USC Price School of Public Policy

Price research examines challenges to performance management reforms in LA

June 12, 2017


Click here to watch the full video of the “Overcoming Challenges to Performance Management Reforms” forum.

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price School of Public Policy researchers presented findings from a recently completed three-year study of the data-driven management reforms in the City of Los Angeles during a May 15 forum. Following the presentation at USC, a panel of distinguished scholars and practitioners discussed the results.

Chris Weare, who worked on the project as an associate research professor at USC Price through the middle of last year, delivered the findings along with Robert Jackman, a Ph.D. candidate and research fellow at the Price School.

Weare noted that many public organizations have attempted performance management as a means to improve outcomes and demonstrate measurable accountability, although few have effectively leveraged the results.

“Very frequently, when people write about performance management, you find what is called a compliance result — that you file the reports but don’t change any behaviors within the organization,” Weare said. “No one’s really putting in the hard analysis to figure out how to improve services for citizens.”

Weare cited a Journal of Policy Analysis and Management study that stated, of the 1,360 cities with a population of more than 25,000, only 200 were publishing performance metrics on a consistent basis; with 27 exercising the best practices for using that data to improve management processes, and seven cities that had shown results in integrating that data analysis into their management practices.

Reaching reform

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Weare, left, with Price Ph.D. candidate Robert Jackman (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

The researchers observed a Los Angeles that has been focused on using data to improve city services since Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected on a back-to-basics agenda to make L.A. a well-run, prosperous city.

Funded by the Haynes Foundation, the USC Price researchers conducted several rounds of surveys of mid-level managers in Los Angeles to find out whether they had taken the steps required in the implementation process in order to allow them to achieve reform.

They found that all the indicators got stronger from the first survey in 2015 to the most recent. Departments had improved in the way they used data and more people had become involved in performance management. One hindrance to advancement at times was inadequate informational technology systems to generate data.

Key features in the departments that made the most progress included size, as larger departments were able to devote more manpower to the matter, having strong analytics, and how closely the mayor focused attention on the department.

Jackman talked about case studies of the departments of planning, transportation and sanitation that supported these assessments. For example, the planning department now has a triage team to direct backlogs in cases; transportation uses metrics to move traffic officers around; and sanitation used GIS to improve its pickup rate of bulky items to 98 percent in a 24-hour period.

“We can see that each of these departments, through the leadership, their large size, analytics and, in some cases, mayoral focus, have been moving toward becoming active problem solving, future planning and resource allocating departments within the city,” Jackman said.

Expert panel

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Professor Frank Zerunyan, right, leads the panel discussion. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

USC Price Professor Frank Zerunyan moderated a discussion that featured Price Associate Professor Juliet Musso, Harvard Senior Lecturer Robert Behn, Santa Monica Cty Manager Rick Cole, Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa, and Dan Caroselli, director of innovation and performance management for the City of Los Angeles.

Juliet Musso, left, with Dan Caroselli (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

“I want to express our deep gratitude to USC, and for the Haynes Foundation for making this possible,” Caroselli said. “This has been an incredible resource for us. It’s felt a little bit less like we’re out in the woods by ourselves on this effort.”

Ochoa indicated that the presentation resonated with him as a practitioner.

“What makes you frustrated is that we know what we should be doing, yet we don’t do it,” Ochoa said. “The notion of culture is so very powerful in the pockets of a bureaucracy when trying to change it. When I got to Glendale, there was a culture of fear. Nobody wanted to measure anything because it’s ultimately going to get used against you.”

Musso, who was also involved in the study, compared it to analysis she has done on performance management at the state level.

“Los Angeles needs to develop champions who can institutionalize the reform, so that when top leadership departs it doesn’t go to pieces,” Musso said. “Create more human capital within the department so the system isn’t so leader-dependent.”