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Why agencies struggle with performance analytics

Tempted by the promises of data-driven decision making, many local governments have embraced performance analytics to improve efficiency, reduce costs and uncover solutions to longstanding problems. So far, however, most agencies have not been able to capture data and successfully apply it to their decision-making process, according to the Brookings Institution's TechTank blog.

To see how local governments used analytics and what benefits they gained, the researchers looked at performance analytics in 280 cities and counties across four departments: police, public works, code compliance and parks and recreation.

While found notable success stories, such as Philadelphia being able to reduce home burglaries based on identifying at-risk neighborhoods and reassigning patrols,  the researchers uncovered several factors that influence the success of performance analytics programs:

Technology.  Although plenty of tools promise to make data collection and analysis easy, the people, processes and procedures are the critical components of success and are more difficult to acquire and manage.

Organizational culture. Agencies that emphasized teamwork and risk-taking tended to view performance analytics more positively than those where the culture was less likely to value data and analysis at the strategic and tactical levels.

Familiarity.  Agencies experienced in data collection -- like police departments, which have long collected, analyzed and reported crime statistics -- were more likely to collect performance data. 

Pressure from elected officials. When elected officials express interest in performance analytics, agencies are more likely to collect data for decision-making.

Agency user support.  Although community stakeholders -- citizens, local businesses, neighborhood leaders – were not particularly interested in government use of performance analytics, city and county workers were much more enthusiastic.  

Disconnect between IT and service departments.  The IT staff was generally uninvolved in capturing and using agency performance analytics, and service departments tended not to work with IT on critical issues such as data security and data privacy. Better collaboration between functional units and IT units will allow agencies to take a holistic approach to the management and governance of performance analytics.

Under the radar. According to the survey respondents, implementing performance analytics seemed to have little effect on their work. No budget cuts were reported, but neither were there any positive consequences, such as monetary benefits and public recognition.

Whether agencies decide to dabble or dive into performance analytics, the researchers said, government leaders should carefully examine the differences among departments and create context-sensitive strategies that allow all departments to reap the benefits.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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