LOCAL BENCHMARKING WITHOUT FINGER POINTING
“If you have ten people in a room, the chances are you’ll have seven different opinions about what benchmarking means,” said Shelley Metzenbaum, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Systems Standing Panel at the National Academy of Public Administration, one of several hosts of the University of North Carolina Local Benchmarking event in mid-January.
As she explained, while benchmarking efforts are supposed to motivate people, some do so by embarrassing those who fall at the bottom of the pile. That approach can heighten fear among participants, who are inclined to kill off the efforts soon as possible.
Far better are North Carolina’s long-standing benchmarking efforts, which have been built on the idea of constructive comparison. For many years, the UNC School of Government benchmarking initiative, which has been a model for others since its inception in 1995, was led by well-known authority in the field, David Ammons. New director, Obed Pasha, took over about a year and a half ago.
As the guest speaker at the session, Pasha spoke about some of the significant changes in North Carolina Benchmarking 2.0, all made with the counsel and support of Ammons. More cities are now participating from an average of ten in the past to 14 now with plans to expand to 18 soon. And the school has utilized new online data collection and display technologies to develop an interactive dashboard with information about 11 services, and a treasure trove of indicators. Plans are currently underway to start a similar program for counties, with a future water and wastewater benchmarking effort coming as well.
Other fundamental changes include more attention to the latest research and practice, and a focus on making the project more relevant and useful for partners. A key point emphasized throughout the event: The project is not meant for establishing accountability, finger pointing, being a “gotcha” exercise or fostering competition with the intent of establishing rankings with a top and a bottom. “This is not what we’re here for,” Pasha said. “What we’re trying to do is have conversations and get to core underlying issues or problems.”
The dashboard and the ability to manipulate information in multiple ways provides ample material for analysis. But perhaps even more important, performance strategy sessions (11 in 2023) and conversations with and between participants are geared to converting the data into action and ultimately improved results.
The full event is available here, and we highly recommend it, along with its expert-packed Q&A session (including participation from David Ammons) at the conclusion.
We also recommend looking – and trying out – the UNC local government benchmarking dashboard and keeping track of the project’s periodic reports, also posted at that link.
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