This article also appears on The Mandarin
Governments keep hundreds, if not thousands, of metrics for success and failure.
Everything from the average cost to government for particular transactions, to customer satisfaction with processes and events – it’s measured.
While many of these metrics are perfectly adequate and provide taxpayers with an idea of what is important to the government, the majority are meaningless to citizens.
Why is it important to my family that the Office of the Governor met the metric of “percentage of menu items featuring Queensland produce as its main element” at Government House?
Isn’t it more important to understand how quickly I can get to work on a particular road than the “percentage of the State-controlled road network exceeding the optimal seal age”?
And why has government predicted the “percentage of Titles Registry dealings processed within five days” will fall from 92 percent to 90 percent? Shouldn’t governments be looking to improve on outcomes, rather than assuming they will go backwards?
Metrics that matter
At the core of this problem is governments’ addiction to nebulous, process-driven, output-focused metrics that can be easily met year-on-year. They give the appearance of transparency, without requiring government to change any of its processes or actually improve any of its services.
As custodians of money that people have worked hard for, governments should always be attempting to find a better way to provide better services more efficiently. Why else are they there?
Stop measuring processes and start measuring outcomes.
What is actually important for the people they serve? This is not a call for more measures like average speed at peak hour; metrics like these are not useful to anyone. Instead, I’d love governments to give us an idea of the average time to get from point A to B on our main roads.
Taking this approach would allow governments to better align their actions to the outcomes that matter to people, rather than processes which may only have an impact at a later time.
Only the first step
Governments must be bold with their metrics and work tirelessly to meet them. Governments should be setting aspirational goals to reduce timeframes for services, and increase their quality.
They must set some goals that they have no idea how to meet, and unleash the creativity of the public sector in an attempt to get as close as possible to those goals.
In 2006 the Indian Ministry of External Affairs did just that. They announced they would streamline their passport system and set a limit on the length of time that Indian citizens waited for passports. They did so without having a solution in place to meet this goal.
They worked with a systems integrator to truncate the business process, remove unnecessary steps and streamline the flow of information and decision making to those processes which remained. The company responsible were set difficult KPIs and were asked to contract that they wouldn’t be paid unless they were achieved.
They worked out a way to achieve their goal and in doing so made passports much more accessible to 1.2 billion people.
Across the board government revenues are shrinking and demand for services are steadily increasing. Timid governments who aren’t achieving better, more efficient services will be the biggest casualty of the resulting fiscal squeeze.
What better way to achieve real outcomes for the people governments serve than to measure the things that matter most to people’s lives. The challenge now for governments is to continually push themselves to better those outcomes.