The value of metrics is most when the data are used with feedback to improve decision making.
The only public sector organization that had very good performance feedback in my experience was the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They were able to move from problem identification to effective action in hours, and keep its program relevant in very fast changing and often challenging dangerous conditions. No other organization in the Official Development Assistance (ODA) community had anything like the feedback capacity of UNHCR.
Basic control theory shows that when there is rapid measurement that feeds back to the operations, the system can be both stable and performing to its optimum. TVM uses metrics in this manner. This is very different from ex-post-facto monitoring and evaluation (M&E) which is normally too little and too late to make much of a difference. M&E mainly what results were achieved ... good or bad ... but too late to do much to improve the outcome. The following experience is from 1973 shows, however, how powerful feedback can be when it is used in the right way and at the right time.
Production Reports at Southern States, Inc.
This story illustrates the vital importance of timely information. Most of my career I have been associated with corporate accounting, consulting, planning and the analysis of performance. I have not done many line management assignments ... but in this case some years back I was appointed VP Manufacturing for Southern States Inc, a manufacturing company making air-break switches for the electric utility industry during a reorganization to improve the company's results.
The company had a backlog of orders, but the factory was a terrible production bottleneck ... and we had neither the time more the money to invest in expanded manufacturing facilities. We had to do better with what we had.
For years the factory production report had been written up and distributed every day around 10 am ... informing everyone of the production numbers for the day before ... a fairly standard practice! I changed this to give management a report at 8.30 am (the factory got started at 7.30 am) about the anticipated production for the day ... today, not yesterday! By 9 am the support staff were deployed fixing problems that would improve performance today! The factory always beat its anticipated production ... and the factory production almost doubled without any major capital investment to expand the capacity!
Closing the Feedback Loop ... a publication of the World Bank
Public Sector Governance ... Can Technology Bridge the Accountability Gap ... Bjorn-Soren Gigler and Savita Bailur, Editors
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Closing the Feedback Loop