«Comparing to Improve, or Simply to Assert? A Case Study of the Application of the Benchmarking Theory within the Public Sector Lii Lindgren Wictor ...»
The project directive should figure as a central element in order to constitute as a coherent base for the work to be conducted within the network. However, as acknowledged in the empirical findings, the lack of communication has resulted in some divergences of awareness regarding its existence, as well as its content. This implies that an imperative fault is prevalent and with this in mind, it is not peculiar that the analysis is usually not carried out thoroughly. It can be questioned how the workgroups are going to be able to discern what is really expected from them if it is not stated within the comprising instances of the network. Consequently, the lack of directives in correlation to a sometimes distance management force accentuates the lack of structure and consistency of the embodiment of the analysis (that is vital in the process in order to apprehend how to manage things more effective). This further constitutes a prominent inconsistency underlying the application of the benchmarking process, which forms the foundation for the breached conduction of the last interconnecting steps of the cycle, as illustrated in the analytical model (see Figure 5). In this regard, the operation of the network does not reach the implement- and evaluate phase of the benchmarking cycle theoretically, even though new insights and performance improvements do occur occasionally.
5.7 Value Creation The benchmarking process can be regarded as an investment, requiring both time and resources, of which is argued by Ax et al. (2009) as momentous to be able to carry the complete process through. If being used in a proper manner, the benchmarking process can indeed decrease an organization’s costs. However, if this is not the case, it can be regarded as rather unnecessary to invest all the resources they currently do in order to perform the first steps (in which they attain and compile a large amount of data). If the obtained data is not analyzed or further used consistently for performance improvements, the benchmarking process does not reach, as argued by Peters (1995), its crowning achievement. Thereof, the question concerning if time and resources are in possession within the municipalities to be able to carry through both the analysis and subsequent identified potential options for change, is vital. These two matters should also be recognized in the initial phase of the analytical model, i.e. if they should engage in the process or not. In this stance, it can further be reasoned if it would not be more beneficial for the municipalities to really look into the benchmarking process itself first (as a theory), and to really comprehend all its components thoroughly. This can be seen as a fundamental thing to do before deciding to carry it through. If it would be apparent that a municipality does not hold, neither the appropriate participant engagement, nor the time and resources required, maybe the most pertinent decision to make is to choose to not engage in the cooperation at all.
However, the operation of Network Södertörn in itself does entail value creation, in that stance that it generates networking between its participants, of which is of paramount appreciation.
Therefore it can be acknowledged that even though the network does not conduct the benchmarking process in accordance to theory, it indirectly enables a learning nature and valuable connectedness between and within the municipalities. Thereof, this might be considered as enough for choosing to continue to engage in the network.
5.8 Fulfillment of the Analytical Model Figure 5 illustrates to which extent Network Södertörn is conducting the benchmarking process in accordance to the analytical model. As argued, the initial steps are performed thoroughly and the network further manages to achieve these in compliance with the model (see the blue outlines). However, as reaching the step of process oriented benchmarking, the conducted work halters. This in turn, causes the remainder of the steps to be insufficient fulfilled and accomplished, further illustrated by the red outlines.
Figure 5. Analytical Model Applied to Network Södertörn
6. Conclusion This section will conclude the above chapters based on the information retrieved and further suggest areas that have been revealed, thus not directly addressed in this study, but could be of interest for future research.
From the conducted case study, it has been concluded that the completion steps of the benchmarking process are not performed thoroughly. This has been asserted by scrutinizing the empirical findings through an interwoven analytical model, comprising acknowledged theories within the field of benchmarking. Hence, in which several previously established theoretical arguments have found reasonable exemplifications, emerging from the empirical findings.
Accordingly, it has been recognized that the initial steps of benchmarking is performed in accordance to the existing theoretical frameworks, and further adheres to the analytical model.
Thus, in the work carried out in the statistical (result oriented) benchmarking, an inverse approach regarding how practice correlates to theory, has been identified. Hence, exemplifying an adapting measure when implementing a concept from one context to another to better fit for purpose, i.e. from the private to the public sector. However, when arriving at the stage of the process oriented benchmarking, inconsistencies of theoretical compliances, mostly results in omission of the proceeding steps. Given the stated aim, it can be concluded that the application of the benchmarking process in the public sector in this case is not thoroughly carried through.
This result in that potential realized improvement, in terms of enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, are lost. Consequently, entailing more of a reporting function towards the politicians rather than a business oriented tool for performance improvements, as intended by theory, and recognized by Tillema (2007).
