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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited
The editorial staff of Benchmarking: An International Journal is committed to helping those working at a senior level in industry, the public sector, consultancy, or academic institutions, to stay current on developments in the areas of quality, technology and benchmarking. The focus of the journal is on "topics that have a substantial management content, rather than being primarily technical in nature." The Internet editorials will center on sites with a similar focus. I will examine sites believed to be of interest to BIJ readers and report, in what I believe to be a fair and objective manner, what I find at those sites.
This editorial will be devoted to benchmarking in government. The performance of government at all levels, from federal to local and at all levels in between, has attracted much attention in recent years. Businesses in many industries have made significant progress in recent decades in improving productivity, customer service, product quality and more. Increasingly, the attention of the general public, business, and some public officials has turned to the performance of government. Many citizens have come to believe that they should expect no less of their government than they expect from the private sector. Increased pressure from citizen groups, such as the so-called "watchdog" groups, has caused government at many levels to examine its performance and search for ways to improve performance. Some insightful public servants, in response to the need to improve government performance, have turned to tools and techniques tried and proven in the private sector. One such tool is benchmarking. If benchmarking can help businesses become better at what they do, then why can it not help government at all levels to make similar progress in key performance areas? Many believe it can. The stated goal of most of the sites showcased in this editorial is to promote benchmarking as a way of improving the performance of government. Now, I shall discuss the searches and examine four sites devoted to government benchmarking.
Internet searches will have different results depending on what search engine, key words, or phrases one uses. For this editorial, I used three search engines to conduct searches using three key word phrases: "government benchmarking," "benchmarking government," and "public sector benchmarking." The search engines employed in preparing this editorial included www.vroosh.com, www.Google.com and www.findit.com. All support meta searches. For the search on the phrase "government benchmarking," the search of Vroosh yielded 55 hits, the search of Google produced 143,000 hits (by far the longest list) and the search of Findit yielded 15 hits. There was a great degree of overlap in terms of sites found by the three. I must say that even though the Findit search produced the shortest list, it contained most of the better sites found on all three lists. Similar results were obtained with the other key word searches in terms of hit list size for the three search engines. The hit list entries produced by all three meta searches provided sufficient detail about the sites to assist me in deciding if the sites were worth a visit, but the Google list provided the most information. Now, let us examine the featured sites.
International Government Benchmarking Associationhttp://www.igba.org
The International Government Benchmarking Association (IGBA) describes itself as a forum for the exchange of benchmarking and measurement data among government agencies at all levels. IGBA is global in reach, encouraging participation by governments from countries around the globe. This organization is a member of the Benchmarking Network, Inc., and the site very closely resembles other BNI member sites. The Benchmarking Network apparently supplies a rather standardized Web template for member use. Some BNI members customize their sites a bit with the use of color and diverse content, but the sites generally are organized in very much the same way, sharing like categories of content and basic services, and identical links. The volume of diverse benchmarking-related links included on the BNI hyperlink list is impressive. BNI member sites are generally well maintained and current. I will say little else about these features as I have devoted some attention to other BNI sites in past editorials. I will address other attributes of the IGBA organization and site.
Membership in IGBA is free and open to anyone working for a government agency at any level. Consultants and others that might utilize their membership for personal gain are not allowed to join. The mission of IGBA is to identify best practice that will lead to exceptional performance in government. IGBA objectives are derived from their mission. In short, the objectives encourage a collaborative effort among members to collect data on best practice, share the cost and data among IGBA members, design improvement programs, and bring about continuous improvement in performance at all levels of government. A benchmarking newsletter is available at no charge, but it appeared from the application form to be the same newsletter available from other BNI member sites. Perhaps the greatest advantage to membership in IGBA is, as with other BNI member organizations, the opportunity to participate in studies designed to collect data on best practice and to share the cost of the studies with other participating members. It seems that the same BNI study expertise that is gleaned from and applied to benchmarking studies in the private sector would be available to public sector participants. Membership in IGBA and participation in these collaborative studies might offer significant benefits to public sector participants. Roundtables are periodically available to members. When I visited the site, a roundtable discussion was advertised for February of 2002, to be held in New Orleans, LA. Links that work and current announcements are an indication that the site is well maintained. If one's goal is simply to find information on benchmarking in government, then this site offers little, but if one wishes to participate in collaborative benchmarking studies for the purpose of learning about and "doing" benchmarking in the public sector, then this site is worth a visit.
