Reprinted from the Fall 2004 issue of
The word "CompStat" signifies a turning point in public-sector performance. In 1996, then-New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton launched a radical new way of combating crime. Out went the heavy reliance on 911 calls, which locked police officers into a reactive role. In came an aggressive policing strategy that focused on quality-of-life crimes coupled with technology that tracked arrests and crime statistics by week, day and hour.

For the first time, precinct captains were held accountable for driving down crime in their jurisdictions. Those who couldn't meet the new performance measures were removed from their commands. While civil libertarians objected to what they saw as abusive tactics, there was no denying CompStat's role in helping reduce New York crime. By 2002, the city's crime rates dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s. Today, variations of CompStat can be found around the country and the world. It is considered by many to be one of the best examples of how performance measurement works in the public sector.

"CompStat has been so successful for performance measurement," said Steve Kelman, professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "It has really put some fire under the management practice." According to Kelman, performance measurement is now taught to all master's students at the Kennedy School.

Helping drive CompStat's success is, of course, technology. Databases massage the information collected by police. Geographic information systems track crimes based on time, location and other factors. Modeling tools help police commanders answer "what-if" questions concerning changes in manpower, patrols and other assets.

The story of IT and performance measurement could end there, with CIOs playing an important but secondary role to the police commissioner, labor secretary or social service director who must manage performance in today's outcome-based, value-driven public sector. CIOs, however, are also under the gun to show results.

The reasons are somewhat paradoxical, according to Amy Santenello, senior research analyst at Meta Group. "IT is increasing in importance for the public sector, but technology has disappeared as a priority among policy leaders," she said. "To demonstrate the value of IT, CIOs are using performance measurement to show they can deliver results and improve services."

At the federal level, the President's Management Agenda made performance measurement a priority, according to Thom Rubel, vice president of government strategies at Meta Group. At the state and local level, the fiscal crisis forced CIOs to be more accountable and show results. Despite these pressures, use of performance measurement continues to be spotty in the public-sector IT community, according to Rubel.

Where it is used, the terminology often differs. For example, some CIOs make performance metrics part of their overall strategic plan. For others, it's a requirement for building an enterprise architecture. Still others see it as a tool for making the business case for a new infrastructure, application or service.

But Is It Shareholder Value?

Mention performance measures, and what you often hear is something very specific, tangible or numeric, according to Genie N.L. Stowers, professor of public administration at San Francisco State University. "Number," "percent," "ratio," "incidence," "proportion" or similar words are often used, according to Stowers' report, Measuring the Performance of E-Government.

The private sector primarily uses profit to measure performance along with other nonfinancial measures. By comparison, the public sector has struggled to come up with a viable and meaningful way to measure performance, but Stowers identified many --inputs, outputs, activity measures, efficiency, and productivity measures or outcomes. For CIOs, inputs might mean application development and hardware costs; outputs could be system response time

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.