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Some alternative approaches to performance management for councils

Tim Walker (Belfast City Council, Belfast, UK)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Arising from a study exploring whether best value and performance management had caused change within councils' waste services, this study, having found alternative approaches to those promoted by Government which could warrant further study, sets out to pursue this line of enquiry.


This was an exploratory, inductive theory‐building study using a practitioner‐researcher approach to develop a conceptual model based upon a literature review and a case study research methodology.


Despite much publicity, the cases studied did not use performance management frameworks to structure change. Several of the cases were aware of the intent of performance management and, in light of those approaches promoted by Government, other systems were considered to be potentially more suitable.

Research limitations/implications

The practitioner‐researcher approach provided particular insights to this study which may not be apparent otherwise. One of the principal findings was that there appeared to be an absence of coordinated independent research relating to management theory and councils' service delivery, as opposed to private sector applications of theory and practice, which appears unbalanced, especially given that the public sector is one of the largest employers in the UK. In particular, this paper highlights that simply transferring private sector performance management approaches without scrutiny and amendment to the different cultural and structural working environment within councils would appear imperfect and likely to create ad hoc success. These findings relate specifically to councils' waste services but may have a relevance outwith these operations.

Practical implications

This study recommended that further research should be conducted to develop a greater understanding of council management practice and examine how this could be positively affected. Simply recommending the transposition of private sector approaches was unlikely to work and, similarly, the current hands‐off approach adopted both between Government and councils and between councils' corporate centres and their operational services suggested the emergence of strategic/operational divides. This could be overcome with a more balanced approach and secondments between the different tiers.


As practitioner‐research, this paper provides an insight into how councils' waste services are prioritizing change which highlights the emergence of an apparent, growing dislocation between different government tiers. These findings emerge following case study research from a service whose perspectives on management theory rarely get expressed, owing to the demands arising from daily operational delivery.



Walker, T. (2008), "Some alternative approaches to performance management for councils", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 339-344.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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