The John Scott Daily Florida Institute of Government
University of Central Florida – Orlando, FL
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Accountability and transparency are the 21st Century watchwords for local governments. Local governments must demonstrate to citizens and taxpayers that they provide efficient, quality and effective public services. To address these concerns, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) suggests that state and local governments should collect, report and benchmark their public services using performance measurement data.
Several challenges arise when local governments attempt to collect, report and benchmark performance measurement data. First, local governments possess varying degrees of expertise in the technical aspects of performance measurement. Second, it can be costly for local governments to either hire or contract for performance measurement expertise. Third, many local government services lack generally accepted performance measures. In these instances, new performance measures must be developed. Finally, if local governments do not define, collect and report comparable performance measurement data, the result is a ‘Tower of Babel’ that precludes valid benchmarking comparisons from being made.
While national and international level local government performance measurement and benchmarking groups paved the way for related intergovernmental collaboration, the FBC desired to move beyond the abilities of such organizations, by removing the variables that exist when comparing performance across state boundaries. This has allowed the FBC to identify and share best practice approaches that address the unique environmental, demographic, and economic issues, to name a few, which impact service delivery for local governments and government agencies within the State of Florida.
The Florida Benchmarking Consortium (FBC), established in 2004, has addressed the major challenges cited above via the creation of a virtual organization comprised of some 60 county, municipal and special district governments. The FBC has been variously described as: a network, a community of learning, a public-private partnership, and as the largest local government organizational development effort in the state of Florida. FBC member governments cooperate to develop, test, implement, report and benchmark performance measurement data. By sharing expertise and workload, the FBC has enabled local governments (large and small/urban and rural) to develop and implement state of the art performance measurements systems. If any one local government had tried to undertake this task by itself, the costs in terms of money and time would have been prohibitive. Through negotiation and compromise a common set of performance measures have been developed for eighteen (18) local government services including: police, fire, building development, environmental management, information technology, traffic engineering, solid waste collection, solid waste disposal, stormwater/drainage maintenance, road repair, animal services, code enforcement, human resources, purchasing, fleet management, risk management, parks and recreation, and water and wastewater. Other service areas will be included according to FBC member government priorities. Because the performance measures are jointly developed, tested and adopted, all FBC member local governments collect, report and benchmark using the same service areas, service definitions and performance measures. Thus, the ‘Tower of Babel” problem has been avoided.
Start-up costs for the FBC are somewhat difficult to estimate, but were kept low by the fact that staff from member local governments volunteered their time and expertise to initiate and maintain the program. In addition, due to this public/public partnership, the FBC was able to take advantage of the use of graduate students to assist in keeping the initial cost low. The relationship between the Institute of Government and the FBC was an integral element of getting this initiative off the ground and this partnership continues to be an element of the FBC’s success. Using our model, the salary of a part time coordinator, plus office space, telephone, etc. is estimated at $35,000 for the first year of operation.
Historically, the FBC was funded by asking each individual local government member to pay an annual membership fee of $1,000. In 2010 the annual fee for membership was increased to $1,250. The FBC has a small number of corporate sponsors who annually contribute a total of $5,000. Sponsors are recognized by the FBC and provided space to advertise their services at both the Fall Workshop and Spring Conference. One sponsor, Covalent (a performance measurement software company headquartered in the United Kingdom) allows the FBC to utilize its software at no cost.
The results, accomplishments and impacts of the FBC have been several:
- The FBC has advanced accountability and transparency in Florida local governments.
- The FBC has demonstrated the viability of an internet platform approach to local government performance measurement and benchmarking.
- The FBC has increased its local government membership steadily from the original 6 to 60 in 2011.
- The FBC has developed performance measures for 18 local government services. In some instances creating industry standards as a byproduct.
- The FBC has developed and maintains a website (http://www.flbenchmark.org) accessible to both members and non-members.
- The FBC annually publishes a comprehensive report containing all performance measurement data reported by member local governments.
- The FBC provides low cost training and technical assistance on performance measurement and benchmarking to member local governments.
- The FBC member governments have utilized performance measurement data and benchmarking to: analyze their services; report the cost, quality and effectiveness of their services to elected officials and citizens; and help cope with revenue shortfalls and budget cutbacks.
No statute or regulatory authority was required to create or to maintain the FBC. Because participation in the FBC is voluntary, any local government may join or discontinue participation at any time.
The FBC was born at a meeting that took place at the City of Orlando in 2004. Represented at this initial meeting were six Florida local governments and the University of Central Florida. Since then, new local governments have joined and existing FBC member governments have increased their participation. Today, total FBC membership stands at 60 including: 23 counties, 35 municipalities and two special district governments. Additionally, one state agency (Florida Department of Health) is in the process of joining as an associate member. From its beginning with six service areas, the FBC has expanded to 18 today. The FBC considers new service areas depending upon the interest of member local governments.
The FBC encourages member and non-member organizations, as well as other interested agencies to attend FBC conferences and other training events. It is a core belief that our structure allows us to continue to reach out to local governments and improve their ability to collect and report comparable performance measurement data.
Membership is always open to any Florida local government that desires to join. With 67 counties, 410 municipalities and an unknown number of special district governments, the FBC hopes to grow to over 100 local governments in the coming years.
The FBC has also created a new member category (associate) to cover members other than Florida local governments. The FBC membership believes that we have learned many valuable lessons about performance measurement that other Florida governments would profit from. Consequently, the FBC has recently adopted a policy of allowing other non-Florida governments to join as “associate” members. Associate member governments are accorded all the benefits that accrue to full members, but because they are not Florida local governments, their data are not collected and merged with that of full members. The FBC’s first associate member is anticipated to be the Florida Department of Health. The Florida Department of Health has recognized that the FBC experience and expertise can be of benefit to them when the time comes.
The FBC is currently in discussions to enter into partnership arrangements with the Florida League of Cities, the Florida City and County Management Association, the Florida Association of Counties as well as several other professional associations. This will continue to enhance the FBC’s credibility and add another dimension to limiting the ‘Tower of Babel’ problem.
Contact the Author:Susan Boyer Executive Director Florida Benchmarking Consortium The John Scott Daily Florida Institute of Government University of Central Florida 12443 Research Parkway, Suite 402 Orlando, FL 32826-3282 Phone: (352) 753-3392 Email: email@example.com