Public Sector Benchmarking Servicehttp://www.benchmarking.gov.uk/
The Public Sector Benchmarking Service was developed as a partnership between the Cabinet Office and HM Customs and Excise of the UK to promote effective benchmarking and the sharing of good practices across the public sector. The initiative started in November of 2000. The organization hopes to make benchmarking the rule rather than the exception in public service organizations and to encourage those organizations to share knowledge to the benefit of all. PSBS believes that benchmarking has assisted and will assist in reducing the cost and improving the quality of public service. PSBS promotes a collaborative approach to solving common problems. The stated aims of PSBS are as follows:
promote effective benchmarking and sharing good practices across the public sector;
support public sector organizations undertaking benchmarking projects;
encourage learning through sharing knowledge and good practices in support of modernizing government;
provide practical information on benchmarking;
signpost sources of good practices identified by other quality and improvement initiatives;
demonstrate the benefits of benchmarking for the public sector.
Membership in PSBS is free but reserved for public sector employees. The registration form is not too lengthy and a privacy statement appears at the bottom of the statement to let potential members know how personal information they provide will be used and protected. The form takes around two to three minutes to fill out. Membership has its benefits. Members are afforded access to PSBS databases and the PSBS Library. Members can receive updates from a News Group on current initiatives, projects, events and activities, and they can participate in Discussion Groups. My examination of the site suggests that opportunities abound for interaction with other PSBS members. It is noteworthy that not all of these capabilities that I described are in place at present. Some are planned for the future.
What else is available at the PSBS site? If visitors will click the "Menu" link on the left side of the homepage, a menu opens providing links to other parts of the site. The menu system, with its menus and submenus, makes navigation of the PSBS site quick and easy. Menu selections activate submenus or take visitors to various Web pages. Submenus perform the same tasks. The main menu contains six menu choices. They are as follows: About PSBS, About Benchmarking, PSBS Site Search, Registration, Links and What's New. For visitors interested in membership, the "About PSBS" selection produces a well-organized submenu to assist visitors in learning more about PSBS. The purpose of the "Registration" menu option is obvious. It moves the user to a page that contains the registration form as well as added details about membership. For visitors wanting to learn more about benchmarking the "About Benchmarking" menu option displays a submenu providing visitors (or members) with access to information about benchmarking that includes: a description of benchmarking, the potential benefits of benchmarking, types of benchmarking, the benchmarking process, benchmarking to improve government operations and more. There is quite a large volume of information about benchmarking accessible through the menu and it is well organized, with hyperlinks throughout that offer more detailed information on topics introduced. For someone seeking a primer on benchmarking, this is a good one, yet it offers something to visitors who already understand benchmarking. "About Benchmarking" does a good job of describing benchmarking in the context of government by making use of a simple, easy to understand model.
The PSBS "Site Search" was useful for finding information available on the PSBS site. It allows users (visitors or members) to search the site or the Web using a keyword search. It was fast and easy to find information available on the site, but the Web search was somewhat limited. A good concise keyword search of the Web did produce a list of useful Web sites, albeit a short list. The "Links" menu option provides access to the links page. The Links page was well organized in that it contained a relatively short list of links, but those links accessed other pages full of links pertaining to benchmarking in government. Be forewarned, for the "lion's share" of the links provide access to UK sites. I was impressed with the sheer volume of UK government sites (representing all levels of government) devoted to improving government generally and to benchmarking specifically. Best practice is where you find it! With all the emphasis on improving the performance of government in the UK, some models of best practice might well be found in the UK and this site might be where one can find those models. The last menu choice on the site menu is "What's New." There was not much news available on the page accessed with the link, but there was an entry made on 1 October, which was only some 20 days prior to my visit. That was relatively current! PSBS members can submit their own news for posting to this page, but no such postings were found when I visited the page. In closing, I must say that the PSBS site is well organized, well maintained, and well worth the visit by anyone with an interest in benchmarking in the public sector. The links available on this site, by themselves, make the site worth visiting. Public administrators with an interest in benchmarking to improve their agency/department performance might consider membership to gain access to a wider variety of services.
US State and Local Gatewayhttp://www.statelocal.gov/index.html
The US State and Local Gateway (USSLG) is an interesting and useful site, but not devoted exclusively to benchmarking. The site is a gateway to a wealth of information about government activities, programs, performance, concerns and more. The target audience of the USSLC is state and local government officials. Unlike most sites featured herein, there was not much information available about those who created and maintained the site. From what I learned in visiting the site, it appeared to be a collaborative effort involving a number of US Federal Government agencies.
