43 – Developing a dashboard for performance measurement. A case study.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1000 words

mini dashboard

I was recently asked to create a dashboard for my unit with the intention that it function like the dashboard on my car (no this is not my car). This is to be done in the absence of an organisational dashboard or scorecard or performance reporting system. There have been a few posts on this topic by Lancing Farrell (here and here) and this post discusses the application of some of the theory.

I started by listing all of the current measures that are in place from external and internal sources of accountability. This included legislation, sector-wide improvement programs, customer satisfaction surveys, occupational health and safety accreditation audits, internal audit programs, culture surveys, organisational policies, and financial reporting. Some of these measures are applied continuously, some are annual and others occur periodically. All of them have some organisational or public reporting of performance. This list was very much a list of things that other people think it is important to measure about the performance of the department. For whatever reason.

Then I made a list of all of the things that I think it is important to measure to know work is being done properly. This was quite a different list and included things like growth in workloads, maintainability, data collection, timeliness of service, effectiveness of planned works, protection of infrastructure, effectiveness of interventions. Some of these had measures in place. Some relied on constant involvement with the work being done to know that it is how it should be. I call it active management. Typically, there is no organisational or public performance reporting. The results are simply used by the people collecting them to maintain or improve service delivery.

The last list that I made had lots of measures that are in place for specific reasons. Often that reason is ‘because we can’. How many times has something happened, how much of something was completed, what was the amount of down time. Typically, these were simple input or output measures. They mean something to the people using them.

Once I had my lists, I started thinking about my car dashboard. It was the example given when I was asked to put together my departmental dashboard. What does my car dashboard have on it and why? The most obvious thing is the speedometer. It tells me that I am not breaking (or that I am breaking) the law. I get a beep when I exceed pre-determined speeds. It has an odometer embedded within it. This tells me how far the car has travelled and ensures that distance-based servicing occurs to maintain the engine to keep it running and protect my investment. Servicing helps keep my car reliable.

My car dashboard also has a fuel level indicator and an elaborate system of warnings and beeps to make sure I know when to re-fuel. Not running out of fuel makes sure I arrive at each destination as planned. There are various lights that become visible when I am using different features of the car – headlights, cruise control, turning indicators. They help you to know what you are doing and to not forget.

The only other things on my dashboard, and they aren’t apparent unless they are needed, are various warning lights for engine temperature, broken light globes, filter clogging, etc. This series of indicators warn me when something is going wrong.

It is apparent that car dashboards have evolved over many years and have been refined in many jurisdictions. They reflect a distillation of information to the minimum required for a driver to be in control of their car without being too distracted from looking at the road. You can keep an eye on where you are going. So, I started thinking about what I need to know to get to where I have to go in ‘driving’ my department.

I started writing a list of questions that I should be able to answer at any time without delay. The list shows how conditioned I have become to working in local government. Am I breaking the law? Am I complying with organisational rules? Are we behaving consistently with organisational values? Are we meeting organisational goals? Are customers happy? Are we providing value for money? Are we creating any problems that we didn’t mean to create? As you can see, I am keen to stay out of trouble.

Then I started thinking about some of the theory of performance measurement. What would Mark H. Moore, or John Seddon, or Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache say? This led to a slightly different, re-ordered and prioritised list of questions.

  1. Are we providing value to our customers and the community? This integrates private and public value considerations, fulfilment of purpose, and failure demand avoidance. It also ‘looks behind’ the Council Plan to ensure that any expected value not captured by that plan is considered.
  2. Are we contributing effectively to achieving organisational goals? This includes the organisational mission, Council Plan actions, budget objectives, and the goals of council strategies or plans.
  3. Are we providing value for money? This is important in Victorian local government where legislation requires demonstration of ‘best value’. This question also provides for a focus on various types of efficiency (dynamic, allocative and technical) and the productivity of operations. It starts to focus on ‘how’ we are doing work.
  4. Are we behaving in ways that are consistent with organisational values?
  5. Are we compliant with the law?
  6. Are we compliant with organisational policies?
  7. Are we having positive or negative unintended consequences? This is a pick up from Mark H. Moore’s Public Value Scorecard. It is important to consider the unplanned things that happen in pursuit of your goals. The positives represent additional value created. The negatives are value destroyed.

For each of these seven questions, I can use the approach described by Rummler and Brache to develop measures or indicators that can go on my dashboard. The challenge will be to select the few key measures or indicators that I really need so that I am not distracted from my ‘driving’ and I can use them to take corrective action in real time.

Moore, M. 2013. Recognising Public Value.

Rummler, Geary A., and Brache, Alan P. 1995. Improving Performance – How to Manage the White Space on the Organisation Chart.

Seddon, John 2014. The Whitehall Effect.