Measuring City Service Levels
By Erica Mendelson
The City of San Diego finds itself engaged in a dispute over funding and cuts of services as it debates the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget. At the heart of the clash is how the City defines, measures, and improves service levels to city residents. While participating in the City’s budget deliberations, the Performance Institute learned that City Hall cannot answer these basic questions: What current service levels are being provided? What does it cost to provide a specific service? How do certain city services impact performance outcomes in our communities?
As part of a five year effort to create awareness of the City’s financial crisis and offer reform ideas, the Institute sponsored a free forum to engage the community, city management and stakeholders in a candid dialogue on what our service priorities and performance expectations should be given San Diego’s financial challenges.
What Gets Measured Gets Done
Performance Institute President Carl DeMaio began the program by addressing the absolute necessity of performance measures in government. Noting that the City of San Diego currently does not use outcome, output, or efficiency measures to evaluate the services it provides citizens he explained how engaging the community and city employees as well as prioritizing services must all be utilized to develop successful measures. DeMaio also provided an overview of how to utilize the SMART methodology, the “Eight Critical Success Factors for Effective Performance Management Systems”, and “Seven Steps for Integrating Performance and Budget Information” as tools in developing successful measures.
Managing for Results
Jeff Hart, National President of the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) was on hand to present in depth material on the iSemportance of Service Efforts & Accomplishment (SEA) Reports. SEA reports are designed to empower citizens to make better informed decisions, provide key results information, facilitate more transparent communication, assist legislative bodies and management to make decisions, and help improve delivery of public services.
Accountability to Taxpayers
Recognized as a national case study for its achievement in measuring and reporting service levels, the City of Palo Alto received the AGA’s 2006 Service Efforts and Accomplishments Award. City Auditor Sharon Erickson provided an overview of how Palo Alto came to be a leader in improving government performance by producing reports that are not only complete and comprehensive, but also interesting, informative, and inviting to read.
As the City noted in this Voice of San Diego article published subsequent to the forum, it is already working to implement more sophisticated information in next year’s budget as business process re-engineering efforts are underway and a new system to track and integrate financial and performance information is being implemented. Mayor Jerry Sanders has committed to improving service levels using an outcome based model; however, an accurate performance measurement system is essential to truly provide taxpayers with a better government.
The Performance Institute, located in Arlington, VA., is a private, non-partisan think tank seeking to improve government performance through the principles of competition, accountability performance, and transparency. PI serves as the nation’s leading authority and repository on performance based management practices for government. The mission of the Institute is to identify, study, and disseminate the leading management innovations pioneered by “best in class” organizations.
For more information on service level measurement, visit: www.performanceweb.org