On the USSLC site I found links to federal, state and local government sites and the sites of many related organizations such the US Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities. Most, but not all sites were located in the USA. A wide variety of information was accessible through the gateway, but since benchmarking in government was my focus for this editorial, I examined the areas of the site directly related to government benchmarking. Because this gateway provided access to so many other sites, I am certain that I did not discover all benchmarking-related resources during my site visit. I will report on what I did find, and acknowledge the likelihood that much more benchmarking information is available for those who would take the time to search for it.
On the USSLC home page, there are a number of ways that one can find public sector benchmarking information. The primary organization of information is by topic, type, and issue. Contained under the "Information by Type" category one will find a link called "Best Practices." The Best Practices link accesses a page housing links to sites devoted to best practice in various areas of government. There are links pertaining to the following: Administrative Management, Communities/Commerce, Education, Public Safety and more. Each of these links provides access to another page of links pertaining to that topic. Those pages, in turn, contain links to many related sites, and/or they provide links to more site rich pages. For instance, I opted to follow the "Public Safety" link. The next page accessed, entitled "Public Safety: Best Practices," housed links for diverse topics such as "Crime Prevention and Policing," "Innovations in Protective Services," "Blueprints for Violence Prevention," and "Best Practice in Public Safety." The last link, "Best Practice in Public Safety," accessed a page that housed a list of links organized by state and a map of state links. From this page, many more links about best practice in the area of public safety were available for perusing. The manner in which the "Information by Topic" was organized made it easy for me to drill down through the topics and branch from area to area in search of information about public sector benchmarking. The list of topical areas and sub topics available through the "Best Practices" link is so lengthy and the topics so diverse that listing them is not practical. It will suffice to say that many, many topics pertaining to public sector benchmarking can be found by examining this area of the USSLC site.
The "Information by Topic" category did not contain a "benchmarking link" per se, but benchmarking information was found following some of the links contained therein. The "Administrative Management" link is a good example. I followed that link and on the next page found a link called "Best Practices." That Best Practices link took me to a "Best Practices" page, but not the same one I had visited by following the "Information by Type" link. This Best Practices page had links to the following: "Acquisition/Procurement Best Practice," "Management and Government Innovations," "Best Practices of City Governments – Managerial Innovations," "Performance Measures Best Practice" and more. All of these links were to other Web sites. For example, the Best Practices of City Governments link provided access to the US Conference of Mayors site, called "Best Practices of City Governments." That site, as well as many of the others accessible via the "Best Practices" page, housed much useful information about best practice and benchmarking in government.
The USSLC site was an interesting site to visit. Links are the key feature of this site. One need not expect to find articles about benchmarking and best practice in government available directly from the site, but such information is available via the many useful links found on the USSLC site. In examining the site, I encountered very little linkrot (links that no longer work), but there was some. As I examined various pages I found that dates of last update varied from page to page, with some not having been updated since 1999, and others having been updated as recently as June of 2001. Although I would like to see more updates, I do not feel that the site suffers from neglect. Furthermore, the information that I found while visiting the site convinced me that it is a worthwhile stop for those with an interest in public sector benchmarking.
Best practices and local leadership programhttp://www.sustainabledevelopment.org/blp/
The Best Practices and Local Leadership Programme (BLP) is a global network of capacity-building organisations dedicated to sharing and applying the lessons learned from innovative practices. The BLP Web site and intranet are made possible through the contributions of the Avina Foundation, the Together Foundation, the Governments of Spain, Switzerland and the UK, and the BLP Partners. The specific objectives of BLP include the following:
to build awareness of proven solutions, demonstrated experience and innovative strategies for policy and decision making at all levels;
to develop and disseminate effective learning tools and processes for implementing local and national plans of action and the Habitat Agenda;
to promote the transfer of knowledge, expertise and experience derived from Best Practices through peer-to-peer learning, transfers and co-operation.
The "habitat" program is geared towards encouraging mutually reinforcing, interdependent economic development, social development and environmental protection with the goal of improving the lives of human beings. Certainly, the encouragement of best practice in government as it pertains to improving the lives of human beings in developed and developing nations should be important to government officials at all levels. The inclusion of the BLP site is not an attempt to push any particular social agenda, but instead is an effort to devote some attention to benchmarking issues that might be particularly significant to developing nations.
