Controversy around Measuring Performance
There are compelling reasons for having a range of performance indicators:
- They focus people and resources on the achievement of objectives – rather than allowing effort to be dissipated on many activities
- They provide information on how efficiently services are being delivered – so managers know where to focus their attention
- They give managers feedback on users’ views – so managers know what to improve
- They identify trends and allow comparisons with other similar services – so managers know how they compare with internal and external benchmarks.
However, performance indicators are the subject of much controversy, with protagonists arguing that without indicators no-one knows how well the organisation is doing and those opposed arguing that the complexity of third sector organisations means indicators are of little practical use. The most common objections are that:
- It is difficult to measure the quality of services – and quality is often as important as quantity. A simple measure will seldom reflect people’s complex needs
- It is difficult to link cause and effect – because the relationship between actions and results is not clear-cut. For example, campaigns that result in policy changes are usually the result of actions taken by many different organisations.
- Monitoring over-emphasises the quantifiable – because it encourages people to put more emphasis on measurable results leading staff to focus on achieving the specific targets rather than the improvement of the service as a whole
- It is hard to obtain reliable data – for example information that is dependent on people reporting on their behaviour (such as drug misuse). There can also be issues of confidentiality (where service users do not wish to be followed up) and of accuracy (where people who are dependent on a service do not wish to be critical for fear of losing it)
- Indicators seldom shed light on the overall performance of an organisation – it usually relates to individual services that are different in nature so achievements can not be aggregated to give an overview of performance
- It is an unnecessary expense – particularly when resources are scarce and people believe funds should be focused on improving or expanding the service rather than measuring it
- What gets measured gets manipulated – a well known adage pointing out that all measurement systems can be distorted by their users.
From Managing Without Profit
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Last updated: September 2011