Performance Measurement in the Public Sector in England: Searching for the Golden Thread


Pietro Micheli is a lecturer in the Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Business Performance and a fellow of the Advanced Institute of Management, United Kingdom. His research and consulting interests focus on organizational performance, particularly in the areas of strategic performance measurement and continuous improvement. His research on the design, use, and impact of performance measurement and management systems has appeared in a number of academic and practitioner journals.

Andy Neely is a professor of operations management at Cranfield School of Management and Deputy Director of AIM, the Advanced Institute for Management Research, UK. Previously he has held appointments at Cambridge University, London Business School, Nottingham University, and British Aerospace. He has been researching, teaching, and consulting in the field of performance measurement and management since the late 1980s. He has authored over 100 books and articles.


Despite the significant volume of studies on public sector performance measurement, a paucity of empirical research describes in detail the systems and processes used at different levels of government to measure and manage performance. This study focuses on the experience of Public Service Agreements in the public sector in England. In particular, the impact of a centralized, performance measurement-driven approach on public service delivery is analyzed using case studies in a health care and a police organization. Despite efforts to introduce a “golden thread” to link different levels of the public sector hierarchy, in both cases, there was relatively low consistency in terms of performance indicators, targets, and priorities. Significant implications are evident for the design and role of performance targets and indicators, for the possibility to align frameworks at different levels of the public sector, and for the importance of feedback loops in measurement systems.