In this stance, this study contributes to the existing literature by providing an analytical model, which can be used in order to assess the benchmarking theory in the public sector.
Further, specific elements relevant to be considered when conducting the process have been identified in the empirical findings, which embodies some inconsistencies of the application of theory in practice.
Firstly, from the empirical findings it is evident that there is a lack of structure concerning the operation of the network, of which the project directive and communication constitutes interdependent features. Ambiguities concerning the communication between the different instances within the network have been identified as direct correlating to a currently low awareness of the operations project directive. Hence, this results in blurred distinctions and perceptions of the work to be conducted. This constitutes as a barrier for the project directive to serve as a core instrument (by establishing instructions and guidelines), which could enable a coherent operation. Furthermore, this exemplifies Peters (1995) argument regarding the vital aspect of a thoroughly conducted communication, in order to enhance the level of understanding and involvement.
Secondly, another feature that was recognized was a lack of incentives caused by a somewhat distant management force. Due to the fact that the network is built upon individual initiatives and that the work is carried out on home ground, there is a need for more distinct dictates, which adheres to the project directive. It is perceived that an attitude within the network, in terms of seeking to assert performance instead of seeking to improve performance, is prevalent.
Consequently, this adheres to Tillema´s (2007) statement regarding justifications. From this it is palpable that in order to establish a consistent operation with an equivalent level of engagement throughout its participants, a higher degree of involvement from politicians and upper management is vital. Thereby, the conducted work would be regarded as more valuable and essential, since higher forces acknowledge it, something that the majority of the officials pointed out as being of paramount importance.
Thirdly, one of the most vigorous concerns identified in the study is the scarcity of the analysis that should lead to evaluations and implementations of performance improvements (as seen in Figure 5). The identified reasons for this contemplate the encompassing conditions for the operations construction, as stated above. Further factors that have a direct correlation to the conduction of analytical commitments are the conditions of KPIs and competence of participants. In accordance to Peters (1995), it is important that adequate competence is prevalent, of which aberrant tendencies have been acknowledged in the case of Network Södertörn. As the workgroups are comprised of individuals with varieties of expertise, experience and knowledge, the analytical work do not always fall naturally, which further implies that this part of the process might be hampered. The lack of adequate competence further decreases the ability to provide accurate performance improvements that can be seen as legitimate, which argued by Catasús et al. (2008) is essential. Further, a reduction of attained figures is needed, in line with Catasús et al. (2008) argument regarding the risk of adapting an excessive number of KPIs, which in some instances can hinder more than help. By reducing the amount, focus can be directed towards more specific aspects, and saved time can be devoted to conduct a more profound analysis.
As stated, it is argued that benchmarking as a process involves investing significant resources, such as time, in order to carry out the work. However, if assessed correctly it can reduce costs in multiple areas (Ax et al, 2009). Many individuals are participating in the undertaken work within the network, suggesting that rather large investments have been made, although evidence of achieving performance-improving results is mainly absent. Since it is only the initial steps that are carried out thoroughly, this further concludes that if the work undertaken is to be continued, more resources need to be appointed to the network, or rather reallocated between the different steps. This in order to improve the current situation and further manage to achieve the complete benchmarking process. Consequently, instead of being regarded as a cost, it should be considered as an investment, which in the long run can enable the municipalities to reach performance improvements, i.e. the intended outcome of the benchmarking process. Given these aspects it can be concluded that, based on this study, the promise that benchmarking in the public sector will lead to enhance organizational efficiency and effectiveness, as asserted by Bowerman et al.
(2002), cannot entirely be fulfilled.
6.1 Further Research As this study was conducted on a specific case, further insights in other contexts could expand the research field of benchmarking within the public sector. This in order to provide a deeper and broader understanding regarding to what extent this matter can be generalized. Network Södertörn is comprised of a variety of municipalities, which are of rather different sizes.
Therefore, it can be of interest to specify future research to solely focus on small or large municipalities, to determine if potential success can be related to the size of the municipalities.
Further, this study scrutinizes the topic from CFOs and officials perspective. It is evident that higher authorities (e.g. politicians) and upper management (e.g. City Council, Administrative Managers) also play a vital role in the conduction of the work. It can therefore be of interest to conduct a study where their point of view is considered, in order to establish how important this work actually is for the public sector.
If establishments are made, regarding the possibility of generalizing the scarcity of being able to conduct the benchmarking process thoroughly, attempts to generate a theory directly related to the public sector could be of valuable contribution. This since the public sector has divergent precondition in comparison with the private sector, and thereby could enhance the ability of achieving a successful benchmarking for public sector organizations.
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