Workshop on “Benchmarking Public Service Delivery – Experiences from Canada, the US and the UK”
Members during the roundtable in Kingston, Ont. October 18-19, 2012
As part of a project on benchmarking cofunded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Forum of Federations joined with the Cardiff Business School and the Queen’s University Institute of Intergovernmental Relations to sponsor a comparative roundtable in Kingston (Ontario) on October 18-19, 2012. The event allowed federal and provincial public servants, academics and researchers to learn firsthand about a number of initiatives that reflect the growing attention being paid to benchmarking – usually understood as the comparative measurement of performance as a means to greater efficiency within governments and improved services and outcomes for citizens.
Presentations by Alan Fenna (Curtin University) and Clive Grace (Cardiff Business School) demonstrated that benchmarking is an umbrella term that covers a range of approaches that have often been incorporated in public management reforms. One important difference concerns how benchmarking initiatives are developed and function. Fenna contrasted ‘top-down’ and ‘collegial’ models. Under the former, performance measurements and reporting requirements are imposed on subnational governments – as with the No Child Left Behind Act in the education sector in the United States.
Collegial approaches are based on consent among participating governments, as with Canada’s Institute for Citizen-Centred Service, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Pan-Canadian Framework for Settlement Services for immigrants. In some cases, as with the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an outside body pays a key role. (Presentations on all four of the initiatives just mentioned were given at the roundtable.)
Participants discussed the challenges that face advocates of benchmarking, which are usually greater in the context of multilevel governance. Strong leadership is required to launch and sustain such initiatives, particularly because political and public sector agendas and time horizons shift in response to changing circumstances. A strong focus on achieving cultural change is required, which may require what Grace referred to as “sufficient edge and tension.” A stronger basis for such change could be provided through the greater involvement of service users, who are not often consulted on an ongoing basis. Further issues concern the need to define the audience for reports on performance measurement and how to present information in understandable and useful ways.
Summing up the discussion, Fenna said it is evident that public sector organizations want to know more about their effectiveness, including how they compare to other organizations. He believes benchmarking is here to stay and can be expected to grow.
The following materials from the roundtable can be accessed:
- key points report
See also Benchmarking in Federal Systems: International and Australian Experiences. This volume, co-edited by Alan Fenna and Felix Knüpling (Forum of Federations), is based on a conference co-sponsored by the Australian Productivity Commission and the Forum of Federations.
Miin Alikhan: Benchmarking to Advance the Quality Agenda in Ontario’s Health Care System
Pierre Brochu: Benchmarking, Services to Citizens and Intergovernmental Relations
Clive Grace, Steve Martin, Sandra Nutley and James Downe: Public Services Benchmarking in the UK and Internationally
Nicholas Prychodko: ICCS Service Benchmarking Tools
Arnold F. Shober: Benchmarking in U.S. Education: The Genesis and Implementation of No Child Left Behind
Deborah Tunis and Deb Zehr: Benchmarking in a Shared Jurisdiction:Immigrant Settlement and Integration
John Wright: Benchmarking Health System Performance in Canada