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The Importance of Subjective Data for Public Agency Performance Evaluation


John Shingler is a research associate at Penn State University. He was worked with public utility regulatory policy and energy conservation program evaluation for more than 22 years.

Mollie E. Van Loon is a systems administrator for the Consumer Services Information System Project at the Pennsylvania State University. She is involved in developing and conducting data analyses for dynamic statewide databases.

Theodore R. Alter is a professor of agricultural, environmental, and regional economics in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at Penn State University. His research focuses on development and public sector economics, institutional and behavioral economics, and leadership and organizational change.

Jeffrey C. Bridger is a senior research associate at Penn State University with an appointment in Cooperative Extension, Outreach, and the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. His research focuses on rural economic and community development, land use and natural resources, sociological theory, and public scholarship.


Evaluating public agency performance has typically been based on objective measurements. However, some researchers contend that evaluation is not complete without considering client perceptions of agency performance. This study supports combining subjective client perceptions with objective data in the evaluation process. Survey results and internal performance data are examined for a state agency charged with investigating citizen disputes with utility companies. Regression analyses show that the factors that most influence the client’s satisfaction with agency performance are the client’s perception of how long it took to resolve the dispute, based on survey results, and whether the case was decided in the client’s favor, from the agency’s internal records. The “real” resolution time recorded in the agency’s information system was not significant. These results indicate that subjective data provide valuable information for evaluating agency performance.