ROI Examples from Performance Management

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When reviewing some old research information and articles, I came across one of my favorite examples demonstrating clear proof of the strong ROI (Return On Investment) from performance management and benchmarking in local governments.   Putting a performance management system in place is clearly an investment of time, so it is not worth doing, if there is no evidence of value returned for that investment.  The 2005 article summarizes actual results from The North Carolina Benchmarking Project, a consortium comprised at the time of 15 member municipalities collaborating since 1995. The NCBP has been a source for a lot of good information about performance management, but this paper is a gem  – and not all that lengthy, even for a practitioner to take precious time to read.  In fact, the six page introduction is sufficient and exciting to read.  The remainder of the report contains actual case studies to back up the improvements reported in the introduction. Here are some of the findings for individual municipalities, presented as concisely as possible…

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How Monitoring Trends in Services Can Drive Cost Savings

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What’s the ROI?  How much can performance management save my town? Aside from the fact that it depends on what opportunities there are for cost savings and the willingness of the governing body to look at and, perhaps, reconsider service levels, the question is inherently difficult to answer definitively.  But every town that puts a performance management system in place has had cost savings or cost avoidance.  Better yet, they have been able to adjust their service levels to needs, sometimes redirecting resources to other programs that have greater needs. Whether it’s the lack of bottom line, the political nature of decision-making, or the lack of effective technology, local governments have been slow to match their activities and outputs to changing service needs.  Recently, several articles have suggested this is one approach, as part of a focus on outcomes, that deserves more attention, even going as far as to suggest that the needs of our publics vary within some of the sub-groups, and this, too, can be a source of…

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Making a Performance Management Program Work

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Our experience working with local governments as they implement performance management systems has taught us that  one size does not fit all.  However, we have also learned that some things will help assure a productive program – one that leads to changes in the performance levels of your local government.  A recent article by the Harvard Ash Center about the successes to date of the still young Louisville, KY “LouieStat” program describes performance improvement initiatives in two service areas.  Their improvements are inspiring, but what I find most compelling is four important points that are underlying the entire performance management system in Louisville. 1.  Management Focus – There is a central management focus in Louisville that has sent the message to everyone in the city: Better performance can be achieved by using data for oversight — oversight for which they do not have enough supervisors to be at all places at all times. The Mayor defined “the job” as daily work, continuous improvement, and breakthroughs. 2.  Empower Department Managers –…

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Know Your KPI’s: Part 5 – Global Measures

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Every major service should have a few measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 – Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).  However, there are some measures that are universal and important in many service areas.  At Revelstone, we call these global measures and designed them so you can easily activate them in a number of departments in which they are appropriate.  Further, the global measures can be consolidated across your entire local government, which will automatically sum up for all departments in which they are activated.  It’s then easy to compare global measures across departments on the same charts to identify trends or problems. What kinds of questions do some of these global measures address:  Leave time per FTE and Training time per FTE both tell you about “lost time” but with very different implications.  Leave time is the total of all time for which the employee does not report to work when otherwise scheduled.  Training…

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A Performance Culture is Sprouting Roots in Franklin Lakes

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We have been asking some of our customers what specific findings they have from tracking performance data in Revelstone. Franklin Lakes NJ gave us an answer that far outreached the question. Over the last year, Franklin Lakes has been expanding their performance management program into most departments.  Greg Hart, the Borough Administrator, is now meeting monthly with several of the  departments to review data and look for insights.  “When we place the trend charts on the table, questions about the data start to come out automatically,” said Hart.   In fact, Franklin Lakes is one of several customers that told us that asking why was one of the main benefits of using data to manage performance. Franklin Lakes has a mayor and six council members, and each department has a Council committee, consisting of two or three council members, who act as liaisons to each of the departments, having  the primary responsibility for representing the department to the council.  Hart, who works regularly with each of these Council committees, has begun…

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Dormont, PA Uses Data to Spur Actions & Achieve Strategic Goals

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I’m always talking to our customers about what they are seeing in their data and what actions or further review their findings have caused.  What I often hear, and is true of my own experiences as a business administrator, is that the findings are not totally unexpected, but it makes a difference to see it concretely and visually (a picture is worth a thousand words). Proactive Code Enforcement is one of the 2014 strategic goals for Dormont PA. The Borough has been tracking code enforcement activity since last September when they started a new performance management initiative and began visualizing their data.   The first thing they realized was something they already knew – there is a lag between the receipt of the code enforcement complaint and the closure of it.  Although this was not unexpected, with the data now staring them in the face, they have decided to quantify concretely how long the lag is and review if there are actions they should take to reduce the lag.  In…

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Millburn NJ is Asking Why

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Millburn NJ is tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to help understand their performance.   To combat the status quo and keep managers thinking… each service department in Millburn tracks a handful of key indicators (or measures) and produces trend charts to visualize performance.   This gives each manager the opportunity to question what’s happening and validate  what they think is occurring is actually occurring. The following examples demonstrate how Millburn: Sets goals for some of its activities and monitors the accomplishment of these goals. Tracks whether its performance is improving or declining. Evaluates if the suspected drivers of performance are what is really driving it. Recycling Millburn expects their recycling collected to increase during the summer months.  Why?  College kids all return home and there is more activity in the home. Backyard parties and BBQs result in more recycling.               Millburn sets a target for their recycling tonnage and then measures actual performance against target.  Because of their theory about the summer, they set the goal…

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Know Your KPI’s: Part 4 – Potholes, Potholes Everywhere

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With this winter’s major snow storms mostly in the past, the public and your Roads Department are now dealing with potholes.  And they are the bone-jarring, axle-bending, settlement inviting kind this year.  How did you do last year?  What should you know that will help you plan and be able to set expectations of the public? How many potholes did you repair last year and how many is that per lane mile (what is your estimate of the number of potholes you will fill this year)? What percentage did you repair in two days from report (what would you estimate will happen to repair time based on the estimated number of potholes this year, as well as any changes to your resources)? What was the cost per pothole (what impact will there be on the budget from the volume this year and how much patch will you use)? Some say performance management only looks behind us, but if you believe the old saying that those who ignore history are bound…

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Asking Why?

