Global Performance Measures

  • Henrik P. MinassiansEmail author
  • Suren Ghazaryan
Living reference work entry

Performance ideas have been around for hundreds of years. Scholars of performance measures and management have traced the origins of the movement beyond the New Public Management. Analyses of the early twentieth century in New York reveal similarities with contemporary practices. There are eight performance management movements that can be clustered into three time segments. They are: (a) the pre-World War II era; (b) the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, which coincides with the rise of the welfare state and the growth of governmental programs; and (c) the 1980s onward with a rise of new public management initiatives challenging the role of government. However, there should be a distinction between policy movements, which focus mainly on the outcomes of organizations and public program, and management movements that have more internal focus on outputs and efficiency. Nevertheless, there remain elements of outcome measures within the management movement, raised mainly due to a misunderstanding of the differences between what constitutes output and outcomes. In implementation of performance management principles, many public officials treat outputs as outcomes.

The Era of 1900 Until World War II

The three performance movements associated with this era are the social survey movements, Taylor’s scientific management movement, and the cost accounting movement. All these movements were partly reactions to the industrial revolution. Social survey movements were a reaction to the social context of industrialization and how local governments were plagued with patronage while factory workers lived in poverty. The performance movements associated with this era aimed at answering societal issues through rationalization and quantification of administration processes in order to increase efficiency and fairness of operations.

The purpose of the social survey movement was to address social ills and identify the causes and facts surrounding the plight of urban life. The best-known work of the social survey movement is associated with Charles Booth’s study of Life and Labor of the People of London (1886–1903) (Linsley and Linsley 1993). Booth attempted to develop a better understanding of the number of people living in poverty, why they were poor, and how to design a remedy. Ultimately, the issue was not just to collect data but also to use the information to develop policy solutions. While the social survey movement targeted mainly social inequalities, the idea behind the scientific management movement was infrastructure to address issues related to industrialization. The purpose of the scientific management movement in government was to address ineffectiveness of public organizations particularly in the development of large infrastructure projects such as public works projects. It was believed that the application of Taylorian and Weberian principles would improve governmental activities and processes, thereby making administration of public affairs a profession based on scientific principles.

The last movement within this era was the development of cost accounting, the examination of the systematic recording and analysis of the costs of material, labor, and overhead incidental to production in order achieve efficiencies. Through the use of output indicators, organizations can assess the financial cost of their activities. Schachter (1989) and Stivers (2000) suggest that the New York Bureau of Municipal Research (NYBMR) was one of the first organizations to synthesize all three activities. The cost of applying these rational and scientific methods created depersonalized management policies, many of which were taken national resulting in the creation of organizations such as the General Accounting Office. At the international scene, such an example of this is a study by Paul Devinat in 1927 (Merkel 1980), for the International Labour Office in Geneva, an extension of the work done by the New York Bureau of Municipal Research.

Post-World War II Era to the 1970s

A second generation of performance measurement came out of World War II with focus on budgetary issues. Initiation of the Hoover Commission in the United States can be seen as an effort to examine the growth of the federal government during the 20 years leading to the 1970s. The aim of Hoover Commission was to improve the budgetary process in terms of work done instead of identifying expenditures (Shafritz and Hyde 2004). During the 1960s, performance budgeting became a well-established initiative in the form of Planning, Programming, and Budgeting Systems (PPBS). This form of budgeting and planning examined the marginal benefit of each program. Some associate this form of performance budgeting with Robert McNamara in that he stressed system analysis as an aid in the decision-making process. Great Britain introduced performance budgeting in their defense ministry in the 1960s and extended it to other departments. The French used similar performance budgeting practices called RCB (rationalization des choix budgetaires). By the early 1970s, performance budgeting in the form of PPBS became an integral part of economic planning in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, and Japan (Novick 1973).

However, the consensus is that PPBS did not achieve what it promised to do nor did subsequent initiatives such as management by objective (MBO) and zero-based budgeting. One main emphasis of PPBS is its mark on the creation of systems thinking as a managerial tool. That approach, however, could be associated with its failure. Aaron Wildavsky (2009), one of PPBS’s critics, suggested that focus on program structure is harmful in that the budgetary process is a political and not a rational process. The main challenge with PPBS was its inability to create a causality scheme between departments and activities.

Beyond performance budgeting, other movements came about with a focus on social indicators. Some associated the rise of the social indicator movement to the emergence and expansion of the welfare state and government’s willingness to provide a safety net in the form of social programs. One of the direct effects of the social indicator movement was the creation of statistical modeling that enabled public sector officials and programs to project outcomes into the future. The aim of the social indicator movement was to conjugate data measuring various social variables such as health, crime, housing, etc. The social indicator movement had profound impact on government operations and the use of statistical apparatus to explain social phenomenon. However, the economic crisis of the1970s brought about with the Arab oil embargo shifted the role that government played in social indicator practices; the focus then was to cut back governmental programs. One can associate the rise of performance management initiatives of later decades to the ability of quantifying various indicators to measure outputs and, possibly, outcomes when it came to the public sector activities.

