be measured; * focusing data collection on outcome rather than on workload or demand; * precisely selecting items to be measured to reduce data overload and focusing efforts on the most important service elements; * involving program officials early in the selection of measures for more accurate measure choices and better buy-in to the system; * using existing data when possible to reduce duplication of effort; * clearly specifying a costing methodology for collecting financial information to allow comparisons of costs over time or between jurisdictions. (Full cost, direct cost or avoidable cost are all appropriate measures, as long as the methodology is consistent); and * including explanations with the reported data. Explanations identify changes in external conditions and modifications in service levels or resource allocations, as well as factors like topography, economic status and local policy decisions that impact performance differently in each locality.
The North Carolina Project used service profile and cost forms developed by all program officials. The data was reviewed for consistency by independent sources as well as by each participating jurisdiction, resulting in information that all regarded as reliable.
Participants in the North Carolina Project have found that following those strategies, focusing on improving services and involving all stakeholders in the process are helping their performance measurement systems become the meaningful management tools that they are intended to be.
Additional information on the North Carolina Local Government Performance Measurement Project can be found at ncinfo.iog.unc.edu/ programs/perfmeas/.