Right Use and Politics in Performance Measurement and Management

In previous posts here (see Ensuring the Right Use of Performance Data: A Cautionary Tale from Health Care, June 26, 2012) and other writings, I have urged the broadening of the scope of inquiry about performance measurement and management (PMM) beyond the “right measures” and the “right delivery” of the information provided by the measures (for example, by such mechanisms as real-time performance dashboards) to the politics of the “right use” of that information. Trained in the social sciences, scholars and practitioners of PMM may think they can exclude politics from their models, thinking that it sullies the discipline of PMM or that politics is the business of other fields. This is a mistake, especially for international development. The necessity of consideration of politics is argued, among many international scholars, by Francis Fukuyama in the first chapter of his  2011 book, The Origins of Political Order.

The requirements of the “right use” recognizes that PMM – and other technologies of knowledge production and governance such as program evaluation and global indicators -- is not just a diagnostics exercise devoid of politics. Knowledge-power theory teaches us that PMM and other knowledge production is an exercise of power and control, a lesson central to the research and writing of Kevin Davis, Benedict Kingsbury, Sally Engle Merry, Angelina Fisher and their colleagues at New York University’s Institute for International Law and Justice. Much of the resistance to the “right” use of PMM to increase efficiency, improve effectiveness, further public accountability, and achieve transparency stems from fear that a third party deemed to lack legitimate authority is using PMM to usurp power and control from the organization or institution whose performance is being measures.

To ignore the reality of such politics is to render PMM useless, i.e., data derived from the right measures delivered in the right way but resisted and not used are literally useless. As the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz put it at the American Economic Association conference in Chicago this month (as reported in the January 14 Economist), economists need to pay attention not just to what is theoretically possible but “what is likely to happen given how the political system works.”

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