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Ambiguity in public sector performance measurement: a systematic literature review

Chiara Oppi (Department of Management, University of Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy)
Cristina Campanale (Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy)
Lino Cinquini (Institute of Management, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 27 December 2021

Issue publication date: 26 April 2022




This paper presents a systematic literature review aiming at analysing how research has addressed performance measurement systems’ (PMSs) ambiguities in the public sector. This paper embraces the ambiguity perspective that PMSs in public sector coexist with and cope with existing ambiguities.


The authors conducted a literature review in Scopus and ScienceDirect, considering articles published since 1985, and the authors selected articles published in the journals included in the Association of Business Schools' Academic Journal Guide (Chartered ABS, 2018). Of the 1,278 abstracts that matched the study’s search criteria, the authors selected 131 articles for full reading and 37 articles for the final discussion.


The study's key findings concern the elements of ambiguity in PMSs discussed in the literature. The study’s results suggest that ambiguity is still a relevant problem in performance measurement, as a problem that is impossible to be solved and therefore needs to be better understood by researchers and public managers. The analysis allows us to summarize the antecedents and consequences of ambiguity in the public sector.

Research limitations/implications

The key findings of the study concern the main sources of ambiguity in PMSs discussed in the literature, their antecedents and their consequences. The study results suggest that ambiguity exists in performance measurement and that is an issue to be handled with various strategies that can be implemented by managers and employees.

Practical implications

Managers and researchers may benefit from this research as it may represent a guideline to understand ambiguities in their organizations or in field research. Researchers may also benefit from a summary list of the key issues that have been analysed in the empirical cases provided by this research.

Social implications

This research may provide insights to limit ambiguity and thus contribute to improve performance measurement in the public sector.


This research presents a comprehensive review on the topic. It provides insight that suggests what future research should attend to in helping to interpret ambiguity, considering also what should be done to influence ambiguity.



Oppi, C., Campanale, C. and Cinquini, L. (2022), "Ambiguity in public sector performance measurement: a systematic literature review", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 370-390.



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