Performance Management, Evaluation and Learning in ‘Modern’ Local Government

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Abstract

Public sector reforms throughout OECD member states are producing a new model of ‘public governance’ embodying a more modest role for the state and a strong emphasis on performance management. In the UK, the development of performance management in the context of the ‘new public management’ has been primarily ‘top-down’ with a dominant concern for enhancing control and ‘upwards account-ability’ rather than promoting learning and improvement. The development of performance management and evaluation in local government in the UK has been conditioned by external pressures, especially reforms imposed by central government, which have encouraged an ‘instrumental–managerial’ focus on performance measurement. The new Labour government's programme of ‘modernizing local government’ places considerable emphasis on performance review and evaluation as a driver of continuous improvement in promoting Best Value. However, recent research has indicated that the capacity for evaluation in local government is uneven and many obstacles to evaluation exist in organizational cultures. Local authorities need to go beyond the development of review systems and processes to ensure that the capacity for evaluation and learning is embedded as an attribute of ‘culture’ in order to achieve the purpose of Best Value.

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