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Citizen Involvement, Performance Standards and Government Effectiveness

Updated on August 10, 2016
David Ortega profile image

Enthusiastic strategic manager skilled in budgeting, fundraising, grant writing and policy development. Master of Public Administration.

Citizen Involvement in Performance Based Decision Making

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Abstract

Government entities have implemented various performance standards and measurements. Some have included citizen involvement. The purpose of this report is to investigate performance based approaches to government. Examples will include successful implementation of performance measures in public works.

This report will specifically research the question, “Can government improve efficiency and effectiveness by implementing standard performance measures?” The research involved in this study derives from secondary data collected from various reports on the subject. Public entities that have implemented performance based approaches have largely benefited from those measures.


Problem Statement

Far too many governmental entities lack measures and standards for performance resulting in inefficiencies and a lack of effectiveness. Public education and educators in particular have undergone scrutiny. School effectiveness has been the subject of research for a number of years. Critics say that even the research methods themselves for determining whether or not a school is effective are far too varied and not subject to standardization (Luyten, Visscher & Witziers, 2004). The idea that government employees and teachers should also be held to performance measures and standards has been resisted.

A particular focus on the overall performance of governmental agencies will be given. In many cases, performance standards developed by the government agencies themselves have not involved citizen participation. Government at all levels can benefit from implementing standard performance measures particularly if citizen involvement is incorporated.

Definition of Terms

Various types of methods for improving government performance have been introduced from the private sector. Total Quality Management (TQM) is one of the more well-known approaches in the private sector that governmental agencies have incorporated into their practices. “Quality is defined by customers involved in an organization’s supply chain as the wish to see an organization work efficiently and effectively, at minimum cost. To be successful, quality must be integrated into the business. This is achieved through an understanding of the vision, goals and aims of the organization” (McAdam & Saulters, 2000, p. 653). Notice that quality is defined by the customers. Who are the clients and customers of governmental agencies and how are they involved in performance standards? How will they ultimately define quality? What does the public consider as effective and efficient government?

The US Office of Personnel Management defines performance standards as, “A management-approved expression of the performance threshold(s), requirement(s), or expectation(s) that must be met to be appraised at a particular level of performance.” Here we see that even if citizens are involved in performance standards, management must ultimately approve them. The performance thresholds must be appraised. As this report will establish, administrators alone should not conduct the appraisal. The definition further states that, “A fully successful (or equivalent) standard must be established for each critical element and included in the employee performance plan.” Governmental employees are not immune from having their performance being evaluated. “If other levels of performance are used by the appraisal program, writing standards for those levels and including them in the performance plan is not required but is encouraged so that employees will know what they have to do to meet standards higher than fully successful.” The agency is only as good as its employees. Let us hold them to high standards.

There are four key components of performance standards: (1) quality, (2) quantity (3) timeliness, and (4) cost-effectiveness. We will define efficiency as “functioning or producing effectively and with the least waste of effort; competent.” Citizens should expect competent governmental employees.

Effectiveness can be defined as, “Successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Encouraging government to be both effective and efficient and further, measuring effectiveness and efficiency to evaluate performance are greatly desired.

Methodology

The methodology used in this study employs secondary data from established research and commentary on the subject. This involves qualitative data through interviews, focus groups, and surveys. Data was quantified into measurable outputs and outcomes. One of the more extensive studies was conducted in 2006. A research project by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) was conducted to learn more about the performance measurement and management practices of governments in the United States and Canada (Kinney, 2008). Survey and telephone interview results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Citizen Informed Performance Based Decision Making

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Discussion

Evidence of the survey represented by the graph suggests that some governments have moved from simply developing performance measures to routinely incorporating measurement information into planning, budgeting, operational, and policy-making processes (Kinney, 2008, p. 48). The survey was conducted using a city population size of equal to or greater than twenty five thousand. 1284 governments were represented. 60% reported that performance measures were being used. Two specific questions relating to citizen involvement included: (1) Do you have a means of soliciting citizen feedback? (2) Are citizens involved in developing performance measures? The results show that most use citizen feedback. Only about 5% use citizen-informed performance measures. Still fewer than 1% use citizen-informed performance-based decision making. As the level of citizen involvement increases, the number of agencies who incorporate citizen committee recommendations decreases. Does the efficiency and effectiveness increase with citizen involvement?

