Getting Real About Outcome Measurement

Let's get real for a moment here; most of the public sector make the effort at performance measurement because they are required to.

Whether it's for the Departmental Performance Report (DPR) or a 'dashboard' for consumption by ADM's, managers go through the motions. They get the task done with the least possible impact on their organization, and thus get to check it off on their personal performance plans as a big 'Done'!

Real outcome measurement rarely results from this top-down, mandate-driven exercise.  While there would be many uses for the information generated by real measurement, organizations seldom seem to make the effort necessary.

The reason for this is a misundertstanding of the purpose of performance measurement; ironically you could describe this as the desired outcome of outcome measurement. Here's the low-down: it's not about the measuring, it's about having or creating a program or an organization that's worthwhile to measure.

We can correct this misunderstanding by going back to basics. Lets start with a couple definitions; these are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and they are appropriate for our purposes.

Outcome: something that follows as a result or consequence

Outcome measurement: determination and evaluation of the results of an activity, plan, process or program and their comparison with the intended or projected results. 

In other words, 'did we do what we said we would do, and did it have the results we expected'?

Why is it so hard for the public sector to answer those questions? There's a couple reasons. Like any activity, if performance measurement does not have a budget, a plan, and dedicated resources, it will fail to produce real results.

This doesn't mean that performance measurement is anyone's full time job. But SOMEONE needs to own it, and dedicate regular time to it.

Second reason, some outcomes are hard to measure directly. A second dictionary definition of 'outcome' is 'a conclusion reached through a process of logical thinking'.

Performance measurement requires an framework that organizes activities and outputs and outcomes in a cause-and-effect model e.g. a Logic Model or a Strategy Map a la the Balanced Scorecard

Finally, there is the question of skills and expertise in performance measurement. Specific skills and the experience to use them may be lacking on your measurement team.

While you shouldn't outsource performance measurement, you can get help with specific tasks and perhaps training. The key when getting help - whether from another part of your organization with more experience, or an outside consultant - is clearly defining roles and tasks.

In other words,  exactly what do you need help doing, and what specific tasks do you plan to contract out? It's a question of control; how much will the 'outsider' have, and how much remains with you and your team.

Whether for the DPR or a Departmental Dashboard, PRS can help your organization with customized performance measurement training, facilitation, implementation support, and technology.  Contact PRS Vice President Charlie Snelling 613 744-4084 to arrange a no-obligation discussion of your performance reporting challenge.

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