Regional Workshop on Performance-based Planning and Programming
This section provides key themes that emerged both from the group discussion and the breakout sessions.
Most Agencies are Using Performance Measures Today
One consistent theme from the workshop was that most agencies are using performance measures within their planning process in one form or another; however, all see room for expansion of the measurement and use of the data. There were two key drivers for agencies adopting a performance measures approach: 1) a legislative mandate, and 2) a need to manage costs more efficiently in a time of reduced resources. Agencies see their purpose as serving the public and view performance measures as a way to gather public input, keep them accountable to the stated goals, and communicate the state of their efforts and expenditures.
Performance Management is an Ongoing, Future-Oriented Effort
Participants expressed that the integration of performance measures into their activities is a practice of continued adjustment and improvement. Ideally the practice should help an agency "always be better the next day." Performance-based plans and programs need to exist as "living documents." Despite concerns that performance management will allow leaders to point fingers and assign blame, agencies see it as a tool to look forward and make better decisions.
Challenges to Implementation Remain
Overall, participants recognized performance-based planning and programming as good management practice, but noted that they continue to struggle with utilizing the data to support all of their programs and processes. Participants identified a range of potential challenges to implementing performance-based planning and programming, including:
- Linking planning and programming. Connecting goals and objectives and system planning to project selection and programming decisions is challenging. Specific issues raised included:
- In many agencies these functions are siloed, making it difficult to pull the pieces together.
- Political sponsorship or public support of many projects adds an additional challenge if some of these projects don't score well from a performance perspective. Many participants felt that in reality they have little control over project selection (especially the smaller agencies).
- Assessment. Some agencies described struggling with assessing their performance management programs. How do we know if this is leading to better decisions? Because there is no "control case," it is difficult to determine what would have happened in another scenario. There is a lack of guidance on how to facilitate a performance management assessment.
- Partnerships. Effective performance management requires collaboration with a range of partner agencies. Politics, lack of existing relationships, and over-burdened staff challenge these partnerships. Also, performance measures are inherently different at various scales (e.g. community, metropolitan, regional, state, national, etc.). This makes it challenging to effectively pull data together among partner agencies.
- Reporting. Most agencies noted that they could be doing additional reporting of performance measures. While performance outcomes can be a great communication tool, there are also concerns about what the data will show. In a time of declining resources, there may be some measures that are trending in a non-desirable direction. One participant noted the possible need to adopt a disinvestment plan and abandon non-essential infrastructure.
- Data Availability. An agency's performance measures are only as strong as their data. Issues continue to exist with availability, granularity, consistency and reliability.
- Institutionalization. Performance management must be integrated throughout an entire agency to provide continuity and longevity. Participants told of situations where a champion starts to build the practice, but when he or she retires the program is essentially retired as well.
- Understanding the Trade-Offs. Many measures are linked, and have a direct impact on each other. For example, providing signal priority for bus rapid transit may reduce the level of service for automobiles. There needs to be a way to balance the decision with factors that go beyond vehicle throughput.
Establishing a National Program
Some concerns were expressed about the prospect for a national performance management program or performance-based planning and programming requirements, including:
- Participants were wary regarding accessibility and mobility measures, especially for transit agencies. There was concern that required measures would standardize things to a point that is difficult to meet, and not actually translate into improved conditions on the ground.
- Some participants questioned whether agencies should be asked to report measures before they are effectively using them for decision-making purposes.
- Many participants are concerned about how the measures may be tied to funding. Will failing agencies be given more resources? Or will those that are performing well be rewarded? Perhaps it will be the agencies in the middle that will see the reduction in funding?
- As with focus areas in the past, agencies are wary that this is a trend that will come and go. There was concern that they would be asked to devote significant resources to setting up the process, only for it not to be fully implemented.
- Participants warned of a false sense that performance management is a silver bullet that will solve agency problems. In reality, it is just better use of data, but the challenges regarding complex decisions and constrained resources will remain.
Participants had concrete ideas for how to help a national program achieve success. Some of these ideas included:
- Allow the measures to be flexible, and context-oriented. Items such as quality of life are subjective (e.g. level of acceptable traffic congestion) and difficult to measure (e.g. livability), but are critical and very important to the public. There will always be outliers, so the measures cannot be deterministic.
- Keep the reporting simple. A complicated reporting process will only lead to frustration, stretched resources, and a lack of compliance. Participants did not consider the ARRA reporting process to be a good model for performance reporting.
- Leverage existing programs. As much as possible, draw upon programs and processes that are consistent among agencies and already in place (like the congestion management process).