Berlin workshop examines benchmarking in federal systems

The workshop was attended by George Anderson, President of the Forum of Federations (left); Hans-Heinrich von Knobloch, Deputy Director General at the Federal Ministry of the Interior (centre); and Dr. Gottfried Konzendorf,
Federal Ministry of the Interior (right).

The German Ministry of the Interior and the Forum of Federations recently hosted a workshop on benchmarking in the public administration for the constituent units of federal systems.

Benchmarking is a technique used by governments, firms and organizations to evaluate their performance in relation to best practices.

The workshop was held at the Ministry of the Interior offices in Berlin. The German government plans to institutionalize benchmarking as a tool to compare performance during the second stage of the reform of Germany’s federal structure.

One goal of the German government’s benchmarking initiative is to create synergy effects through increased effectiveness of a few high-performance areas.

The official report of the workshop will be sent to all members of the joint Bundestag-Bundesrat Commission which is currently preparing the second stage of federalism reform in Germany. That organization is the ‘Commission on Modernizing the Federal Government-Länder Financial Relationship and on Improving the Fulfillment of State Responsibilities’, a name often shortened to ‘Federalism Commission II’.

Participants at the workshop on Feb. 15, 2008, included federal and Länder civil servants and experts. Experts participating from the Forum of Federations were Jeff Tryens, former Executive Director of the Oregon Progress board, Forum board member Roger Wilkins, John Wright, former Deputy Minister of the government of Saskatchewan, and Dr. Reto Steiner from the University of Bern in Switzerland.

The experts discussed questions such as:

  • What is the basis for benchmarking (legal framework, commitment)?
  • What goals will be pursued using benchmarking?
  • What will be analyzed and compared (costs, achievements, effects, processes, structures)?
  • Which management structures or areas will take part in the comparative study? Will benchmarking be widely implemented at the management level?
  • Which underlying comparative values will be used? Who will decide what these should be?
  • Who will conduct the comparative analysis, and how much will it cost?
  • Which method will be applied?
  • What will follow from the results of benchmarking? / How will the results be used?
  • Will there be incentives or sanctions?
  • How will previous experiences be evaluated?

The expert presentations and the discussion showed that benchmarking can be a valuable tool to compare performance in a federal state but that it requires permanent evaluation and adaptation to fulfil its functions. Political leadership at the highest level is also needed to introduce a successful benchmarking system and all political levels must be involved in setting it up.

Each expert delivered a PowerPoint presentation and a short summary which you can download here:

  1. Benchmarking Canada (PPT) Benchmarking Canada(doc)
  2. Benchmarking in Australia (PPT) Benchmarking in Australia (doc)
  3. Benchmarking Switzerland (PPT) Benchmarking Switzerland (doc)
  4. Benchmarking USA (PPT) Benchmarking USA (doc)
  5. Benchmarking Germany (PPT)
  6. Final benchmarking report (English)(doc)
  7. Final report (German) (pdf)

The negotiations of Germany’s Federalism Reform II have entered a decisive stage in 2008. In addition to financial issues, modernizing the administration is on the agenda.

An important way to increase effectiveness is benchmarking of public administrations. The structure of a federal state offers the possibility of competition; however, competition needs comparisons, otherwise it would be meaningless. The importance of benchmarking at various state levels was underlined by past PISA surveys conducted by the OECD, which compared the achievement of students at different ages in public schools in many countries. One of the objectives of the Federalism Reform II is to extend benchmarking as a general tool to other areas besides education.

In October 2007 the Federal Republic of Germany joined the Forum of Federations, because, according to the Ministry of the Interior, ‘The Forum offers a unique opportunity to introduce international experience into the reform debate.’

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