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Colorado’s C-Stat system: Diving into the measures

Measuring performance and doing it well takes a huge amount of effort. So, it’s too bad that one of the most common complaints about performance measurement systems is that they are not sufficiently used to drive program performance.

This past weekend, we were listening to the GovInnovator podcast – one of our favorites – and wanted to flag the recent interview with Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

In the 12-minute interview with GovInnovator host Andy Feldman, Bicha provides a great description of how his department really uses the outcome and key process measures in its C-Stat system to drive better performance.

“Every Wednesday, from 3 to 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I sit down in our C-Stat room . . . with my senior team and meet with various program directors from our department who are responsible for achieving the goals we’ve set out. We dive into the measures. We’re looking at data and asking ourselves where things are going well, why they are going well and what does the data tell us about our performance and how do we replicate that in other parts of the state?

“Where things aren’t going so well, what does the data tell us about that? Why isn’t it going well and what can we do, in as real time as we can do it, to change our practice, our policies, our computers, whatever it’s going to take, in order to get the performance that the people in Colorado are expecting from us.”

 In the podcast, Bicha explains how the C-Stat system has required an evolution in the culture of the organization, including the hiring of new employees who understand how to gather, analyze and work with data. It has also meant developing ways to push performance measurement through the layers of the organizations to the counties and contractors who are delivering services.

He describes how the data allows his department to move beyond anecdote and explode myths. The podcast also delves into major challenges – for example, the political fallout when your own data very publicly reveals program problems.

One of the accomplishments described focuses on how the department used its C-Stat system to chronicle and better understand the use of physical restraints and seclusion in the two psychiatric hospitals it oversees. This led to the near elimination of the need for seclusion, through the development of de-escalation rooms (with soft music and recliners) instead.  “We recognize that the vast majority of people we serve . . . have experienced trauma multiple times in their life,” he says. “We need to make certain that the practices we’re implementing (don’t) exacerbate the trauma they’ve already experienced or, worse yet, create new traumas for them.”

One more note about the podcast itself: Since 2012, Feldman has been running GovInnovator as a “personal, after work and weekend” project to share “practices and insights from public sector innovators and experts.” There are currently more than 150 interviews available on the website, covering topics central to results-focused public management and including all three levels of government: Federal, state and local.


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