Government Measures Up: Outcomes vs Outputs

Oct 19
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Measuring success remains one of the management processes both public and private sector organisations struggle with, however government faces a unique set of challenges creating a difficult environment to measure outcomes in their truest form. The majority of agencies default to measuring output which, while important, does not accurately portray success.

Stacey Barr, Performance Measure Specialist and creator of PuMP methodology, explains in her recently released white paper, ‘How to Measure Government Outcomes’, the road blocks agencies face:

  1. Most government agencies serve to maximise social stability, justice or welfare. The language most agencies use to describe their outcomes isn’t specific or measurable but includes terms such as advancement or betterment.
  2. The majority of government outcomes are long term meaning they can’t be measured frequently with distinct results.
  3. Often relying on collaboration with other organisations, government outcomes are systematically complex. With varied contributors to any given project, government’s role becomes influential and harder to determine the impact of its actions.

Ms Barr also explains the key shifts which need to be made before we are able to attain meaningful outcome measures.

“The culture in most societies is still too strongly driven by judgement of failure and success,” she writes and advises organisations to measure with the intent of learning and improving, rather than judging and comparing. 

While she agrees comparison is important, it is the comparison of process design across organisations rather than the outcome measures themselves. 

Given the reigning culture enforcing a fear of failure (unrestricted to government), comparison of performance ultimately erodes performance. 

“The ranking of schools, for example, based on the results their students get in standardised tests isn’t done with bad intentions. But it’s done badly. Schools will only encourage the smart kids to sit for the standardised tests, for fear of poor results reducing their funding or making parents choose other schools. And this dynamic works against the ultimate intention of schools in society.”

Given the challenges of measuring outcomes, many agencies default to stipulating milestones and actions. For example, setting deadlines for tasks or stating the tasks to be completed. 

While milestones are indicators of progress and underpin project management, they are not performance measures and do not correspond with performance management. 

“Actions are not performance measures; they are the ‘how’ for achieving results, not evidence of the results themselves. And until specific actions are proven, through valid analysis, to be powerful predictors of outcomes, they remain untested hypotheses about how to achieve the outcomes.”

Government departments can, however, measure intangible outcomes with a practical roadmap including:

  1. A fresh understanding of why we need to measure
  2. Clearly articulated outcomes and strategic goals
  3. Constructing a cause-effect map
  4. Encouraging and holding the space for ownership and buy-in
  5. Using measures to drive continuous improvement toward targets
  6. Reflect and learn before repeating the process

The need for a shift from measuring outputs to outcomes is becoming more apparent, driven by the government’s priority to deliver optimal outcomes for citizens. To effectively measure the impact of new and existing policies and programs, government requires a robust methodology for designing, implementing and measuring outcomes and related KPIs. 

Mark Hocknell, Performance Management Specialist using PuMP methodology, is facilitating a series of masterclasses in November and December in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. 

Measuring Outcomes Based Approaches in Government will take attendees through the process of enhancing outcomes for citizens by understanding what needs to be achieved, indicators that demonstrate progress, how to integrate outcomes into program & policy and key strategies to measure process.

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

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