HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Emeritus


Over the last decade there has been a dramatic expansion in use of performance measurement and performance management in government – using measures as a tool to improve performance along dimensions measured. Using this potentially powerful tool to try to remedy underperformance in government, the Labour government in the United Kingdom has since 1997 engaged in a particularly ambitious example of public-sector performance management. Departments negotiate “public service agreements” with the Treasury (the budget ministry) in conjunction with budget settlements. These are quasi-“contracts” where departments agree to produce a level of performance in exchange for resources. Performance levels, called “targets,” are a combination of “a quantitative indicator of performance combined with a specified level of required attainment.” Examples have included improvements in surgical wait times, student test scores, and commuter rail punctuality. The subject of this paper is the role of central government (“headquarters”) in contributing to performance improvement where actual performance is delivered by these dispersed subunits. This study examines the role of central institutions in (for example) improving police performance, delivered by frontline police forces, but not in their role in improving agency environmental regulations, which is delivered by central government itself.


Kelman, Steven. "Organization Design and Frontline Service Improvement in Government: The Case of Performance Targets in the United Kingdom." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP06-016, May 2006.