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Human nature is to be inquisitive.  When Galileo looked into the night sky and wondered about those stars…he wanted to learn more.  He improved the telescope and it became his tool to help answer his questions.  When we see things that we don’t understand, it’s human nature to ask “Why?” For example: the following simple chart shows actual expense above budget.  Most managers would want to understand why in order to improve the situation.       In fact, the particular impact of reviewing their data in Revelstone’s trend charts and the opportunity to ask key employees WHY; is often cited as the biggest benefit among Revelstone customers.  Just like Galileo used a telescope to understand the night sky, Municipal Managers are using Revelstone to understand their operating performance. In this blog series, we will review performance data from varied service areas and demonstrate how asking why can lead to learning, innovation, problem resolution, early awareness of new conditions, or confirmation of your operational effectiveness. The following chart was created…

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Know your KPI’s: Part 3 – Fire Suppression

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Every major service should have a few measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 – Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).  Fire is comprised of two main functions: Fire Prevention and Fire Suppression.  In this blog, we will focus on some of the key performance indicators for Fire Suppression.   % of fires confined to room of origin % of structures having fires Emergency response time Number of fire related calls There are a vast number of measures for Fire Suppression and these are just a few of the Key Performance Indicators.   What’s “Key” is often in the eye of the beholder.  What’s important to one jurisdiction may not be to the other.  Only you can identify what is truly key.  When measuring Fire Suppression, we think it’s important to know the overall outcome, as indicated by “Number of structures having fires” and “Fires Contained to the Room of Origin.”   When the fire is contained to the…

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Know your KPI’s: Part 2 – What’s Hot in Snow Removal?

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Every major service should have a few key measures that would be important to any local government that provides such a service (See Blog 12/17/13 –  Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Part 1 – KPI Overview).   Some of the key metrics for snow removal include: Cost of snow removal/lane mile Hours for snow removal/lane mile Average time for first snow removal Snow Accumulation #  of Snow Removal Incidents   Since snow removal is dependent on the event of a snowstorm, which has a short duration and is not routine, it is one of the few measures that are best to record daily.  In fact, the chart below, which reports the daily events on a weekly basis, shows there were five discrete snow events in the season. Of course, snow removal is a classic case in which not all workloads are the same.  The snow accumulation is the single best way to measure the workload.  You, the expert, may also want to measure the temperature, duration of the event, or…

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Know your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) – Part 1: KPI Overview

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According to Wikipedia, a performance indicator or key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement.  An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged.  Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some level of operational goal.  Hence, success is determined by whether the goal for the KPI’s is being attained (e.g. reduction in the number of fires, reduced emergency response times, etc.). Each department or service area should have a handful of KPIs that are meaningful to the work they do or trying to improve.   There are KPI’s for each service area that most local governments agree are important.  We often recommend as a best practice that each service area identify a minimum of three KPIs – a few vital measures that support their desired outcomes.   KPI’s are also important at the overall municipal or county-wide level.  KPI’s for…

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The Importance of Data in Shared Services

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At the recent 2013 NECoPA (NorthEast Conference on Public Administration), I was a panelist in a session about shared services. The panel included speakers knowledgeable about collaboration in the federal judiciary and in local governments.  My comments focused on using data to increase efficiency and effectiveness through collaboration of local governments.  In particular, I discussed how performance data helps in two main ways:   Identifying potential opportunities for collaboration. Supporting and tweaking the shared service operations and administration to address unanticipated issues.   Toward those ends, I discussed a group of three municipalities who have begun using Revelstone in order to identify:   Comparative weaknesses of an individual municipality in a particular service area. A performance leader who might share a best practice or be interested in delivering the service in other municipalities. Differences in service levels related to the impact on comparative costs.   In addition, a second example includes a recently consolidated municipality as well as two other municipalities that are sharing a lot of different services have…

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7 Ways for Cities to Innovate

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I just read an article in Government Technology Magazine, “7 Tactics for 21st Century Cities – 7 Ways for Cities to Innovate.”  It’s written by Abhi Nemani, co-director of Code for America.   Code for America is at the intersection of Innovation and Government, so he knows a thing or two about what is leading the way in municipal governments.   In the article he lists 7 things cities should be doing to solve problems through innovation:   Create a space to experiment Use good data for better decisions Design for/with citizens Don’t be an island Tap into the community’s capacity Bias toward open Take tech seriously As you all know… I couldn’t resist commenting on #2 – Use good data for better decisions.   Nemani points out that cities manage lots of data and municipal leaders can make better decisions on matters like resource allocation and setting policies by using that data.   What I find interesting is his caution that all data is not created equal… and he says, “Data gains…

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Revelstone Contributes Chapter in New Book on the Power of Open Data for Governments

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Today Code for America, the non-profit organization inspired by tech industry thinker and leader Tim O’Reilly, launched its new book Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation.  My Revelstone colleague, John Fry, and I are proud to have authored Chapter 18, “Benchmarking Performance Data.”  The book is available for download on our website at no charge. Our chapter discusses how cities are using data to understand their own performance, and to benchmark and collaborate with peers to learn about opportunities for operational and financial improvement.  A chapter by Michael Flowers, who leads New York City’s data analytics team, kicks off this section of the book by talking about how NYC is using Big Data to answer very interesting questions that have lead to remarkable improvements for the city.   Revelstone’s chapter closes out the section with a focus on performance data and inter-city collaboration– the cornerstones of the burgeoning government-to-government virtual community of peers helping peers. Our authoring journey began last year when Revelstone was accepted into Code…

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Data is Top of Mind at ICMA 2013 Conference in Boston

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The ICMA Annual Conference was held in Boston this week.  Everywhere I turned someone was talking about data.  Seems the hot trend of data and data analytics is becoming top of mind for municipal leaders. During Monday’s keynote address, the NY Times best-selling author Daniel Pink inspired the audience by helping us realize we are all in sales!  WHAT! How can this be?   Municipal managers aren’t sales people.   However, in his research, Daniel asks people if their job involves, “convincing or persuading people to give up something of value in exchange for something you offer.”  His research indicates that 41% of all people say yes.   At 8:30 on Monday morning the packed room of 3,000 managers were all stunned to realize they were in sales.  As municipal managers, they knew an important element of their job is persuading, convincing and influencing department managers, employees, elected officials, business owners and citizens!    But no one in the room ever thought their job involved selling. So where does data fit into this discussion?  …

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Where is the Public Services Tipping Point?

Tipping Point

In a recent Governing.com article, The Public Safety Tipping Point: When Saving Money Loses, Mark Funkhouser raises the topic of the Public Safety Tipping Point.  His article revolves around a successful lifeguard rescue, despite a cutback in funds for lifeguards.  How will we know when we have gone too far cutting the public services provided by local governments? Most local governments have made some cuts to their services.  I mean cuts to the services offered, not just cuts to the cost of providing those service.  A survey conducted by Revelstone in 2012 indicated that only 10% of local municipalities had not cut services over the preceding five years.  The full survey report is available online here. While it is clear that there is a public outcry for government to be more affordable, it is not clear that the public realizes that this is achieved by reducing public services. Yet we do not seem to be faced with an uprising on the part of the public because of inadequate services.  Let’s consider several possible…

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NPR: Communities Debate Whether Sharing Services Saves Money

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While driving in the car the other day I was listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition.”  The topic was the effects of lower revenues on the communities we live in across America.  This 3-minute radio show highlighted communities in Wisconsin, Nebraska, and New Jersey and the various decisions, including consolidations and sharing of services, which have been selected and undertaken to manage within their lower budgets. There are pros and cons about the benefits of shared services… but having good data can help make informed evaluations and decisions.  Any major change in the way services are delivered can require adjustments later, to “get it right” and ensure that the expected outcomes are realized – be it a change to bring about better services, economies of scale, lower crime rates, or more revenues.  Data helps clarify the need for post-decision adjustments as well. Princeton, NJ is using Revelstone Compass to measure key elements of its two-town consolidation, so that outcomes can be tracked and adjustments made based on real data.  Taxpayers expect…

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Revelstone Wants to Hear Your View on Shared Services!