Hypothesis

We will test the hypothesis that governments who implement performance standards increase their effectiveness and efficiency. Further we will test the hypothesis that citizen involvement in performance evaluations and reporting of government inputs, outputs and outcomes improves the process and quality of services.

Literature Review

Citizen involvement appears to be a key element in improving efficiency and effectiveness. “High levels of people-satisfaction lead to improved customer satisfaction which, in turn, delivers a range of improved business results” (McAdam & Saulters, 2000, p. 655). We can see a parallel between customer satisfaction and citizen satisfaction. Can government operate more like a business to achieve improved results? Is “customer satisfaction” applicable to public agencies? Does citizen satisfaction increase with participation in governmental decisions?

According to Holzer & Kim (2008), “Citizen participation efforts facilitate citizens’ input into the process of reaching decisions, increasing the likelihood that the quality of government service provision will be more responsive to their needs” (p. 21). Their article encourages training and education for public administrators focusing on the topic of citizen-influenced performance measurement.

Further, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation centers its ideology on and promotes citizen-based performance measurement (Greenwood, 2008). Their focus area is “Management by Results” which quantifies inputs, outputs, and outcomes for delivering government services effectively and using resources efficiently. Why involve the public?

According to Berman (2008), “The public is described as the ultimate stakeholder and consumer of government services, [as well as] taxpayers and the electors of its government leaders” (p. 3). Berman notes that the government collects data on a variety of quantifiable measures such as revenues and expenses, number of applicants entering and being served in a given program, tons of refuse collected, and miles of lanes paved. Regular reporting of those quantifiable measures is desired and in particular, public participation is encouraged through hearings in order to achieve more transparency and satisfaction. Berman further notes that, “the public often assesses local government performance differently from government’s typical measures” (p. 9). Focus groups involving citizens should be setup and government officials should pay close attention to their opinions. “Measurements and reports alone are not sufficient and performance improvement should be the goal” (p. 9). What evidence suggests that administrators should move beyond performance reporting and involve citizens?

Perhaps the strongest case for citizen-based performance measures comes from the analysis and results of a strategic plan for the city of Worcester using Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking (ComNET). The study indicates that citizen-based performance measurement and reporting have, “led to more effective and efficient delivery of municipal services and a more involved, satisfied, and better-informed citizenry.” ComNET is a set of surveys that enable residents and officials to identify and document specific problems affecting residents’ quality of life such as potholes, faded crosswalks, abandoned vehicles, illegal dumping, and overgrown vegetation. This inventory serves as a baseline for gauging whether neighborhoods are improving or declining. They were able to quantify their results: Seven thousand abandoned vehicles were removed from the streets, and quicker response time saved $275,000 (Schaefer, 2008). These are just two of the more dramatic results that the city was able to achieve. What are some specific methods public administrators need to implement in order to close the gap between citizen involvement and government performance?

According to Greenwood (2008), “The gap between community indicators and government performance measurement can also be bridged by connecting the indicators that reflect a high-level view of the world and the performance measures that reflect a lower-level view by means of logic chains” (p. 59). The goal is to link government performance measures to community indicators and allow them to be measured and reported by the public. This would require a legislative mandate and the funds to support it. Are there other shortfalls or challenges to this approach?

Scope and Limitations

Involving citizens in performance measures for government is a relatively new and evolving process that is not standardized. There exists a tension and gap between theory and practice. Survey data, telephone interviews and focus groups can be quite subjective not to mention time consuming and in some cases, costly. Further quantifiable research could be done to study the relationship between government performance standards and citizen satisfaction using correlation analysis or bivariate linear regression.

Concluding Statement

Government can improve efficiency and effectiveness by implementing performance standards. Evidence suggests that governments who involve their citizens in the planning and performance of their organization have improved efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction. Citizen-based performance measures and standards is desired for all levels of government.

Recommendations

Public managers should involve their citizens in planning, organizing and implementing performance measures. Methods should include focus groups, interviews and surveys. Interview and survey questions should be designed with input from the public. Management should seek out more information on the methods and techniques of successful models. Technology similar to ComNET should be used to collect and analyze data. Decisions should be based on the analysis of the data with full disclosure and transparency to the public; don’t just report the good news. Administrators should find out what other jurisdictions are implementing and share best practices. Consider input from other professionals, non-profit organizations and community organizations. Narrow the scope and provide more focused performance measures.

