Targets are a Bad Thing (1). So says this government, at least, and they have promised to make an even bigger bonfire of targets than the one for quangos. Public Service Agreements, the pinnacle of the New Labour system that set targets for government ministries introduced in 1998, are no more. Their cousins, Departmental Strategic Objectives, introduced in 2007, are also history.
BUT, things may not be quite all they seem. A few weeks ago I spoke at a conference of performance managers from across the public sector and the general consensus from delegates was that there was quite a lot of smoke and mirrors going on. Some targets were being replaced by standards, or objectives, or milestones, or whatever. In some cases new targets were being created. One Health Service manager thought the demand for performance information from the centre was actually increasing.
So what is really happening? There’s far too much happening, far to quickly, for anyone to keep track easily. The focus on budgets means everything else is more or less forgotten at the moment.
But I’d like to try and keep track – so I’m initiating “Target Watch”. I want to try and ‘crowd-source’ keeping score on where this government is getting rid of targets, and where they are not, or creating new performance measures.
So, can you send me any examples you come across – either in your organisations/sectors or elsewhere?
You can remain anonymous if you wish – just let me know when you send me anything.
I will publish periodic updates summarising what I get on Whitehall Watch.
Emails to: email@example.com with the subject heading Target Watch please
Thanks for your help
(1) My own position on targets, and performance measurement, is I hope a little more balanced and evidence based. Targets can work, so can performance measurement, but not always and they do have downsides. My thinking is in my new book “Theories of Performance”, Oxford.