Comparative Performance Measurement. (Book Reviews).
Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press (124 pp)
Reviewed by W. Anderson Williams, policy analyst, GFO A Research and Consulting Center, Chicago, Illinois.
In recent years, local governments have begun to explore the use of comparative performance measurement, or CPM. Also known as benchmarking, CPM refers to the practice of comparing one organization 's performance to another. The Urban Institute's Comparative Performance Measurement is a step-by-step guide for using CPM to improve the management and operations of government agencies and programs. In its pages, public and nonprofit managers can learn the steps involved in a comparative performance effort, the pitfalls of performance comparisons, and how to analyze benchmarked data once it has been collected.
Although people may not recognize it as such, comparative performance measurement is actually quite common in everyday life. Places Rated Almanac's ranking of metropolitan areas and U.S. News and World Report's "America's Best Colleges" are well-known examples of consumer-oriented comparisons. Using these examples as a springboard, the authors proceed to build the case for the use of CPM in government. They explain, for example, how comparative performance measurement complements total quality management and managed competition initiatives. Their discussions are punctuated by examples from well-known CPM efforts such as the International City/County Managers Association's Comparative Performance Measurement Program and the North Carolina Local Government Performance Measurement Project.
The authors provide clear, concise guidance on CPM so that busy public managers need not reinvent the performance measurement wheel. They offer valuable advice for dealing with common comparison problems, such as accounting for differences among jurisdictions. They also explain the importance of agreeing on clearly defined data elements and procedures for calculating performance measures.
The literature on CPM often gives short shrift to important issues, such as what to do with comparative data once it is collected and how to report poor performance. Comparative Performance Measurement provides comprehensive treatment of these areas and others. The authors explore gap analysis techniques and methods for breaking data out by demographic groups. They also offer a number of suggestions for reporting poor performance, from releasing the data "as is to publishing management strategies for closing performance gaps in the future.
Particularly enlightening are the real-world illustrations of comparative performance measurement. The authors provide illustrative outcome indicators for common local government services so that readers have a baseline for their own CPM efforts. The book also includes an example table of contents and sample pages from performance reports.
Readers will find that the authors devote significant attention to ICMAs benchmarking project. The IGMA project is one of the largest, oldest, and best-known government CPM initiatives. As such, it is not surprising that the authors selected it as their model. In so doing, however, the book does not benefit from the wisdom of other benchmarking projects. Only cursory mention is given to such projects in Kansas City, Long Beach, South Carolina, Florida, and other areas. Still, the lessons learned from the JOMA project are instructional.
Noticeably absent from the book is a discussion of the benefits that governments have derived from their participation in a CPM project. Few people would dispute the value of comparative performance measurement. However, including case study examples of governments that experienced performance improvements or realized cost savings as a result of their participation in a benchmarking project would have added weight to the argument in favor of CPM.
This text is appropriate for any public or nonprofit manager with a basic understanding of performance measurement. It is particularly useful as a guide to those managers who are considering either starting or joining a comparative performance measurement project.
Comparative Performance Measurement is available for $28 from the Urban Institute Press, 2100 M Street N.W., Washington, DC 30037 (877/UIPRESS), or at www.uipress.org.