Building a culture of government accountability through data and leadership


Most management literature and studies posit that organizations with a clear mission and work objectives, understood by all levels of the organization, are the most productive. The key to that success is effectively communicating the mission, agreeing on key performance indicators and giving employees at all levels access to relevant data on their performance and the overall performance of the organization. Accountability then becomes a 360 degree exercise where employees at all levels hold each other accountable, and various work groups do the same.

What does it take for local government, or any organization, to create a culture of accountability so that performance is valued at all levels? Two things:  leadership and data.

Leadership must clearly communicate the mission and provide access to the data that is used to define success.  That data needs to be available real time to the organization and work groups. For example, municipalities have KPIs for response time and budgets for various public works activities such as pothole repair or landscape maintenance.  At the end of the year, municipalities may identify how many pot holes were repaired, how long it took to repair them and whether or not the budget was over or under spent. By that time, it is too late to make adjustments.

Imagine the possibility for improvement if the public works staff and managers had access to data on a daily basis that showed on a dashboard:

  • The work completed to date
  • How the number compares to previous years
  • The cost per repair
  • Total cost,
  • Time to repair compared to past year
  • A forecast for end of year for these variables.

Staff would be able to benchmark their performance, mission progress and capacity to make needed improvements throughout the year, rather than waiting until the end of the year for the pass/fail grade. This data driven approach delivers continuous improvement and optimization of resources.

The requirements for this change in approach are simple. Using data integration and data quality software, financial and accounting system data, work order system data, budget data and planning data are integrated to create a complete picture of cost and performance. Dashboards, supported by business intelligence and reporting technology, display KPIs and how they related to the overall mission. This incremental data can then be used to forecast future cost and performance, using analytics. These forecasts inform better decisions about adjustments to staff and budget resources in order to optimize resources and improve performance.


About Author

Bill Coleman

Advisory Industry Consultant

Bill Coleman works with SAS local government customers across the US to understand best practices and solutions. Coleman applies his more than 30 years of experience as a senior leader in city and local government to guide SAS product and marketing management. From 1994 to 2008, he served as Town Manager of Cary, NC, the seventh-largest municipality in the state with a population exceeding 130,000. Coleman was responsible for planning, organizing and directing municipal operations, which included more than 1,000 employees and 11 departments providing a full range of municipal services. Under his leadership, Cary was the first municipality in North Carolina to work on performance enhancement system. The system was designed to help the town maintain its high quality of life by improving resource allocation and operational efficiencies throughout town government, beginning with the areas of public safety and development services.

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