Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How can the public measure Value for Money from Councils?

One of the things that I always have a big problem with when it comes to public bodies is a distinct lack of publicly available information, in particular, performance information. Thanks to the Freedom of Information act, those who are so inclined can, if they know what they are looking for and how to ask for it, get information from public bodies and then use that data to help form their own opinion on just how well a particular body is doing.

I have never thought this good enough. As tax payers, the public are key stakeholders in publicly funded organisations and as such should be provided with clear, precise and accurate performance information at regular periods. We shouldn't have to ask for this info, it should just be produced automatically.

In big private businesses and I would imagine many smaller ones, most firms have a form of 'dashboard' reporting where each department, section, project etc would be responsible for providing a weekly/monthly snapshot of their performance against targets. Many people tend to think of performance purely in terms of finance - sales, profit, loss etc but in truth that is only a small aspect to overall performance measurement. It is just as important to measure response times, deadlines, complaints and other such factors which determine just how well things are going. Areas of concern are highlighted in red, well performing areas in green or other such indicators.

It sounds very simple because it is, but it's one of those little things that provide a great deal of easily digestible info from very little effort and it's not until they are used that people appreciate just how important it is to have them. If I was a councillor I would propose that council adopt this type of scheme with each department having an input into the 'dashboard'. I would also propose that the public are consulted as to what they feel should be measured and monitored. Once up and running, this would be published monthly online for the public to see, scrutinise and then ask questions of the council if they feel unhappy.

This wouldn't just serve the public, it would serve the council. Though this may be hard to believe, the majority of councillors are actually interested in serving the public as best they can but they too, are often hampered by either a lack of information readily available (they can request reports, but having to wait defeats the object) or by not being given the whole picture. In addition, when it comes to justifying their record in future, they will be able to point to the 'Dashboard' as evidence that they have been doing what they were asked.

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