More and more municipalities are researching and turning to shared services.  There are a number of benefits to shared services: Cost reductions Greater effectiveness More efficiencies Better service levels Improved quality of services and citizen satisfaction Better management or operating infrastructure Economies of scale We want to know if you are considering shared services, or if you have already adopted shared services with one or more local governments.  The results will help us identify and share with you how prevalent shared service agreements are in local governments, the benefits your peers are seeing from shared services, the most common departments that participate in shared services and the challenges of shared services agreements. Please take a few minutes to fill out our quick survey on shared services before Friday, April 19, 2013.  The survey should take only 3-5 minutes. We will publish the results of this survey on our website on Friday, May 10, 2013 or you can register for our webinar, The Current Stance on Municipal Shared Services, on May 15,…

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Are Citizens Satisfied with Municipal Services?

Companies like SeeClickFix and Public Stuff are most well-known as apps that allows citizens to report potholes.  It’s not just that potholes capture the imagination of citizens – it’s that citizens are largely unsatisfied with the streets, sidewalks and infrastructure of their towns and cities. ETC Institute recently conducted a national survey on how satisfied citizens are with the services their towns and cities provide.  The survey shows many citizens are largely satisfied with how their municipalities are performing.  Here’s a quick look at the some of the findings: Citizens are least satisfied with public transportation (47%) and streets/sidewalks/infrastructure (48%) Citizens are most satisfied with trash/yard waste services (77%) and police/fire/EMS (80%) The majority of services received satisfaction rates between 50% – 75% Most services’ satisfaction ratings improved or remained the same from 2011 to 2012; the exception was parks and recreation, which went from 71% satisfaction to 69% satisfaction The good news is that some of a municipality’s most costly services – police, fire, EMS, waste disposal – receive…

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Morristown, NJ – Engaging citizens through performance management

“For years, people at our council meetings have asked what our government does,” said Mayor Timothy P. Dougherty of Morristown, New Jersey. “We realized we needed to do a better job of showing what we are doing and to do that, we needed to establish goals, build metrics and measure our performance so we can communicate the results to our citizens.” Morristown, New Jersey is working hard to transform its government into one that focuses on citizen services and sustainability. As Mayor Dougherty mentioned in his 2013 re-organization address, “The Morristown Office of Sustainability continues to champion ‘Morristown Performs’ – the Administration’s performance management initiative. It manages the relationship with our Dodge Foundation-funded consultants from FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and the inter-departmental integration of data collection and new technologies to better measure, assess and improve government operations and budgeting.” One of the goals of Morristown’s performance management initiative is to overcome the pervasive and negative sentiment of how local governments typically operate. The Mayor established goals and built metrics…

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When municipalities come together…

What can happen if you bring municipalities, all with the common goal of wanting to manage better, together for a full day of learning and networking? The short answer…a lot. And a lot took place took place on the picturesque campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University just a few weeks ago during Revelstone’s Second Annual Customer Interaction Day. For the second year in a row, municipalities who subscribe to Compass, Revelstone’s web-based performance analytics and benchmarking platform, gathered for a conference-style event of education, networking, best practices exchange and more. Filling the room were municipal managers and department heads eager to hear what others are doing with their performance initiatives and to discuss the challenges and successes that go along with it. Sessions ranged from the latest updates on Compass to open discussions and interactive workshops on implementing a performance management culture and creating a 2013 performance plan. The event provided a forum for municipalities, several of them neighbors, to talk about the one goal they all share—to manage better and…

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Oakland, NJ – Performance management is not just for big cities

The success of performance management in big cities is well documented – the Boston About Results program, Charlotte’s Performance Management and Strategic Planning initiative and Baltimore’s use of CitiStat. But increasingly, smaller cities and towns want the same insightful information that bigger cities are gleaning from using a performance management system so they too can gauge how well they are delivering services to citizens. Using Revelstone Compass, Oakland, New Jersey is an example of a small town that is embracing performance management to systematically gather and examine detailed department data such as: Police: Oakland can dive into when and where speeding tickets and citations are issued, correlate traffic enforcements hours with summonses issued and accident rates. Public Works: The borough can measure how quickly services are rendered and how much those specific services cost. Construction Code Permitting: Oakland can measure the percentage of inspections that are done on schedule, how much inspections cost and the average cost per permit. The end results? Oakland is examining traffic data to make roads…

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Denver, CO – Realizing peak performance levels, one department at a time

“To succeed in an era of scarcity, public agencies must do more than just measure their performance.  Success requires a focus on larger organizational goals that lead to questioning longstanding practices and structures,” writes Charles Chieppo in Governing. Chieppo’s article, Giving Public Workers the Tools for Efficiency, provides an overview of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’ Peak Performance initiative, which is designed for each city agency to “understand who its customers are, how it delivers value to them, and most important, areas for potential improvement.” This initiative is part of a nationwide trend: examining the state of services in order to find efficiencies.  The approach to this is different than in the past.  Identifying efficiencies is not about simply cutting services blindly—it’s about looking at real, empirical data to find ways to deliver higher value to citizens. Denver, like many cities and towns, examined the data on its police department—a common starting place for government performance management initiatives.  The results are eye opening.  Without having to change headcount, Denver was able…

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Can you drive your town without a dashboard?

When I hop in my car, I don’t give much thought to it.  I know with a lot of certainty that my car is equipped to take me where I want to go.  Now,  I imagine if my car was stripped of its dashboard, I would  quickly find myself  asking questions such as:  How fast am I driving?  Do I have enough gas?  Is the engine too hot?  And I would surely be lost without my trusted GPS. Just for fun, imagine yourself driving to work with no dashboard.  You get in and quickly realize that you have no way of knowing if there is enough gas in the tank to get you there.  What options do you have?  You might start driving and hope you get there before running out of gas.  You could call the fleet department (aka your spouse) and ask when was last time he/she put gas in the car and how many miles the car has been driven since.  Good luck – they probably won’t…

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“How’m I doing?”