BLP attempts to identify and facilitate the exchange of knowledge about best practice for sustainable development. The Web site design and content are quite consistent with the mission and specific goals of BLP. Information pertaining to governmental best practice in related areas is readily available on and through the site. Among the sources of information on governmental best practice in sustainable development are a Database of Best Practices, a Learning Centre, Best Practice Conferences and a Best Practice Intranet. The Database of Best Practices is searchable and contains over 1,100 proven solutions from more than 120 countries to the common social, economic and environmental problems of an urbanizing world. Database users will find that it documents practical ways by which communities, governments and the private sector are working together to improve governance, eradicate poverty, provide access to shelter, land and basic services, protect the environment and support economic development. There is a "Best Practices Database" link on the BLP home page. I was able to access the database for free (free trial was supposed to have ended several months prior, but I was still able to gain free access for about a week). The regular charge for database access is US$69. Different language options are available. I found the database to be very easy to use. In fact, I cannot imagine it being any easier to use. Database users can search by keyword, examine subject categories and drill down to areas of interest, search for best practice by region, examine best practices by year (i.e. 1998, 1999, 2000), examine best practice exemplified by award winners, and more. The database was very easy to use and the information contained therein was very well organized. Each "best practice" or "good practice" instance was categorized, contained a summary of the best practice project or program, a detailed narrative of the same, contact information that would allow one to contact participants, a listing of participating partners, updates, references, and information on the types of organizations involved and how they were involved (financial support, active participants, etc.). In short, the database was excellent.
The "Learning Centre" link is another on the BLP home page worth examining. This Learning Centre is "dedicated to improving public policy, management and governance through the sharing, exchange and transfer of knowledge and skills for sustainable social, economic and environmental development." The content and tools available through the learning center included case study material, training manuals and methods, and transfer guides for use by decision makers, civic and community leaders, city managers, researchers, human resource development specialists and the media. The learning tools were developed by various types of organizations working in the areas of shelter, land, infrastructure and social services; community development; urban management and governance; environmental management; gender equality and social inclusion; crime prevention; production and consumption; poverty reduction and economic development. The articles and case studies available through the Learning Centre seemed quite well developed and well written. The "Best Practice" briefs were one of the best features in the Learning Center. The briefs offered a quick overview of many instances of best practice, some of which were documented more thoroughly elsewhere on the site. The "Awards" link on the homepage accessed a page that described the award (the Dubai International Award for Best Practices in Improving the Living Environment), documented submission guidelines, contained links to details about past award winners, and it contained links that described other sustainable development awards and databases. The "Best Practices Intranet" link was quite interesting. It provided access to the Best Practices Intranet page. The intranet exists to support networking of people to promote best practice in sustainable development. The intranet offered the following: personal e-mail; document management (creation, editing, storage and commenting); facilities for private and public chat; and facilities for establishing and posting documents onto a Web page (for Web-masters). The last link on the BLP page that I wish to mention is the "What's New" link. It is noteworthy that all the other links described herein appeared on the left side of the BLP homepage, but the "What's New" link appeared at the top. This link provided access to a page containing five categories of new materials. There was a "What's New" link, a "Events" link, an "Article" link, a "Reference" link, and a "File Library" link. Each link provided access to new materials that fit the category (indicated by link name). Many of the updates were very current, the most recent posted just three days prior to my site visit. Overall, the BLP site proved to be quite interesting. I believe, furthermore, that the site contains a large volume of information relevant to public sector benchmarking. Admittedly, the site is not going to be of interest to everyone in government, but sustainable development is considered important to at least some government officials in all countries, not just developing countries. For this reason, I thought the site would be worth showcasing in this editorial dedicated to public sector (government) benchmarking.
This editorial examined four diverse and potentially useful sites pertaining to government (public sector) benchmarking. The mission of our journal includes serving the public sector. The tailoring of this editorial to the information needs of that audience was an effort to meet the information needs of public servants or anyone else interested in promoting best practice in government. It is my hope that this editorial increased awareness of the resources available on the Web to assist in that endeavor. I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer volume of information available on public sector benchmarking. Only four sites were included in this editorial, but many more good sites are available on the Web. Perhaps these four will provide a good starting point for one in search of information on benchmarking in government. In concluding this editorial I would like to remind readers that my goal is to write Internet editorials that will be valuable to BIJ readers. If you have a site, or know of a site that you would like to see featured in future editorials, or you have suggestions regarding some area of benchmarking you would like to see covered, please e-mail me your suggestions. Your input will help me better serve you by writing Internet editorials consistent with your information needs. Send your comments and suggestions to Ronald McGaughey at email@example.com.
Ronald E. McGaugheyInternet Editor