From the 1980s to Today

The 1980s represent the start of retrenchment of government and its role in managing the welfare state. Some associate the rise of this retrenchment to the branch of economics called public choice where analysis of people’s actions in the marketplace applies in decision-making at the individual and collective levels. Terry Moe (1984) in his classic work New Economics of Organization depicted the game that individuals play in the organization in order to shirk from their responsibilities, thus creating a moral hazard. These types of arguments seeped into politicians’ perception of the role of state and bureaucracies and have given the ascent to new right ideologies notably in Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand with new experimentations in managerial practices.

In the 1980s, tax breaks and fiscal savings became the prime focus. In the United States, under the Ronald Reagan administration, the appointment of the Grace Commission was an attempt to identify areas in which the federal government could assume savings. One strategy was reducing the number of federal employees by contracting out the delivery of services. Milward and Provan (2000) associates this move as hollowing out of state where government sees reduction of public workforce and greater reliance on markets in the form of contracting for achieving assumed savings. Performance measurement, for example, became a leading initiative in the United Kingdom with the launch of Financial Management in 1982, which focused on objectives and measuring outputs. Pollitt (1993) suggests that use of performance indicators became the main approach in measuring outputs of public organizations and programs.

This type of managerialism in the 1980s gave rise to a global movement called New Public Management (NPM). The goal of New Public Management was to adopt private sector principles and practices in the management of welfare state programs. Hood (1991) associates NPM to the performance movement of the earlier eras. The use of performance information became the core idea for decision-making and improvement of public organizations. Performance measures and the information generated were utilized for financial, contractual, and even human resource management purposes. During this era, performance budgeting sneaked back into the stage of performance measurement mainly used by politicians as a planning and evaluation tool. In the United States, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) utilized performance budgeting as a lever.

The 1990s saw the rise of performance as the main issue in public sector organizations around the world. William Thomson (1891), a Scottish physicist, in a lecture titled “Electrical Units Measurement” stated, “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.” Others such as Peter Drucker or Edwards Deming have also suggested what gets measured gets done. Here we see a shift from New Public Management language and perspective to performance management.

In more recent years, we have seen the rise of a new movement, evidence-based policy (EBP). EBP fits well within the context of measuring program outcomes. The main tenet of EBP is to measure outcomes rather than opinions when it comes to policy decisions. Solesbury (2001) is associated with the start of EBP in the medical and public health sectors. However, by the end of the 1990s, EBP had spread across all sectors. EBP focuses on the social indicator movement similar to some of the promises of social engineering in the earlier era. The challenge with performance measures such as EBP is that it assumes policy decisions are mainly based on objective facts and data instead of politics. Political conflict is how decisions are made, and in Minassians and Roy’s (2017) finding, data and facts are used only 30% during times of crisis. Also, part of the problem remains as to how the facts and data are used and whether that information is used selectively for fulfilling political goals rather than objective policy decisions.

Since 2010, a number of countries have been reviewing and revising their performance systems. The global fiscal crisis in particular has returned the focus to public financial management in many countries. Public financial management aims to achieve three goals: maintaining a sustainable fiscal position, allocation of resources, and delivery of effective and efficient public goods and services. This suggests a shift away from program effectiveness to fiscal sustainability and organizational efficiencies. The recent IMF publications noted that nearly all OECD countries have developed performance information along with the integration of accountability and financial management. In recent years, we have witnessed various experimentations among local government agencies. Some localities such as the City of Baltimore or the County of Ventura have developed informative performance measures for the purpose of linking citizens with what their government does. On the other hand, we have seen other localities that use performance measures for political ends.

Politics Is and Will Remain Part of Performance Movement

Depending on how and for what purpose performance measures are used, there always remains an element of power dimension. Executive and legislative branches use performance movements for budgetary purposes and decision-making particularly during crisis. Therefore, what gets collected and how the performance goals and indicators are initiated and used will dictate the relevance and usability of them. The early attempts of separating politics from administration can be seen as a political act empowering the administrative apparatus. On the other hand, use of performance budgeting can be associated with attempt for control of the legislative and executive branches of public bureaucracies. The main challenge and barrier is the design and implementation of performance measures. In general, any movement associated with this is the rise of a networked environment where multiple partnerships determine the outcome of a policy. Public sector organizations are no longer directly in charge of determining the outcome of programs. Rather, we see an era where multiple public-public, public-private, public-nonprofit, and citizen, voluntary and community, groups interact for the coproduction of outputs and outcomes. The value in outcome is no longer purely public, but it has become murky, while public agencies are still held and perceived as the accountable parties.


Even though performance movements, at times, have been seen as a fad, they remained part of public organizations over a century. Various movements have come and gone or morphed into new movements, but they all have left elements of residue behind shaping public organizations. We see this with the integration of various performance measures or practices into the processes of public sector organizations. From the use of quantitative analyses to various fiscal policies, we see inclusiveness of these movements within government. As outlined in this entry, various movements came about to address challenges for that era but still remained influential during later periods.


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Further Readings

  1. For further discussion and examination of global performance movements, see works by Christopher Pollitt (1993, 2006, 2011), Charles Vance (2006), Alan Nankervis (2008), Maria, Iskandarani (2008), and Robert Behn (2002)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State University NorthridgeNorthridgeUSA
  2. 2.BurbankUSA