Thank you, Mayor Ed Koch. He served three terms from 1978 to 1989.  I was fortunate early in my career to work on a seminal project, New York City’s Project Scorecard, that later became one component of the Mayor’s Management Report.  The work was developed as a system for rating the cleanliness of New York City’s streets and sidewalks by the Fund for the City of New York and was later adopted by the Mayor’s Office of Operations. Our metrics were outcome-based and measured cleanliness, not the amount of curb miles swept (that’s an output measure).  With increased attention from the Koch administration, the efficient delivery of municipal services during one of the greatest periods of fiscal stress was addressed.  Project Scorecard was expanded in the 80’s to measure the services of the parks department, the division of school building maintenance, and the Midtown Enforcement Project. Scorecard operationalized Koch’s iconic greeting within the halls of local government.  The original metrics and ratings of street cleanliness still live on in the…

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Can Shared Services Help the NJ Rebuilding Effort?

Shared services amongst and between municipalities is a growing trend with meaningful impact on citizens.  It all comes down to increasing the effectiveness and efficiencies in local governments.  As the government of New Jersey looks for ways to best rebuild the devastated parts of our state, it’s advocating a move to shared services. The New Jersey Senate recently passed a bill on the issue.  Senate President Steve Sweeney commented, “The bottom line is that the taxpayers of this state need a break and shared services is one way to give it to them.” There are pros and cons to the NJ bill, but the value of shared services is unquestionable.  Large cities can afford their own departments for every aspect of government services.  Smaller municipalities may not be able to afford everything.  And when that happens, the most common reaction is to cut services.  Whether it’s reducing the number of trash pickups per week, or reducing staffing at government offices, any cuts in services impact the citizenry. Shared services offer…

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What are Holiday Season Fires Costing Your Town?

While Mythbusters found that Christmas tree lights do not cause house fires, the National Fire Protection Association can prove otherwise. The Association reports that U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 240 house fires started by Christmas trees between 2005 and 2009 alone. These fires resulted in: • 13 deaths • 27 injuries • $16.7 million in property damage Although Christmas tree fires are not a common occurrence, the numbers prove they still happen and preparing for these fires is something towns need to be doing every year. To start, municipal officials can educate their citizens. Wishing your town a safe and happy holiday season is no longer enough. A simple fact sheet distributed to citizens and/or posted on your town website could be a great way to bring awareness to holiday season fires. For example, did you know that Christmas tree fires don’t just happen around December 25? Actually 17% started in November or February, 50% in December and 33% in January. Also, these fires are not just limited to…

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Ready, Fire, Aim

There is an old story of a man shooting a gun. Over and over, he keeps firing but missing his target each time.  If you happen to notice him firing, you would assume that he was an expert marksman, never stopping and just firing away.  However, if you saw his target, you would see that nothing was hitting the target.  When his friend stops him to ask, “Why don’t you slow down and take aim before firing?” his reply, “No, I’m too busy firing and I don’t have time to aim.” This story is an old cliché, but one that is played out in municipal departments every day.  Workers are busy working, however, there is often no aiming going on and no targets or goals are being established.  If you ask your managers and workers to measure their progress or activity, the answer is always the same, “We are too busy delivering services for that.”  Yup, firing away and missing the target! However, if your workers started measuring their activities,…

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Can Data Help Avoid Thanksgiving Traffic Jams?

Every year AAA issues a projection on the amount amount of people who will travel between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after.  The 2012 projection is not out yet, but the 2011 prediction offers insight on how data can help cities and towns better cope with the volume. The 2011 prediction was for 38.2 million people – 90% of holiday travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destination. I frequently visit family in the Boston area, so lets look at the Massachusetts Turnpike, as I’ve sat in long lines of traffic many times.  Historically, the Massachusetts Turnpike and towns along a portion of the Mass Pike have struggled to manage the situation.  The trigger is at the Mass Pike/84 interchange’s toll booths.  The cash lanes often create an enormous back up. This happens on many holidays, most recently over the 2012 Columbus Day weekend.  The Mass Pike had a 45-mile backup that Friday, resulting in one of the largest traffic jams in the history of the Mass Pike. In…

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Civic Startups are Hot!

Civic startups are hot.  Why?  There’s a growing movement to develop technology solutions to help governments of all types and sizes operate better, adopt private sector best practices and improve the efficiency of services delivered to their citizens. Want proof?  The civic startup space – and in particular the seven startups in the Code for America Accelerator program – have received significant coverage from influential media outlets. One of the recent articles was a result of Code for America’s recent Demo Day.  Government Technology ran an article covering Revelstone and the other six companies in the program.  They are: Aunt Bertha, Captricity, LearnSprout, Measured Voice, MindMixer and Recovers.org. Other recent articles include: Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government by Luke Fretwell of GovFresh How Code for America is Reinventing Government by Lauren Drell of Mashable Google Analytics for Local Governments by Ariel Schwartz of Fast Company Interested in participating in the discussion?  Follow all seven companies on Twitter, and follow the hashtag #civicstartups.

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GovFresh: Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government

Code for America’s Accelerator is invaluable to the seven elite civic start-ups participating in the program.  Their most recent support came with last week’s public “Demo Day,” where all seven of us presented our solutions for better government. Events like this are helping to increase the spotlight on civic start-ups and their innovative technology ideas.  Most recently, this came in the form of an article by Luke Fretwell of GovFresh. We spoke with Fretwell last week, which resulted in “Revelstone Brings ‘Moneyball’ to Government.  Fretwell asked Mark Nelson, our COO, a number of questions, the most important of which is how we are helping local governments with our performance analytics platform.  Fretwell’s piece also includes our own Ken Wolf, CEO, in a video explaining the importance of municipal governments analyzing not just their performance, but also that of similar governments in order to learn new strategies and best practices. Check out the GovFresh article here: http://govfresh.com/2012/11/revelstone-brings-moneyball-to-government/

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Why I’m Coding for America

I’ve spent my entire career understanding data.  Looking deep into the numbers to figure out what decision would be best.  This started when I was consulting with Arthur Andersen and continued throughout the years working with private sector companies, taking it from data analysis to performance analytics. I’ve seen the benefits the private sector gets from relying on data-driven decision making.  They are many, and all fall into the wide buckets of efficiency and effectiveness.  And now it’s time for the public sector – specifically, cities and towns to move to performance analytics. Taking a data-driven and performance culture into government requires a change in thinking.  It requires municipal leaders to focus on operating like a business and not like “business as usual.”  And it will take an army of believers to get this new thinking about how to better manage our cities and towns to reach critical mass. And that’s why Revelstone is Coding for America. Talking about data and performance analytics can sound esoteric.  But the reality of…

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Mashable: How Code for America is Reinventing Government

We’re believers in Code for America (CfA), a non-profit that is “helping governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the web.”  But of course, we would be big believers – we’re one of the seven companies selected for Code for America’s Accelerator program. Last week, Code for America, Revelstone and some of our fellow program members spoke with Lauren Drell (@drelly) of Mashable.  Lauren’s article, “How Code for America is Reinventing Government,” talks about how Code for America is taking the incubator/accelerator model common in the startup world to organizations focused on technology and government data. As Lauren reports, companies like Revelstone – civic startups – existed, but as CfA’s Director of Strategy and Communications Abhi Nemani commented, “The term ‘civic startup’ hasn’t yet crept into the Silicon Valley vernacular.” Thanks to the folks at CfA, it will soon.  All seven of us in the accelerator program received a grant, mentoring, networking and invaluable strategic advice.  We’ve all worked hard to make huge progress since…

