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The Evolution of Benchmarking through Municipal Benchmarking Networks - An Evaluation of a National Benchmarking project in Swedish Municipalities?

Redaktör:
  • H Knutsson, H.,
  • O Mattisson
  • U Ramberg
  • T Tagesson
Publiceringsår: 2010
Språk: Engelska
Sidor: 1-24
Dokumenttyp: Konferensbidrag

Sammanfattning

In order to stimulate benchmarking and comparisons between different municipal activities, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and the Ministry of Finance in the year of 2007 initiated a voluntary nationwide Swedish benchmarking project (NBP) in order to develop new measures that capture the relationship between cost and quality. The ambition is that the new measures should be integrated into local governance and management and become a natural part of performance management that will lead to practical improvements in the operations.
The project, called the National Benchmarking Project (Det nationella Jämförelseprojektet), is based on the idea that the municipalities should form networks/groups of 5 -10 municipalities that together develop performance and quality measures useful for developing the operations studied. Good examples should be indentified and highlighted in order to inspire other municipalities to improve their operations. 190 of the 290 municipalities in Sweden, has been involved in the project between September 2007 and March 2010. 20 to 28 networks have been formed and 14 municipal services, such as elementary school and elderly care, have been benchmarked within these networks. In total 100 reports have been published and distributed on the project web page.

The aim of this study is to examine whether the National Benchmarking Project actually has led to any substantial results, if the project has succeeded in identifying best practice and to what extent this has spread to other municipalities and their operations.

The data is based on document studies of the reports, three surveys, three focus groups and 64 interviews in 12 municipalities. Participating municipalities are located throughout the entire Sweden. The data collection has also been longitudinal, in that the first data was gathered in early 2008 and the last survey was made in February 2010. Analysis has been made of each part of the total data set, and ultimately cross-analysed for interrelationships and contradictions. The analysis is predominantly qualitative, although KPI - measure frequencies constitutes an important part of the analysis.
The literature on benchmarking points to a number of factors which is important for a successful benchmarking project. Perhaps the most important factor is active engagement and support from management (e.g. Camp, 1993; Francis and Holloway, 2007). Furthermore, Camp (1993) emphasizes the importance of understanding of the organization's processes and practices. Willingness to learn and take inspiration from the results of the benchmarking process is also crucial for a benchmarking project to be successful or not. The work must primarily focus on practices and processes and, secondly, on performance (ibid.). Behavioral changes for better performance also pin point the idea of organizational learning (Moynihan and Landuyt, 2009; Anand and Kodali, 2008)). Is it possible to change behavior by using benchmarking without knowing the fundaments of benchmarking?

These critical factors are of importance when we analyze the data from the benchmarking project. However, it is also important to consider that within the municipal sector, benchmarking is used in a different context with somehow different reasons for benchmarking compared to the context where benchmarking as a concept originally was developed. Financial, legal and purpose of the organization are aspects that influence the conditions for benchmarking. Municipalities are not in a position where it competes in a competitive market. Municipalities run operations in the public interest and are generally prevented from running operations for the purpose of profit. Instead all obligations are secured by the municipalities’ power of taxation. The form of government is built upon the principle of representative democracy, including the political responsibilities of the elected representatives.
Several findings have been made. A national initiated benchmarking project can mainly, with a systematic methodological network approach, fostering municipalities to work according to two of four phases of benchmarking; planning and analysis. Still, the capacity and incentives for Swedish municipalities for behavioral changes, and to integrate necessary benchmarking measures in the formal management control systems, are weak.

Further, the respondents could be classified in three categories. The first category has used benchmarking information for attention-directing purposes. This category also indicates future changes in behavior. The second category uses information for confirmation and recognition of their own excellence. The third category consists of municipalities which in general show poor performance, and attribute such performance to exogenous factors or methodological flaws.
Management support is crucial to the constructive use of benchmarking information. A critical aspect of it, though, is the necessary goal congruence between political, managerial and operational levels. Without congruence, the willingness to alter behavior is reduced. In most of the cases, the participation in the benchmarking project has not been widely known or acknowledged and the main activities have been a matter of data gathering.

A tentative conclusion is that a successful and constructive use of benchmarking needs first of all a minimum level of stability in the political and managerial structures. Organizations under stress likely have a reduced ability to integrate new practices in governance and performance management.

Disputation

Nyckelord

  • Business and Economics
  • local government
  • networks
  • management
  • Benchmarking

Övriga

The 6th International conference on accounting, auditing and management in public sector reforms, Copenhagen September, 1-3.
2010-09-01/2010-09-03
Copenhagen
Unpublished
Yes

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