Imagine you are attending the BCS National Championship game next month. You have invested top dollar in your seats and you have been anticipating the game for weeks. You settle in to your seat with your hot dog, soft pretzel, and your favorite beverage a few minutes before kick-off because you don’t want to miss a single play. An announcement is made: “Ladies and gentleman, Oregon and Auburn officials have met and decided that they will not measure first downs nor keep score today. They just want to put on a great show! Now, for the coin toss…”
What?!?? Fans sit in stunned disbelief. The game begins and, despite the incredible individual athletic feats and the complex teamwork you see, it’s impossible to be fully engaged and thrilled by the proceedings. Long drives, passes, and runs have no results associated with them. There is no way to measure progress- or lack thereof- as the teams move up and down the field. Reaching the end zone is of no consequence. You feel cheated emotionally and financially. You curse the very players that you had longed to see and you swear you will not bother with football again.
Unfortunately, a similar scenario has panned out in our state and local governments for many years and the citizenry has become increasingly disinterested and skeptical. These questions- among many - go unanswered today:
What did we receive in return for our taxpayer dollars?
What were the results associated with a social service program?
What combination of programs produced the best outcome?
How can a positive outcome be repeated if you don’t know the outcome in the first place?
How can you avoid spending money on ineffective programs or increase spending on effective ones if you can’t prove the results?
How can we intervene to prevent a negative outcome if we don’t have a goal?
My spirits have been buoyed by witnessing a movement towards transparency in government spending; to be able to see where our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are going. But this is only the first step in becoming a truly accountable organization- one that understands the outcomes associated with financial or human resource investment. The ability to measure and project positive or negative citizen outcomes is particularly crucial in the long-term fiscal winter in which governments find themselves.
Forecasting outcomes is a core capability of advanced analytics, as is the ability to provide alerts if a projected outcome is not going to be achieved. This insight can be extracted from the tremendous amount of data in government systems. It supports decisions regarding the most effective use of constrained resources. Perhaps state and local governments have not always focused on outcomes due to the abundance of funding available during good economic times. Well, the playing field has changed- government must become more outcomes-oriented.
All is not lost. There are a number of leaders and government organizations that are charting new and different courses. A great example of this innovative thinking can be found in Los Angeles County’s Adult Linkages Program, where indigent adults are receiving the services they need in more efficient and cost-effective ways. Now why don’t you take in a good football game? I have a feeling that you will be well aware of the outcome- but unfortunately, I just can’t promise that you will like the result!