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ICMA 2012 – “Stimulate the Progress” of Local Governments

I’m writing this blog entry from my airline seat at 30,000 feet somewhere over the middle of the country, thinking about all the interesting people I met at ICMA 2012.  I’m reflecting at the awesome number of opportunities facing local government leaders today—opportunities to adopt new technologies, enhance communications and improve citizen’s lives. New technologies to enable local governments to transform how things are currently done were evident all around ICMA 2012.  From the omnipresent use of social media and the ability to attend the conference virtually via the Internet, to the exhibit hall flourishing with new civic startup technology companies, change was in the air.  The Code for America’s session on open source software and specifically Jim Collins’ (author of Good to Great) keynote address were inspiring to all. Jim Collins spoke about innovation, presenting the concept of “preserving the core and stimulating progress.”  The idea of preserving the core is something that I think we all do every day in our professional lives.  We try to keep the…

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Code for America Accelerator Ruminations – Part II

Earlier this week I had the privilege of presenting Revelstone’s performance analytics and benchmarking solution to an audience of about 200+ innovative government leaders at Code for America’s (CFA) annual Summit in San Francisco (check out the video on YouTube).  I must admit the response to our offering, along with those of our peers in the CFA Accelerator program, was indeed overwhelming.  The folks at CFA have begun to successfully transmit their optimism about what can be accomplished to government leaders all over the country.  So, what is everyone so jazzed about? The work of the CFA Fellowship, Brigade and Accelerator programs has proven that citizens can become more connected to their local governments and the services that they offer.  That today’s technology can, in fact, be applied to solving problems of government in ways not achievable in the past.  For example, BlightStatus helps residents of New Orleans get up-to-date information about blighted properties in that city, so they can collaborate with government officials to remediate and better their neighborhoods. …

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Engaging with performance leaders at the ICMA’s 98th Annual Conference

Every day we hear about the struggles facing local governments, from the rising costs of delivering service to slashed sources of funding and increased citizen demands. Revelstone understands the pressures facing municipal leaders, and next week we are bringing our knowledge of performance analytics and creating government efficiencies to thousands of municipal officials at the ICMA’s 98th Annual Conference. Revelstone  shares  the ICMA’s vision of building better communities and is dedicated to helping local governments operate more efficiently while improving the services that are delivered to citizens.  As a conference exhibitor, we aim to “use the floor” to empower attendees to become performance leaders despite the tough economy and the ongoing battle to do more with less. However, to get there you have to first understand how you are performing. Often times municipal managers don’t know where to start, but with performance analytics and Revelstone Compass, managers can begin analyzing their services and costs to make strategic, data-driven changes that will improve the performance of their municipalities.  Compass represents the…

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The power of the network

Last week’s NY Times Magazine ran a thought-provoking article, “The Internet? We Built That,” by Steven Johnson, which posed the question, “Who created the Internet and why should we care?”  Was it government researchers?  Private corporations like Apple and Xerox?  Academia?  Al Gore?  The answer – none of the above and all of the above (except maybe Al Gore). The Internet, Johnson states, was created by “…decentralized groups of scientists and programmers and hobbyists (and more than a few entrepreneurs) freely sharing the fruits of their intellectual labor with the entire world.  Yes, government financing supported much of the early research, and private corporations enhanced and commercialized the platforms.  But the institutions responsible for the technology itself were neither governments nor private start-ups.  They were much closer to the loose, collaborative organizations of academic research.  They were networks of peers.” The article goes on to discuss how the results of that effort, the Internet, have enabled peer networks to grow and thrive and create – the likes of which we…

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Code for America Accelerator ruminations – Part I

A few months ago, we learned that Code for America (CFA), the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing government into the digital age, was launching its first ever Accelerator program in August of this year.  The mission of the Accelerator is to turbo-charge a handful of exciting civic startup companies by helping them with business advice, national awareness, networking with the technology elite of Silicon Valley and nurturing potential investment opportunities.   Revelstone is fortunate to have been chosen as one of the seven inaugural companies in the Accelerator program, out of a pool of 235 candidates. The program requires members of our management team to spend four weeks over a four month period at the CFA offices in San Francisco meeting with an ever-growing list of mentors who give us guidance on product, messaging, financing and our go-to-market strategies.   It’s an opportunity for us to step back and focus on our business, rather than in our business.  How refreshing! As of this writing we are halfway through the program, and the…

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What about the services?

With concerns surfacing in the last few years about fiscal stress in local governments and the focus on reducing tax costs, attention to the delivery of public services seems to have taken a back seat.  We are beginning to see early signs of the opposite reaction on the part of the public–concern over the adequacy of the services that remain after budget cuts. In the era of “Cut! Cut! Cut!”, sometimes little attention is given to the implications of the cuts, until an ambulance does not arrive quickly enough because of cuts in EMS.  Municipalities, often with little data other than prior costs at their fingertips and feeling the pressure to act quickly to adopt a budget, use across-the-board or best-guess tactics to determine what they could cut. What if the phrase “could cut” was further understood with data about the level of services that were being delivered, presented in a context for those levels, such as a comparison to the target set by management.  Decisions would have taken the…

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Why Revelstone is looking forward to the Code for America Summit

As one of the seven companies selected for the Code for America Accelerator program, we’re really excited for next week’s Code for America Summit in San Francisco.  Why?  Not only will we be presenting our Compass performance analytics solution and seeing our fellow Accelerator teams like MindMixer, Captricity, Measured Voice, Aunt Bertha, LearnSprout and Recovers.org, but the overall event looks fantastic!  We look forward to networking with the many forward thinkers that will be there and learning how they are innovating in their governments. If you’re not familiar with the Summit, it’s an invitation only event for more than 200 leaders and innovators in civic technology.  An impressive twenty cities were represented at last year’s event, and more will be at this year’s event. Just some of the speakers are: Emer Coleman, Gov.UK Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco Richard Price, a fire chief Nigel Jacob, new urban mechanic Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia Anne Milgram, a former attorney general Eric Ries, entrepreneur and…

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What’s your answer to the local government squeeze?

A recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, “The Local Squeeze: Falling Revenues and Growing Demand for Services Challenge Cities, Counties and School Districts,”  local governments “have been hit with a one-two punch.” They are faced with declining revenue and demands for increased service. It’s easy to agree that municipalities have a massive challenge ahead of them. As Pew rightly states, the “local squeeze will be felt for years to come.” According to Pew: State aid, which funds nearly a third of local government budgets, fell by 2.6 percent, to $12.6 billion in 2010 In 2012, property tax revenues saw the first annual decline since the mid-1990s – and it was the largest in decades Property tax revenues fell in 2011, and are expected to continue falling in 2012 and 2013. To make matters worse, the ways many cities and towns have addressed this are unsustainable: Raising taxes Reducing spending Cutting services Eliminating jobs Eventually, there will be nothing left to cut. And citizens are never happy about having their taxes raised….

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Why I decided to intern at Revelstone this summer – Derek Aurori’s story

My name is Derek Aurori, and I interned as a Marketing Research assistant at Revelstone this summer. As a marketing major in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State, I have learned plenty about how marketing works, but never got to experience any of it first hand.  Therefore, I wanted my summer internship to be a learning experience where my input would truly make a difference. When applying for internships, Revelstone was the only group to make it clear that my time working would really make an impact.  Most other internship descriptions ended with me giving this sort of reaction.  After quickly accepting the position at Revelstone, I spent the first few days building my knowledge of the field by working with the team members and fellow interns. Since then, my work has been an ever-changing mix of research and creative projects to help Revelstone expand.  Each project presented its own unique problems, solutions, and impacts toward the overall growth of the company.  I never would have thought that…

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I believe governments can operate better

Why don’t governments have the newest and coolest software and technology? I’m not sure I can answer that question, but Code for America is on a mission to change governments for the better. Have you heard of Code for America? It’s a small group of smart, talented and dedicated people with a mission to improve the experience of governments by delivering simple-to-use and beautifully designed software that helps governments operate in the 21st century. At Revelstone, we have the privilege of working with the Code for America team in the newly created Accelerator program. I’m writing this post on the plane as I fly home from our first full week in Code for America’s San Francisco offices, and I couldn’t be more energized at the prospect of helping governments become more efficient. When we started Revelstone just a couple of years back, I sat in a room with my co-founders and we envisioned a world where municipal leaders could sit at their desks, easily find their peer cities and learn…

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Targets: The Key in Getting from Measuring to Managing Performance

If you are using a performance management system and you are not setting targets, are you really managing or are you just measuring? Setting targets is an essential part of the management process that allows you to be proactive and take action based on the results of what you measure. To really be proactive, targets need to be set according to changing conditions. When doing this, it is important to remember that you are managing in the real world, not in a sterile, academic setting. There are several questions that you should ask yourself in regards to each measure: What can I expect the measure to be if nothing is different? Normally, a measure from an appropriate prior time period (same month last year, for example) is your best guess at what to expect. Does the recent trending of the measure (maybe the last several months) change my expectations based on last year? Recent trending may indicate changing conditions of which you were not aware. Is the amount of resources…

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Why I decided to intern at Revelstone this summer – Kelly Bryden’s story

Hello! My name is Kelly Bryden. I am the graphic design intern at Revelstone and I thought I would share a little about my experience interning here for the summer. After returning from four months in Florence, Italy, furthering my studies in graphic design, I was looking for a summer job that I could further build and practice my skills. While interviewing with the marketing team I became immediately excited about the position they were offering. They told me they are looking for new fresh designs and that my projects would include making new graphics for their promotions and events, creating new ads to sell their company, and new images for their website. Little did they know that all they had to say was “you get to do what you love” and I would have been sold. Not only did I learn and practice my skills as a graphic designer at Revelstone, but I also learned a lot about their company and how a business works. Being an art student,…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking Myth #5 – I don’t know where to begin

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #5— I don’t know where to begin If you have read past blog posts here, you probably know that I spend a great deal of my time speaking with municipal leaders talking about performance management.  “I don’t know where to begin,” is probably the one phrase I hear most often, giving rise to this myth.  What I find interesting is that most municipal managers can extol the benefits of performance management: Communicating goals clearly both to the public and within the organization…

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Government Performance Management and the 21st Century Digital Government

The White House recently issued a Presidential Memo—”Building a 21st Century Digital Government”—directed to the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.  The memo provides the major federal agencies with a 12-month technology roadmap, including how to deliver digital services and how to make applicable government information available to the public.  But most significantly, the memo included, as an integral portion of the edict, a directive to include measurement. Excerpt from Memo: “The Strategy will enable more efficient and coordinated digital service delivery by requiring agencies to establish specific, measurable goals for delivering better digital services; encouraging agencies to deliver information in new ways that fully utilize the power and potential of mobile and web-based technologies; ensuring the safe and secure delivery and use of digital services to protect information and privacy; requiring agencies to establish central online resources for outside developers and to adopt new standards for making applicable Government information open and machine-readable by default; aggregating agencies’ online resource pages for developers in a centralized catalogue on www.Data.gov; and…

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8 Steps to Establishing a Performance Culture

As performance measurement systems evolved into performance management systems in municipal governments, many early adopters realized something pervasive had happened.  Dialogues were now about results, not activities.  The entire organization became focused on how to improve results instead of just reading what the results were.  Even departments that had only partial control over a result saw their responsibility not only in doing their part, but also in collaborating and coordinating with other departments and with stakeholders outside the municipality to achieve the desired goals.  Setting targets became an important part of the process that led to knowing where you were and giving a direction to where you wanted to be. The evolution from measuring to managing performance can only be attained by establishing a performance culture and this is not always easy. The following 8 steps provide a critical framework for establishing this type of culture: Determine what results you are trying to achieve. Communicate the goals you want to achieve – clearly and often. Make learning your focus. Encourage…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking Myth #4—It’s too expensive

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #4—It’s too expensive Since performance management has historically been practiced by the largest of cities with many resources, the perception is that they probably spend a lot of money on: Software with big, up front capital expenditures New hardware servers Consultants to configure the software In-depth training Endless amounts of data gathering And in the case of the biggest and richest cities, this might indeed be true.  When you add up all the time and costs that big cities have put into…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking Myth #3—I don’t have the data to compare to others

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #3—I don’t have the data to compare to others. How many times have you sat in staff or council meetings discussing the latest issue and wondered, “How have other towns resolved this issue?”  After all, there are nearly 40,000 municipalities in the United States and chances are that some other town has faced the same issue and resolved it successfully.  Do you pick up the phone and call the three to five surrounding towns that you normally collaborate with and hope they…

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Is service efficiency in the “eye of the beholder”?

Efficiency is a major component of municipal performance management, but deciding exactly what to measure isn’t always so straightforward.  A good example of this challenge is with recurring maintenance, such as mowing of parks and fields.  You have to deal with factors such as frequency and level of quality desired for things like manicured fields or golf courses.  Balancing efficiency versus desired outcomes is not the only challenge.  Let’s explore this issue further. Many performance management systems use the cost per acre to be mowed as the measure of efficiency.  Town A spends $50,000 a year mowing five acres of fields and they mow them about 40 times.  Town B, which just cut its recreation budget, now spends only $20,000 on its five acres, but they did that by letting the fields get a bit shaggy before mowing (which resulted in only 10 mowings a year). Using the example above, Town A spends $10,000 per acre and Towns B spends only $4,000 per acre to be mowed.  When this comes…

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Municipality meltdown: Is your town headed toward a financial crisis?

