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Measurement - How will we know we are making progress?

How we measure if we are progressing towards a good society. For many people this will come down to things like, the size of inequality between the top and bottom, or the number of children in poverty. These are perfectly valid but since we are taking a holistic view a very wide range of measures is needed. The Office For National Statists (ONS) produces lots of statistics but it is surprising how much we do not measure or have any good information about.

Again by looking at what business does we can envisage the following

  • The use of a balanced scorecard for a nation state. Such a balanced scorecard would operate across all areas so the behaviour of the system could be assessed and hopefully tuned. Having the debate about what to measure would of itself raise important questions about what good looks like (Part 2 Assess - Examples of What Good Looks Like).
  • Tests to be applied to policy. We can develop a set of questions that need to be answered before any policy is adopted. What is the problem, how can it be solved, who needs to be involved, how can it be implemented and improved, and how will we know it is working?

The balanced scorecard concept

It is interesting that politicians seem to have latched on to targets just at the time when business was realising that a set of indicators (performance measures) we needed. In business there was widespread knowledge that targets are problematic and a more systemic way of looking at things was needed. (Note: Targets Don't Work). Labour won the UK general election on 1997 and immediately set about introducing targets

In essence the balanced scorecard, in its later evolution tries to take a series of measures across 4 different perspectives; finance, customer, internal process and learning/growth. The balanced scorecard is a tool that can be used alongside business strategy formulation. The vision and business strategy are used to derive, through sets of objectives appropriate actions in all the 4 perspectives, these are then set used to generate many targets and measures so trade-offs are built in.

Clearly this cannot just be picked up and used, however it can be adapted;

  • Finance – we need to have 2 stands here, financing government activity and secondly financial (fiscal) strategy – that is the degree to which government spending influences the economy
  • Citizens replace customers – and I am in no way suggesting a citizen should be seen as a customer.
  • Government processes (central, regional, local) replace internal business processes, this needs to include all government agencies and public bodies
  • Learning and growth, we can keep the idea of learning, the business assumption of growth needs to be dropped. This is much, much bigger than education, here I am thinking about institutional learning woven into the fabric of our entire culture.

Since we have insisted on a definition of What Good Looks Like we can drive the objectives and measures for each of these areas from the alternative manifesto.

Lastly, we need to duplicate the whole set of perspectives to represent the interaction of our system (nation) with other systems (other nations). We spend money on defence, aid, we have relationships that impact citizens of other countries. International organisations are organised and have processes we need to work with. We can apply a blanked scorecard to this as well.

Conceptually we may reconfigure the balanced scorecard for a nation state as follows

The important thing to grasp here is that, in a holistic political economy, the state is a human activity system which operates for the benefit of all its citizens.

Therefore it is valid to take a balanced view and include measurements of how citizens feel, how the system learns and develops and whether or not the processes of government are working.