Roundtable: Benchmarking Swiss Cantons and Local Government Risks and Opportunities

"Participants of the Workshop listen to a presentation of Dr. Heinz Rhyn,Conference of Cantonal Education Departments, on the effects of the PISA-Study on the Swiss Cantons".

On January 14, the Forum held a high-level by-invitation-only workshop in cooperation with the Centre of Competence for Public Management of the University of Bern on "Benchmarking Swiss Cantons and Local Government Risks and Opportunities”.

Recent years have seen a rapidly growing interest in the use of benchmarking arrangements to improve policy performance in federal systems. This is a new development and one that is in its very early stages, but there is no doubting its significance. The roundtable forms part of the Forum’s thematic project on "Benchmarking in Federal Systems”
http://www.forumfed.org/en/global/thematic/benchmarking.php

How compatible is benchmarking with principles of Swiss federalism; and to what extent can benchmarking ‘add value’ to existing federal arrangements either by offering a superior mode of intergovernmental relations and or by generating better substantive results for citizens? Those were the type of questions discussed at the workshop.

The Forum’s lead expert on this theme, Prof. Alan Fenna from Curtin University in Perth, presented the essential findings of the comparative study he prepared for the Forum of Federations, looking at experiences in OECD-type federations and the European Union.

Federalism and benchmarking, so Prof. Fenna, "are enjoying a tentative, exploratory, relationship that is partly based in good faith attempts to fulfill some of federalism’s potential as a learning-oriented governance arrangement and partly reflective of long-running centralization dynamics.” Distinguishing between various versions of benchmarking operations he concludes that "collegial benchmarking” with the central government taking on an important role in facilitating cooperation may be preferred to coercive top-down modes of benchmarking exercises. Another viable possibility is a bottom-up approach to benchmarking.

Prof. Reto Steiner from the Centre of Competence for Public Management of the University of Bern sketched out the political and constitutional parameters on which federal benchmarking takes place in Switzerland. He pointed out that without strong political leadership, benchmarking does not work.

The subject was then broadened through presentations and discussions on various case studies: The PISA-Study and its Impact on Cantons (Dr. Heinz Rhyn,Conference of Cantonal Education Departments); Benchmarking Spending of Cantons and Local Governments (Dr. Walter Moser,Conference of Cantonal Governments (KdK); Benchmarking Health Care (Christoph Kilchenmann, Federal Office of Health); and Sustainable Development of Cantons and Cities in Comparison Cercle Indicateurs (Prof. Dr. Daniel Wachter,Federal Office of Spatial Development). At a concluding panel discussion, moderated by Forum Director Felix Knuepling, Peter Balastér (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs), Dr. Walter Moser (Conference of Cantonal Governments), Renate Amstutz (Secretary-General, Swiss Association of Cities) and Ulrich König (Secretary-General, Swiss Association of Local Governments) discussed the potentials for benchmarking to improve public service delivery in Switzerland.

The participants identified that there are real challenges involved in generating reliable and genuinely indicative data; in relating outputs to outcomes; to identifying and incorporating practice improvements; and in employing sanctions. It seems, so the final conclusion of Prof. Fenna, that "the nature of those challenges places a premium on cooperative and collaborative processes.”

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