This article landed on the front page of the New York Times. I urge you to read it and start thinking about the actions your town should make to avoid a municipal meltdown. From California to New York, municipalities across the nation are facing a financial emergency. An emergency so extreme, that it will require officials to make difficult choices in order to avoid potential seizures from state oversight boards. These choices are not easy to make. Think about your own town and ask yourself, “Would I rather cut the police force patrolling my streets or the number of teachers in my schools?” Your answer would probably be neither, but what if you are one of the many municipalities that HAVE to make this choice? This is a harsh reality for many government officials, but the truth is municipalities didn’t get there overnight—these meltdowns have been years in the making. The economy, falling property values and rising pension costs are all factors in the equation for failing local governments. Municipalities…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking: Myth #2—I can’t compare to others; I’m unique

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #2—I can’t compare to others; I’m unique. You’ve heard this myth before… possibly in your own town.  “We can’t compare to other towns because we have a _____ [insert one of the following: a shopping mall, a university, a downtown district, a volunteer fire department, etc.] and the other towns near us don’t have that.”  It’s the classic apples-to-oranges comparison dilemma.  While it may be true that your neighboring towns might not have a mall or volunteer fire department like you do,…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking: Myth #1—My people are too busy.

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #1—My people are too busy. Municipal departments are, in fact, short-staffed and very busy.  But a common problem we see in many municipalities is that staff members sometimes do things that aren’t necessary.  How often have you dug into a problem or task to ultimately ask, “Why are we doing this?” only to hear the common answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Is your staff really too busy to measure performance?  How do you decide what “too busy” really…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments.  Excellent examples of a performance-based management approach are well documented in New York City and Baltimore’s successful CompStat and CitiStat programs.  With governments struggling today to find efficiencies in their service delivery, the need for good data to base decisions on is needed more than ever.  So why haven’t smaller local governments followed suit and adopted their own performance management programs like those that have worked so successfully in larger cities? Our research has shown there are five common myths that have become so ingrained and accepted that the mere notion of a performance management program is almost automatically dismissed as impractical unless you have the budget and staff of a large city like New York City. I’m writing a five-part blog series in an effort to help debunk the five myths of performance management: I don’t have time; my people are too busy I can’t compare to others; I’m unique I don’t have the data to compare to others…

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What if they didn’t keep score at the Superbowl?

Can you imagine the Superbowl if they didn’t keep score?  What if the refs said, “Sorry, we’re too busy, we don’t have time to track the score”?  Would anyone find this acceptable?  How would we know who won the game?  How could you measure your success if the score wasn’t counted?  Let me ask you an important question about your jurisdiction—can you tell if you are delivering services well and making good decisions if you aren’t measuring the important activities and outcomes?  How often do you hear the same excuse, “Sorry, we don’t have time” from your workers when asked to measure or count performance? Someone famously said, “Football is a game of inches.”  Everything in football is measured and counted and we sports junkies track each and every stat.  The newspapers are filled with wonderful statistical analysis to slice and dice the entire game from quarterback passing yards, number of first downs, totally yards rushed, etc.  For fun, let’s imagine the Superbowl were managed the way most local government…

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“It’s easy to do nothing.”

I spend a great deal of my time speaking with leaders of local governments about improving performance of municipal operations.  This week, I was speaking with a business administrator of a small city and he acknowledged that it’s not uncommon for a town to be delivering services that could be improved or made more efficient.  What he said next, surprised me, as if exposing a dirty little secret of managers, “It’s easy to do nothing and just let it be, and that has been the strategy of many towns for the past 15 years.” Today, it’s a completely different story.  With revenue shortages and little ability to raise taxes to cover budget shortfalls, administrators must find new ways to become efficient or risk having to stop delivering a service.   I just learned of one New Jersey town that reduced garbage pickup to once a week.  As you might imagine, the residents are not happy and very concerned about the smells that will likely come, when the weather gets warm this…

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Is there a perfect measure?

Bob Behn, a cut-to-the-chase guy, whose work I have followed because of his longstanding efforts (and pithy comments) in promoting performance leadership, cautions not to get wrapped up in perfecting your measures.  Behn is known for promoting the Citi-Stat review model as a mechanism to improve performance in government. But as important as managing with data is, I believe the most important thing is to start measuring.  In the closing of Behn’s recent management report, focused on distortions that may be created by measures, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/thebehnreport/All%20Issues/August2011.pdf, Behn writes that there are no perfect measures.  He argues the best approach is to start with a few good measures, not perfect ones.  Be aware of their flaws. Expect your indicators to be criticized and improved while your organization learns about improving performance. I spend a great deal of my time thinking, developing and researching measures for inclusion in the Revelstone Compass system.  I’m trying to identify and develop measures that would be most relevant for small to moderate size municipalities, and to define…

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“What gets measured, gets done.”

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets done.”  If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure, and if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage or improve it.  What eludes most local governments is how to create performance management systems that align measures with what they are trying to accomplish: How well are we doing? Are we meeting our goals? Are our citizens and stakeholders satisfied? What improvements or changes are necessary? So how do you get started?  It doesn’t have to be a daunting task!  Successful performance management systems adhere to the following guiding principles: Appoint a champion.  Leadership is critical in designing and deploying effective performance management systems. Identify the key activities and outcomes to measure.  Revelstone’s Compass makes it simple by providing a library of more than 500 key metrics to choose from. Involve the people who are responsible for the work to be measured and give them a sense of ownership. Establish accountability for results that is clearly assigned and well-understood. Establish…

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Do your meetings include data-driven discussions?

