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Performance measurement and benchmarking as “reflexive institutions” for local governments: Germany, Sweden and England compared

Sabine Kuhlmann (Department of Economics and Social Sciences, Universitat Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany)
Joerg Bogumil (Department of Social Sciences, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Bochum, Germany)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 14 May 2018




The purpose of this paper is to discuss different approaches of performance measurement and benchmarking as “reflexive institutions” for local governments in England, Germany and Sweden from a comparative perspective.


These three countries have been selected because they represent typical (most different) cases of European local government systems and reforms. The existing theories on “institutional reflexivity” point to the potential contribution of benchmarking to public sector innovation and organizational learning. Based on survey findings, in-depth case studies, interviews and document analyses in these three countries, the paper addresses the major research question as to what extent and why benchmarking regimes vary across countries. It derives hypotheses about the impacts of benchmarking on institutional learning and innovation.


The outcomes suggest that the combination of three key features of benchmarking, namely – “obligation”, “sanctions” and “benchmarking authority” – in conjunction with country-specific administrative context conditions and local actor constellations – influences the impact of benchmarking as a reflexive institution.


It is shown in the paper that compulsory benchmarking on its own does not lead to reflexivity and learning, but that there is a need for autonomy and leeway for local actors to cope with benchmarking results. These findings are relevant because policy makers must decide upon the specific “governance mix” of benchmarking exercises taking their national and local contexts into account if they want them to promote institutional learning and innovation.



Kuhlmann, S. and Bogumil, J. (2018), "Performance measurement and benchmarking as “reflexive institutions” for local governments: Germany, Sweden and England compared", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 543-562.



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