In regards as to whether legislation needs to be enacted, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order that requires cross-agency cooperation in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness of government. If agencies followed the requirements of the order, then it appears that few if any local mandates would be required. “My Administration is committed to ensuring that the Federal Government serves the American people with the utmost effectiveness and efficiency…. To deliver a smarter and leaner Government, my Administration will reinforce the performance and management reform gains achieved thus far; systematically identify additional reforms necessary to eliminate wasteful, duplicative, or otherwise inefficient programs; and publicize these reforms so that they may serve as a model across the Federal Government.”

The President’s language is strong indicating the elimination of inefficient programs. This could invite a political backlash as it is very difficult to actually eliminate programs. He further contends, “The mission of the Accountable Government Initiative is to monitor and promote agency progress in making Government work better, faster, and more efficiently….The Federal Chief Performance Officer (CPO) shall work with agencies to ensure that each area identified as critical to performance improvement has robust performance metrics in place.” What is meant by the term, “robust performance metrics?” The remaining components of the order appear to be rather specific in terms of what persons are responsible for implementing the order. “The Senior Accountable Official is responsible for leading performance and management reform efforts, and for reducing wasteful or ineffective programs, policies, and procedures.” The Order specifies the use of information technology in order to achieve its goals.

If governments followed the provisions of the Order and are held to a high degree of performance standards and measures that have incorporated a high degree of citizen involvement, efficiency and effectiveness will be achieved.

Reference

Berman, B.J. (2008). Involving the Public in Measuring and Reporting Local Government Performance. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 3-10.

Executive Order 13576 (2011). Delivering an efficient, effective, and accountable government. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/06/13/executive-order-delivering-efficient-effective-and-accountable-governmen

Greenwood, T. (2008). Bridging the Divide Between Community Indicators and Government Performance Measurement. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 55-59.

Greenwood, T. (2008). The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Program to Make Municipal Governments More Responsive to Their Citizens. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 11-12.

Holzer, M. & Kim, Y. (2008). Educating Public Officials and Managers: A University Experience. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 21-28.

Kinney, A. (2008). Current Approaches to Citizen Involvement in Performance

Measurement and Questions They Raise. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 46-54.

Luyten, H., Visscher, A., & Witziers, B. (2004). School Effectiveness Research: From a review of the criticism to recommendations for further development. School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 249 – 279.

Mc Adams, R. & Saulters, R. (2000). Quality measurement frameworks in the public sector. Total Quality Management. Carfax Publishing. Vol. 11. No. 4/5&6: S652-S656.

Schaeffer, R. (2008). Starting performance measurement from outside government in Worcester. National Civic Review. Wiley Periodicals, INC.: 41-45.

US Office of Personnel Management. Developing performance standards. Retrieved from: http://www.opm.gov/perform/articles/118.asp

Your Opinion Counts!

Should the US government be subject to performance standards?

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    • David Ortega profile image
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      David Ortega 3 years ago from Altoona, Iowa

      It seems as though the average citizen does very little research when it comes to performance standards or even issues that are important. As Ronald Reagan said, "You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down." Let us raise the standards so we are always heading up.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 3 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Sad, isn't it, that "money talks"? It talks in justice, it talks in elections, and it talks in business. Too bad it never learned to talk in school.

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      twodawgs 3 years ago

      Right Perspycacious, congress is subject to the "voter standard", and as you observed, they really are not. They obviously figured out they can blow that standard off, as long as they do what's good for their own constituents at the expense of the rest of the US population.

      But in response to the original topic, some thoughts. Are voters really aware of whether their representatives in government are meeting directives they are technically obligated to (by Executive Order), but don't respect because their constituents never find out about them? Or maybe they know their constituents just don't care whether their own particular representative meets it, because maybe they just don't like the current administration.

      On the other hand, to make meeting the stipulations (to the letter, if not in spirit) grounds to eliminate a rep from running again, this would destroy the balance of power between congress and the prez. An unscrupulous president could easily game that system to eliminate anyone by issuing an "Order" that he/she knows an opponent could never honor. A lot of people wish one side of the spectrum or the other would just vanish and they could just have their way. But that would destroy the very tension of opposing forces that true democracy depends on.

      You may like Obama, but how would you feel about this same idea if it were implemented when Bush was in office?

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 3 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      It is subject to performance standards every two years when voters vote and accept that the current supervisors (Congress) and leader (The President) are acceptable to them, even though they give Congress a 10% approval rating, and The President something around 40%....scores which would get lazy students sent home from college!