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Measuring and Analyzing Performance to Find What Works

Goal-setting is a first step toward improving performance, but agencies must also measure progress toward their goals. Also, when agencies measure characteristics of the problems they are trying to tackle and of opportunities that arise, it helps them set priorities and tailor agency actions more precisely. Measurement and analysis complement agency goal-setting. They let an agency know if it is on or off track to meet its targets. Even more important, they help agencies diagnose problems, identify drivers of future performance, evaluate risk, support collaboration, and inform follow-up actions. Analyses of patterns, anomalies, and relationships help agencies discover ways to achieve more value for the taxpayer’s money.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) used deeper analysis of its data to yield improvements. Increased analysis of its customer satisfaction, quality, and service measures enabled VA to increase the percentage of medical care new patient appointments completed within 14 days of a patient’s desired date to 89 percent in 2011, up from 84 percent the previous year. Also, an initiative at VA medical centers to reduce health care associated infections, featured in articles by the Wall Street Journal and the Commonwealth Fund, helped VA enlist leaders at the local, regional, and national levels to identify and spread highly effective infection-reducing practices. To accomplish this, VA mentored facilities with persistent sub-par performance and employed a multidimensional report card with quarterly measures of ICU and acute care performance, resulting in a clear payoff – one type of infection rate, for example, experienced more than a three-fold reduction over five years.

Similarly, the Federal Aviation Administration has implemented an agency-wide safety management approach – the Safety Management System (SMS). This system employs complex algorithms not only to analyze the causes of incidents, problems, and accidents including hazards that could arise from industry or agency processes. Because hazards usually arise from the interaction of various factors, putting the Safety Management System into operation has also had the effect of breaking down the stovepipes that contain and isolate various pieces of the aviation safety picture. At Seattle-Tacoma Airport, for example, an increase in ramp accidents connected with employees loading planes and driving around terminals was traced to the fact that people with varying skills and responsibilities performed diverse jobs in these risk areas. The airport addressed this by holding separate, targeted training for each group of employees and painting a line to distinguish the area of operation for tarmac personnel from that of runway personnel. As a result, the number of accidents fell sharply.

These are just some of the ways that Federal agencies are strengthening their measurement and analytic practices to find what works and ways to reduce costs. At the same time, they are developing a better sense of different kinds of measurement useful for different situations, including annual performance reports, dashboards and databases, and more frequent, actionable information, and integrating performance measurement and analysis with other evidence.


...Data is a powerful tool to determine results. We can't ignore facts. We can't ignore data.

President Barack Obama, July 24, 2009