Organizations in all sectors strive to be accountable—to sponsors and constituents—for the results of their activities. Accountability takes on special emphasis in the government sector, where the expenditure of taxpayers' dollars bears with it a special responsibility to document how funds were managed effectively. In recent years, most state and local governments have developed performance measurement policies to track how time and money are spent. These systems ordinarily incorporate indicators for inputs, outputs, efficiency, satisfaction and outcomes.
The Feedback Loop
Whether adopted as a formal measurement system or used internally for self-evaluation purposes, performance indicators are most powerful when incorporated into the actual plan. Crafting a plan with clear evaluation reference points can help you focus on purposeful activities and help you monitor your progress in achieving your goals.
With regard to the strategic planning process itself, the question to keep in mind is: "How will we know if our goals have been reached?" In other words, how can you define success for each goal in a way that is specific, that is easily understood by a variety of people, and that might even be quantifiable? Your articulation of an answer to this question will make evaluation of progress much easier as you enter the life of implementing your plan. Generally, the trend now is to be specific about measurable outcomes for the short term, and to remain more general in the long term. For instance, in Idaho's long-range plan, there are a number of "Targeted Performance Standards" attached to the end of each goal description. These include specific items such as:
Increase audiences for supported events by a minimum of two percent annually.
Support at least two first-time grantees annually.
Serve organizations and individuals in all of Idaho's 44 counties.
The Illinois Arts Council (IAC), too, articulates target outcomes in its plan. For example, IAC's first goal—"To lead Illinois in developing awareness and support of accessible, quality art programs"—is accompanied by six objectives, specific activities and the following types of targets for evaluating achievement:
Establish three key partnerships and test their effectiveness in accomplishing IAC goals.
Increase grants to underserved geographic areas by 50 percent.
Increase to 75 percent the number of council members who communicate with elected officials on behalf of the council, assist staff in community outreach and participate in the governor's awards.
Types of Performance Indicators
Outputs:How many grants or services were provided? Where, and to whom? These measures are used to mark the scope of agency activities and to describe SAA commitment to key populations, issues or service areas.
Efficiency:What are the procedural costs of your services? These measures describe the cost-effectiveness of operations, and typically include ratios of program activities to staff hours, administrative dollars, etc.
Satisfaction: Did services meet needs and expectations? Such data are typically gathered through program evaluations or opinion surveys of participants or beneficiaries.
Outcomes:What were the changes in behavior or situation brought about by your program? The most valuable, though elusive, measures available, outcomes go beyond the incidence of activities to assess impact over time. Some examples include increased artistic quality, enhanced organizational stability or changes in civic participation.
Benchmarks:How did your agency's performance compare to that of previous years or other agencies? Benchmarks provide a frame of reference for understanding measurement data in context.
For examples of performance measurement systems for the arts and a full description of how to develop meaningful tracking systems, consult NASAA's manual, A State Arts Agency Performance Measurement Toolkit.
Note that both Illinois and Idaho are explicit in outlining what they hope to accomplish and connect performance indicators with specific goals. This sets the stage for a powerful feedback loop that allows agency leaders to evaluate progress and explain the environmental factors that have helped to boost—or hinder—performance during any given time span.
Your planning-to-plan phase will already have identified the individuals, committees and task forces that will be accountable for various phases of planning—conducting planning meetings and retreats, doing research and compiling data, arranging for public meetings and forums, assigning the writing of reports and of the final document(s). In all likelihood, sitting at the apex of this accountability pyramid will be an individual at the top or close to the top of your hierarchy, such as the state arts agency executive director or the assistant/deputy director.
The plan itself will, ultimately, be rife with internal points of accountability as you begin to target which specific strategies will be accomplished by which people (usually identified by title instead of by name to allow for staff turnover and transitions over time). An important principle of effective strategic planning is that persons accountable for actions be included in the planning of those actions. If this has not already taken place during planning, you still have an opportunity now to consult with appropriate individuals and solicit their opinions about the actions they will be held responsible to accomplish. You might list this information directly in the main text of your primary strategic plan next to each strategy or incorporate this information in the text of a more detailed agency plan. Or create a detailed appendix summary chart showing all responsible individuals (by title) along the top row, with strategies down the page along the left-hand column and check marks showing who is responsible for what throughout the long-range plan.
Some agencies report to NASAA that their performance measurement requirements, driven by legislative and executive office changes, are in a constant state of flux. If this is your reality, you might consider a two-part approach to articulating accountability and evaluation strategies:
If you cannot include specific measurements in the plan itself, try acknowledging evaluation and fact-based decision making in your values or principles. Also try fleshing out activities that indicate you will develop and execute evaluation strategies on an ongoing basis.
On an annual or quarterly basis, release a separate set of performance reports that identifies your measures, explains their meaning or significance, and organizes the resulting information according to your agency's goal or objective areas. Connect this material back to your plan at every opportunity.