Whether you are an inspirational leader, an experienced administrator or a newbie figuring out how to have a positive impact on your local government, you can complement your “natural” abilities with data-driven management techniques.  The IBM Center for the Business of Government thinks so too, and recently published A Guide to Data-Driven Performance Reviews written by the Urban Institute’s  Harry Hatry, a long-time leader in measuring performance.  In this article Hatry focuses on managing with data, not just on the measurement, which I have long believed is the key to why we measure. Warning:  This article might be discouraging because it addresses the management of performance in large federal agencies.  However, the insights in this paper are useful for small to moderate size municipalities if we use a lean performance management perspective.  Those key concepts are: Ongoing and regular meetings Involvement of the chief executive or chief administrator in the meetings A data-driven meeting agenda based on reviewing key measures and determining actions to address them Determining objectives, following up…

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Lessons from Baggage Claim – What NOT to Measure

I recently took a business trip to the west coast where I had with me a small briefcase and my carry-on bag which would easily fit in the overhead compartment of the airplane.   I was not traveling on my usual airline, so I didn’t have any special boarding privileges.  However, since I was seated in a forward row, my section was the last to board. By the time my section began to board, the gate agents claimed that there was no space left in the overhead bins and I would have to check my bag, picking it up later in baggage claim.  Oh, what fun.  I was skeptical, but complied, nonetheless. I was somewhat surprised and slightly miffed when I boarded the aircraft to discover that there was plenty of room overhead.  Too late—the doors were closing.  Why would they have told me otherwise?  “Well,” I thought, “I’ll never let that happen again.” On the next leg of my trip I was in the same predicament (and traveling on the…

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Revelstone does its part in “Creating a Community with a Common Vision”

Creating a Community with a Common Vision was the theme behind this year’s New Jersey League of Municipalities (NJLM) Annual Conference, and as a first-time exhibitor, Revelstone was excited not only to participate but also to offer a solution for local governments that tied directly into this messaging. On November 15th-17th over 10,000 attendees gathered down in Atlantic City for what is considered to be the largest gathering of public officials in New Jersey.  Over this three-day event, the NJLM hosted educational panels, clinics and workshops while commercial, government and association exhibits displayed the latest products and services for municipal government.  The Revelstone team had the opportunity to participate in these sessions, tour the exhibit floor and network with new and familiar faces. As an exhibitor, our goal was to communicate how Revelstone is helping local governments operate more efficiently.  Through our innovative performance management solution, Compass, we are enabling local governments to track their own performance data, benchmark against peers and learn from each other to improve. We believe…

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Are Extreme Cuts Coming to Your Town?

Before you read on, I invite you to first watch this video that recently aired on NBC featuring communities being forced to make extreme cuts.  It’s a “sign of the times” or so they say.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/vp/44910124#44910124 Proposing government employees bring their own toilet paper to work in an effort to save money?  That’s really extreme.  This is truly a sign of the times—a sign that governments are continuing with the struggle to do more with less, or as Brian Williams put it, “less with less.”  Have you started to consider extreme cuts that once may have seemed unthinkable?  How exactly can governments continue to deliver the same programs with the same quality of service on an extremely reduced budget?  I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. Another controversial question is how governments are determining where to cut resources.  For the sake of citizens and the programs they depend on, one can only hope that research has gone into these decisions and towns are relying on facts…

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The 26 Mile Goal

On Sunday I completed a life-long goal and ran the New York City Marathon.  Since I was 12, I’ve always wanted to run the NYC Marathon.  When I was younger I made all kinds of excuses about not having enough time to train, however, secretly, I just couldn’t imagine that I could actually run 26 miles.  It just seemed like an unachievable goal. A few years ago, with a milestone birthday, I was struck with a simple idea—run half a marathon.  It was sheer genius!  I convinced myself that if I could run a half marathon, then I could think about trying to run a full marathon. What I later realized was that I had set a realistic goal for myself.  Not so much intentionally, but what I had done was set a long-term goal, something almost unconceivable to accomplish and then set smaller goals that were achievable to measure my progress.  First I learned to run 5 miles, then 10 miles, then half a marathon.  After a year of…

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Does the Act of Measuring Itself Produce Results?

Does the act of measuring performance drive results, or must we wait until the data has been analyzed and decisions are made in order to realize improvement in our organizations?  I recently answered this question in one of my own organizations and was quite surprised by the results. One of my sales teams had been doing a great job of working deals through the sales pipeline and closing them.  However, our pipeline was weaker than it should be because they were not generating enough qualified leads.  We pleaded, then encouraged, then mandated that our sales people dedicate time each and every day to prospecting activities.  While they agreed in principle, they generally seemed to find other priorities that got in the way.  So, once deals in their pipeline were closed, they found themselves lacking in new deals to work. Eventually, we knew something had to change.  So, we began requiring that they get on a call at 8am each morning and report their previous day’s prospecting results.   We tracked: How…

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Moneyball your Municipality

Have you seen the new movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt, or read the book of the same title by Michael Lewis?  It strikes me that there is an uncanny similarity from what the Oakland A’s faced in Major League Baseball to what local municipalities are facing in today’s challenging economic times. The central premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed.  Common baseball statistics such as “stolen bases,” “runs batted in” and “batting average” have historically been used as the gospel to gauge a player’s performance and are relics of a past way of thinking.  The book/movie argues that the Oakland A’s front office took advantage of more empirical measures of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer teams in Major League Baseball. Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that new measures like “on-base percentage” and “slugging percentage” are better indicators of offensive success, and…

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Big or Little—How do Municipalities Find Success with Performance Management?

The success of Performance Management has been achieved in some of the largest municipalities and some well-managed counties in the United States, but the transfer of this management technology to small and moderate-sized municipalities has been slow, at best.  Revelstone has resolved the technology issue by providing a practical solution that doesn’t demand a large multi-year project or significant IT costs with Compass—a web-based platform that contains a catalog of precisely defined measures.  Municipalities need only to choose a few of these measures to get started, and can add to them as their sophistication and needs grow.  From our experience talking to town managers and elected officials, the remaining stumbling block is the establishment and acceptance of the value proposition for Performance Management itself. While glowing statements of the general success of Performance Management projects, as well as promotion of the success of a particular model or process by consultants offering that solution, do exist, concrete examples that are undeniable are hard to find in published sources.  This is not…

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Should You Measure for Today or Tomorrow?

A common question I hear when talking to township officials about performance management is, “What do I measure?” Deciding on what to measure involves focusing on today’s challenges and tracking areas that are in immediate need, or planning ahead and collecting information that may help you solve future problems. The choice you face is whether to concentrate on measures that address short-term issues to detect and solve today’s challenges or take a longer term approach and track measures that will help detect and solve future problems. For example, if you are having current issues with evaluating the size of your police force, you would probably want to track the following measures: Number of police calls for service Average response time for emergency calls Overtime hours Conversely, if you have increasing costs in your fire department, a common solution is to consider a shared services arrangement. You will be better prepared to make current and future decisions regarding this by tracking these measures: Number of calls responded to in your jurisdiction…

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Welcome to the Revelstone Blog

Revelstone is dedicated to creating communities of local governments that inspire each other to improve the quality of life for their citizens, employees and stakeholders.  We hope that you find this blog inspirational and useful. Our goal is to provide you with information and techniques about how other towns are using performance management and benchmarking to deliver services and cost-efficient solutions to improve your government operations. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear from some of Revelstone’s leaders who are co-authors of this blog. We will bring to you our varied backgrounds from the public service, the private sector and academia. We will share ideas and stories from our many customers and engage in open discussions about efficient ways to deliver municipal services, all from different view-points. You’ll hear about towns who are pioneering new management techniques to reduce costs and improve service delivery efficiencies, as well as those that are implementing innovative solutions. We invite you to join the conversation by checking in with us every week or…

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