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How Can We Measure and Improve Public Services?

New Book Co-Written by Abt Expert Offers Answers

Social science researchers often collect data to make life better for adults and children. But how do we measure a program’s impact on people?

A new book, “Improving Public Services: International Experiences in Using Evaluation Tools to Measure Program Performance,” offers answers. Co-edited by Jacob A. Klerman, principal associate and senior fellow at Abt Global, Douglas Besharov, University of Maryland, and Karen Baehler, American University, the book provides solutions for administrators and evaluators who seek to measure a program’s effectiveness. It is published by the Oxford University Press.

Klerman is a senior evaluator at Abt Global and editor of Evaluation Review. In this chapter he draws on his experience working with programs and insights for performance measurement from impact evaluation.    

Tools to See the Forest for the Trees

The book provides original research, including successes and failures, from different organizations and countries. It offers best practices, as well as constructive critique, to improve a social welfare program’s performance.

In the third chapter of the volume “Measuring and Managing Farther Along in the Logic Model”, Klerman and co-author Baehler describe  how modern performance measurement attempts to measure and manage not merely inputs (e.g., that employees work the required number of hours), but also outputs (i.e.,, that the desired services were delivered), and outcomes (i.e., that client lives were improved in the desired way).  Since managers want to affect clients lives, measuring and managing outputs is attractive.  However, in practice, doing so is challenging.  Klerman and Baehler identify the challenges, discuss approaches to addressing those challenges, and consider under what circumstances the benefits of better management are likely to outweigh the costs of more measurement.

Jacob A. Klerman
Baehler and Klerman also point out the benefits and challenges to government programs aiming to better manage and use performance data. While data can help improve public services and programs, challenges include costs, from time and testing, to a need for high quality, reliable data.
“Ultimately,” says Klerman, “public programs can benefit from performance measurement when it can be done well. Doing it well means having the resources and getting into the details.”

The book is available on Amazon and through Oxford University Press.
Learn more about Abt’s work in evaluation.
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