How Cities Improve Service Delivery through Performance Management

Performance Management
Performance Management
New report examines existing performance management systems in ten U.S. cities.

In an environment of decreased city revenues, limited state and federal aid and smaller municipal workforces, the value of data-driven decisions is greater than ever.

Decreasing a backlog of housing inspections by 70 percent. Achieving a 20 percent increase in customer service satisfaction. Saving $145,000 by preventing police responses to false burglary alarms. Reducing the number of automobile accidents at dangerous intersections by 23 percent. Prioritizing spending for downtown walkability in response to resident feedback.

Cities nationwide are achieving these service delivery improvements through performance management. The examples above are from city performance management programs that NLC studied during the development of the newly released Performance Management: A Guide for City Leaders. This research report is designed to help city leaders launch performance management programs in their own cities and attain similar results.

Performance management is the process of consistently reviewing performance data on city services to inform decision-making. It is a strategy emerging in more and more cities across the country because it provides city officials with the tools to make informed program and process improvements, to spend scarce budget resources more wisely and to ensure that the community’s needs are being prioritized.

NLC studied existing performance management systems in 10 U.S. cities through staff interviews and surveys. The results revealed that there are key components common to all performance management programs – how they are structured and staffed, the process for collecting data and setting performance targets, and how the analysis of performance is connected to informed decision-making. Performance Management: A Guide for City Leaders discusses these components in detail with examples from each city and advice from the performance management teams.

One area explained in the report is how to select appropriate performance metrics, or indicators, to accurately measure service delivery performance. The report offers specific guidance on the difference between tracking performance “outputs” and performance “outcomes” in order to help move the needle on improving city services. The performance management staff provided great insight into how to distinguish between the two types of data.

“The ideal metrics are operational metrics that don’t just count things but actually enable a city or department to gauge whether it is reaching its goal,” said Chris Dwelley from the Boston About Results team. “If the goal is to keep city streets in good condition, just measuring the ‘number of sidewalk repairs’ doesn’t indicate whether that goal is being achieved. Instead, a performance management team has to look at such things as ‘percentage of sidewalks rated safe,’ according to customer service ratings, or ‘percentage change in number of sidewalk repair requests.’”

Emily Love from Focus on Results (FOR) Atlanta shared, “A good metric is something that is an accurate proxy for performance. The best metrics measure the most important inputs, activities and outcomes that define performance ― for example, ‘percentage of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds.’ This measures a key outcome in the 911 centers, is a good proxy for overall efficiency and indicates a critical part of the 911 call center’s success.”

While no two programs that we studied are the same, one common thread among all the performance management systems is strong support from the mayor, city councilor, and city manager. In several cities the programs were initiated after a new mayor or city manager came into office and spearheaded the process.

The encouragement from city leaders is particularly important because they play a role in communicating that performance management is not a punitive review exercise, but rather an opportunity to make city government work better for everyone. Support from the top down also assures that a focus on performance management and process improvement is a permanent part of the city culture, and not just a passing fad. We offer several strategies in the report for how city leaders can be champion for performance management programs.

Within a governing environment where the post-recession factors of decreased city revenues, limited intergovernmental aid and smaller municipal workforces are a still a reality for many cities, the value of making data-driven decisions is greater than ever. It is our intention that, with the help of this guide, performance management can become an integral part of daily operations in many more cities. This new way of doing business will help you turn your city’s wish list into an attainable to-do list.

About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.  

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