How to Get Started in Performance Measurement

November 22, 2017 – John Marini

Adapted from our recent Insights Webinar, Overcoming Barriers to Performance Measurement

The old mattress dumped on the edge of the sidewalk down the street was an eyesore. Why hadn’t the city picked it up yet? It’s a question that residents of San Rafael, California were starting to find all too irritating. But for Rebecca Woodbury, the senior management analyst in the City Manager’s office, it was a question that came down to allocation. Residents didn’t realize that illegal dumping was already taking up so much of the Streets Division’s time, that the city could no longer address key infrastructure maintenance needs. Rebecca needed a way to tell this story in a data-driven way that people could easily understand.

Fortunately, Rebecca has all the data and metrics easily accessible online. On her tablet, she can tap open a screen and show the City Council how the illegal dumping is impacting maintenance so they can make a data-informed decision. But it wasn’t always this way.

Before 2014, Rebecca would have had to create Excel documents, chase down data from various departments, and create a PDF to send to the City Council each month. That changed when the Mayor asked for a dashboard of 10 key metrics he could track. San Rafael started with a manual dashboard then turned to OpenGov’s Performance Measures solution to easily and visually track metrics. But, while it was easy for Rebecca to get buy-in from elected officials, getting data from overwhelmed departments was another story. Why? Because while performance measurement is proven to improve resource allocation, better attract and retain talent, and align spending to the strategic plan -- getting started can sometimes be overwhelming.

Common barriers to getting started

In an OpenGov poll, 60% of participants reported that they were just getting started with performance measurement, while 20% had not yet begun. Getting started can seem daunting. Staff can find the idea of initially gathering data dreadful, especially in smaller cities who have staff wearing multiple hats. Reluctant department heads who fear such reporting may reflect negatively on them can also hinder progress. But there are ways to get started in performance measurement so that decisions are solidly driven by data, and gathering and sharing data is quick and easy.

San Rafael made sure to start with a key initiative as a pilot project, but governments can also start by identifying one or two progressive department heads willing to spearhead the process. By making sure that people know what data they need to gather and defining a consistent format, much of the anxiety can be alleviated. Once a key issue is tracked, people see how they can visualize and better tell their story. It inspires people to imagine the possibilities. That’s when performance measurement begins to yield its benefits. When data and metrics become easy to work with, share and interpret -- better decisions are made.

Want to learn more about what performance measurement can do for your government?

Watch the webinar “Overcoming Barriers to Performance Measurement” on-demand to hear Rebecca Woodbury tell the rest of her story.

Learn more about OpenGov Performance Measures and and Operational Performance.