police and fire department efficiency.

"We track response time in terms of priority of call and our priority might be different than someone else's," said Bryant. "We knew this would be an evolutionary process, we knew we wouldn't accomplish it in a year. Everything is in draft right now. We've done several data collection efforts but it is in a test mode and we have identified the problems."

Long Beach's interest in the project was the "big-picture perspective." Since cities are all in a similar business, the consortium gives them an opportunity to identify best practices, to learn from other cities. According to Bryant, Long Beach's involvement is "really an effort to improve our operation."

Frank Fairbanks, the city manager for Phoenix, Ariz., came to the consortium for similar reasons.

"We were already doing this kind of stuff [performance measurements]," said Fairbanks, "But the reason we were so enthusiastic about the comparative study is that it takes it in two new directions for us. It helps us find other ways of measuring. By participating in this study we could improve our own technique and knowledge. Also, through the comparative study we'll find some cities are doing better than others. We can find out what kinds of things they are doing. Phoenix has a good reputation for being innovative, but a lot of what we are doing is borrowed from other cities."

Fairbanks knows from experience that there tends to be a lot of information sharing within metropolitan areas, but the information flow outside the region is not as good. He sees the consortium as a way for people in one part of the country to learn about good approaches used in other parts of the country.

Fairbanks also thinks the program will create an incentive for cities to progress -- after all, no one likes to be last. Used correctly, he's also seen it help employees.

"We think it can be a major tool for improving our government and local government across the country," said Fairbanks. "If you use measurement to beat up and get angry with employees, it absolutely doesn't have a positive result. It can hurt you. But if you can use it to help employees understand better what their job is about, they are happy. It is like a sport. You have to know how to score. It simplifies their world [to know what defines success], especially if you get their ideas. Employees know what we want and they enjoy delivering what we want."

CITIZEN FEEDBACK

As part of its efforts at performance measurement, Phoenix does a citizen attitude survey every two years to get feedback on how the government is doing. Recent surveys indicate that citizens appreciate the city's efforts, that they have noticed a difference. This isn't to say everything is rosy -- Fairbanks knows there is a lot of cynicism about government -- but he noted that the polls have shown that citizens know the government is focused on service delivery, which translates to citizen support. Fairbanks credits this generally positive attitude with helping the city pass bond issues when needed -- citizens tend to support governments they feel are providing real service.

Although its work is a long way from complete, the consortium has pulled together 1995 data and Hoetmer feels they will be in good shape to do valuable comparisons when the 1996 data comes in. Still, the whole effort is evolving. The Steering Committee, which consists of ICMA staff, Urban Institute staff, representatives from Deloitte & Touche and the chairs for each of the technical advisory committees, continues to work at refining the performance measurements. At each stage, though, cities have exchanged successful approaches and techniques. In addition to improving service and isolating best practices, Fairbanks hopes the consortium's efforts may also help overcome what

David Aden  | 
David Aden DAden@webworldtech.com is a writer from Washington, D.C.