Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Performance Management in a Co-Production Context: Negotiating Improved Outcomes

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Pearson I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tony Bovaird, University of Birmingham and Steven Rathgeb Smith, American Political Science Association
Too much confidence exists in one-sided arguments about how to improve outcomes through performance management. On the one hand, proponents of performance management often argue that a system-wide approach must be imposed on managers and organizations seen as ‘reluctant’ to measure, be accountable for and improve their performance. On the other hand, opponents of performance management often insist that only bottom-up or negotiated performance management approaches will produce positive behaviors in managers and bring performance improvements in their organisations. The wide gulf between these extreme positions suggests that a tendency to categorize behaviors by stark zero-one judgments is quite prevalent, when actually a continuum of possible approaches is evident in practice.  

We propose two key propositions to guide our research inquiry.  First, negotiated performance management systems are more sustainable than imposed systems.  However, the dynamics in the field mean that imposition may be needed to trigger improvement, whereas only if the PM system is then successfully changed and moulded through negotiation is it likely to be sustainable.  Second, emergent performance management systems are likely to be more meaningful than planned PM systems, as they capture what is most important to frontline staff and middle managers, who are closer to service users and know what can be and is being achieved than top managers.  Yet, the dynamics of improvement journey mean that planned PM systems are needed at times to give clear direction to frontline staff and middle managers as to what the organization needs, allowing the top-down and bottom-up PM systems to be better aligned with other.  Consequently, we argue that the planned versus emergent dichotomy is overdone.

Our conceptual framework is rooted in an understanding of performance management that categorizes performance management as negotiated or imposed, planned or emergent.  This framework can be illustrated by a 2x2 matrix with accompanying cases for each cell.  In our paper, we discuss the characteristics of PM systems which fit within each cell and then discuss the dichotomization of PM systems and its frequent outcome:  the crude over-simplification of actual behaviors among front-line staff and managers.  In our analysis, we explore four interesting and timely cases from current public policy in the UK and the US.  In each case, we demonstrate that some aspects of each case do indeed suggest that it fits into one of the cells – but that the case, when considered as dynamic journey, is actually more complex and has aspects (at least at different times during this journey) that would locate it in one of the other cells. The case studies have been chosen from a particular domain of public policy characterized by strong interest in the potential role of user and community co-production to improve program outcomes.  By definition, this domain is one in which multiple stakeholders need to negotiate the mission, values, desired outcomes and chosen evaluation instruments and measures.  Our key underlying assumption is that service improvement is more likely through negotiated rather than imposed systems – and through emergent rather than purely planned processes.