Table of Contents

  • Nowadays it is hard to imagine a sustained debate on government performance that would not include some reference to the money spent (inputs), the quality of government processes, the quality and quantity of government outputs, and the outcomes (or lack of them) eventually achieved. Very extensive academic and practitioner literature are devoted to the subject of these aspects of government performance, literature which stretches back for at least a quarter of a century. 

  • This section will consider, in turn, the direct advantages of measuring government activity, the risks which can attend such measurement, and, finally, the risks which arise through not attempting to measure. 

  • Governments need to measure inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. To argue for better and more extensive measurement of outputs is in no way to dismiss or deny the need for other kinds of measures. Nevertheless, outputs have a special place. They are in a sense the final products of public sector organisations – what the organisation delivers to its users – the license, grant, surgical procedure, school lesson, pension or prison sentence. So they are, usually, what elected representatives and the public can actually hold those organisations responsible for. Furthermore, they are things which we can reasonably expect those organisations to keep track of themselves – we can expect them to know how many lessons/grants/licenses, etc. they are producing, at what cost, and with what quality. 

  • Outcomes are those events, occurrences, or conditions that are the intended or unintended results of government actions. They happen “out there”, in society, rather than “in here” inside public organisations. They concern what the graduate can do and understand rather than what lessons and support s/he has received at university; whether the pensioner can live a normal life on the state pension rather than whether it was paid correctly and on time; whether biodiversity is actually preserved rather than whether the environmental inspectorate carried out the required number of inspections according to plan. Thus, outcomes are generally of direct importance to service users and the general public. For example, in a social policy programme to improve financial management of families, outputs (what the service produces) are the number of counselling sessions or the number of families able to participate in financial management training. However, the desired outcomes include improvements (absolute or relative) in families’ financial status, e.g. having more families living within a budget. 

  • There is a fundamental choice of strategy in building a set of public management indicators. The principal choice is between...

  • The collection and publication of public management data in the OECD could usefully be replicated in non-OECD middle and high income countries for two main reasons. First, there is a potential direct benefit. The public sector reform efforts of these countries can be intrinsically similar to those of the OECD, focusing on second order challenges which build on an entrenched discipline in the behaviour of civil servants and an organisational culture of following the rules.2 The possibility of benchmarking themselves against key developments in OECD member countries is likely to be attractive, providing a spur to country efforts on public sector improvement. Although middle income countries, by definition, have higher per capita incomes, a third of the world’s poor (people living on less than USD$1 a day) live in middle income countries.3 Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector in these settings is an essential component of poverty reduction.