Performance, Evaluation, and Accountability amidst Networks, Transitions, and other Complexities
Performance assessment, evaluation, and accountability are core elements of a good functioning system of governance and policy. Policy evaluations allow policy makers to learn what is working and what not. Performance management helps to improve the output and impact of public organisations and public services. And accountability is a crucial element of a well-functioning democratic system and the expenditure of public means.
However, many issues of our time stretch the limits of the established practices and methods for performance assessment, evaluation, and accountability. This is a reality for any governance setting anywhere in the world, but given the political economy issues layered on top of technical performance aspects and lack of institutional maturity below it, the challenge of performance, evaluation, and accountability is even more critical in societies suffering from poverty and inequality.
TPA and NPM styles of measurement, evaluation, and accountability are not really fit for purpose for governance amidst transitions, networks, multiple actors, ambiguity, and uncertainty. Therefore, in order to maintain the important functions of performance assessment, evaluation, and accountability, it is necessary to develop more appropriate practices. In that way, the practice of 'measurement' can be realigned with the emerging practice of governance.
The lack of fit between traditional principles for measurement, evaluation, and accountability and the complexity of policy issues is not new. Many policy makers, evaluators, controllers, auditors, and managers struggle with how to assess the performance and value of such new practices. However, this problem is currently mostly 'solved' by organising niches in which the 'normal rules and principles' of measurement, evaluation, and accountability do temporarily not apply. Such niches allow instances of new governance to occur, but hardly provide an answer to the underlying problem of measurement, evaluation and accountability. Niches facilitate the 'start-up', but not the scaling-up. They help by offering an exemption, but do not help to find more appropriate new rules of the game.
Therefore, it is necessary to further explore new and emerging principles for evaluation, accountability, and the measurement of performance. Such new principles should be appropriate in two fields; they should fit the underlying principles and values for measurement, evaluation, and accountability; while they also should fit the context of complexity in which many policy issues evolve. This has to be a dual fit.
It is important to stress that we do not argue for a replacement of current frameworks and methods of evaluation, measurement, and accountability. We look for new methods that suit the context of complex policy issues, but not all issues are complex. There are many policy issues for which the current practices of measurement, evaluation, and accountability apply perfectly. We argue for a more focused approach, where a particular type of issue is matched by the appropriate type of method for measurement, evaluation, and accountability. In that sense, we are looking for an extension of the current repertoire for measurement, evaluation, and accountability. So that there is a richer choice available for policy makers to find the appropriate method and process to assess the performance of their policy or their governance.
Special note: Selected papers from the conference will be included as a Symposium in the Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management.