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Community Engagement is the Missing Piece to Your Performance Management

Perhaps one of the hardest roles for local government leaders is finding the balance between meeting community needs and running an effective and efficient jurisdiction. In talking about local government in the community, much well-deserved attention is devoted to understanding and meeting resident priorities, whether that comes in the form of creating an equitable strategic plan, improving the mechanisms that are in place for gathering community feedback, or budgeting around resident needs. 

There’s no question that the role of the resident and the community as a whole should be first and foremost. After all, a city or county would not exist without residents. But in order to provide the services and initiatives that meet the community’s needs—and to do that well—it’s not enough to simply understand resident priorities. Local government leaders must also be able to evaluate those initiatives, and to adjust them accordingly based on their success. In other words, they cannot ignore the aspect of performance management that comes with providing services. 

The good news for city and county leaders is that performance management doesn’t have to come at the expense of community engagement. Quite the opposite: community engagement is actually the key to better performance management.

What is performance management?

The National League of Cities defines performance management as, “The process of consistently reviewing performance data to inform decision-making.” Similarly, the Urban Institute looks at performance management in the context of strategic planning, explaining that while strategic planning looks forward towards specific goals, performance management looks back at what was achieved. When taken together, each informs the other, creating an ongoing cycle, as adjustments are made to the strategic plan based on the results of performance management. 

Performance management will:

  • Identify Key Performance Indicators. KPIs are measurable values that determine how well an organization is performing. 
  • Serve as the basis for improving processes and services. By consistently evaluating initiatives and services, performance management also provides a mechanism for improvement.
  • Rely heavily on data and analytics. Unlike anecdotal stories, performance management seeks to evaluate a program’s success based on quantifiable measurements.
  • Measure your current achievements. Only by looking at current successes and missteps, can short and long-term goals be adjusted to better reflect results.

The challenges of effective performance management

In many ways, performance management is what keeps local governments from operating in a vacuum. Without it, there would be no measurement of what is and is not working, nor any reason to pivot directions based on results. But for performance management to be effective, there not only needs to be a way to measure success, there must also be a way to measure it consistently, often across wildly different programs. This is where the challenge comes in.

When evaluating the effectiveness of local government programs, the measurements of success are often so different, that looking at them as a whole is like comparing apples to oranges. For example, the success of the sanitation department may be measured through on-time trash pickup, while the success of an arts program may be measured on the number of people served. There is no direct comparison of the two. Therefore, in order to look at local government performance holistically, a standard KPI is needed that can be applied to all programs. What if resident satisfaction served as that KPI?

3 ways community engagement is the key to performance management

What is the common denominator between trash pickup and art programs? The residents they serve! One of the biggest challenges of performance management for local government is that often, different government agencies have disparate sets of metrics and scales. At the same time, governments are operating with very limited resources. Oftentimes the only common factor between government initiatives is that they all exist for the community. Therefore, finding a way to measure how well they’re serving the community can function as a standard KPI, and a key ingredient to performance management for local government. 

Yet for that to work, that performance needs to be measurable. Here is where community engagement comes in: by evaluating resident satisfaction around programs and initiatives, local governments can see where they are succeeding and where they need to improve, and to change course accordingly.

Here are three ways to use community engagement for performance management:

  1. As a standard of comparison: by tracking resident satisfaction across all or several programs and initiatives, local government leaders can learn which are met with resident satisfaction, and which need rethinking.
  2. For performance over time: by looking at resident satisfaction over time for individual initiatives, city and county managers can see how programs are improving, or whether they’ve lost their appeal.
  3. For benchmarking against similar communities: city and county leaders can look at overall resident satisfaction and benchmark it against that of similar communities to understand how effective their programs are and understand how they are operating in comparison to their peers. 

The Zencity dashboard provides city and county leaders with topic-specific resident satisfaction scores, allowing them to compare apples to apples, even when looking at apples and oranges. With tracking in real time and over time, resident satisfaction scores provide leaders with an evolving view of how their initiatives are performing, and Zencity’s benchmarking tool in combination with overall resident satisfaction scores allows leaders to compare the success of their community to that of nearby communities.


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