Analyzing Performance Data in the Public Sector

No data have meaning apart from their context

- Donald J. Wheeler, 1993

What's the difference between 'data' and 'information'? In a word, analysis. Governments at all levels don't lack data; the gap is generally in the area of analyzing performance data.

That is, the lack of organization and integration of that data, so that results can be reviewed and validated, and feedback - i.e. information - provided to support continuous improvement.

In another article I wrote about the 8 uses for performance measurement - to Evaluate, Control, Budget, Motivate, Promote, Celebrate, Learn, and Improve

To support any or all of these objectives, your performance measurement system must provide useful information to decision-makers.

I've also written about the reality that no one can do real performance measurement FOR you, or TO you; at best, they can do it WITH you (this is the appropriate role of the consultant, whether an experienced 'insider' or a gun for hire;-). I say this from the perspective of a consultant with about a decade and a half of experience in public sector performance measurement.

This is due largely because effective analysis depends on the skills, experience, and judgement of the people doing the work that is being measured.  And the 'big picture' view requires that the management team has to be intimately involved as well.

So, How Hard is Analyzing Performance Data?

If the government often does a, umm, sub-optimal, job of analyzing performance data, it must be really tough to do, right? Only if you lose sight of one important fact - you are just trying to answer one simple question -  'How am I doing'?

Of course, 'How am I doing' raises another question i.e. 'in comparison to what'? The answer is, compared to what you said you would do, and to the goal or standard for that activity.

The rest of analysis flows from this point. If there is a variance, do we know the reason, and is corrective action necessary?

Or, if our current data doesn't seem to provide answers, are new measures (or goals) necessary?

In our practice we like to use the terms Situation-Implication-Recommendation, as a succinct way to explain performance results.

You can think of Situation as the 'What' - i.e. the circumstances or occurrences that are the subject of analysis.

Implication is the 'So What'? In other words, what is the impact on the organization of these results.

And Recommendation is the 'Now What'? What action (if any) is required to mitigate or improve results?

It's tough for 'outsiders' to answer those questions for you. Consultants can provide tools, approaches, templates, methodologies, etc etc. But the job of analyzing performance data and applying it to drive continuous improvement rests with your people.

PRS provides a full suite of services and technologies to support your public sector performance measurement requirements. Contact PRS Vice President Charlie Snelling 613-744-4084 for a no-obligation discussion or on-site demo.

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