By Peter Horne
We are living an Information Age in which data is abundant. As many leading organisations have discovered, data allows executives to use hard evidence to make smarter choices, complementing experience and expertise.
Despite our data-driven environment, the public sector has not kept pace with developments. The suboptimal use of public data across the sector has received most attention, but Whitehall departments also lack sufficient data on their own organisations to guide effective decision-making.
A recent survey of attendees at Civil Service Live reinforced this idea, with illuminating results. Half said they did not know how effective their organisation was, over 40 per cent had experienced problems knowing who in their organisation was doing what, and over a third said they needed to reduce spending.
These responses suggest that government agencies are struggling to understand how parts of their organisation are performing.
The need for action is made urgent by the demands of stakeholders: ministers want bodies for which they are accountable to be transparent, organisational leaders want a richer understanding of their resourcing arrangements, and civil servants want to improve efficiency.
The imperative to identify and correct inefficiency is great.
To overcome this problem, it is not enough merely to look at the performance of our own organisation. Instead, we need to find robust comparisons with other, similar organisations.
That is why there is a valuable role for benchmarking across the sector, which can be used to improve performance and increase savings. The impact of benchmarking is premised on three ideas:
Benchmarking is not new. Indeed, over 25 years ago, Dr Sylvie Trosa and Suzanne Williams outlined that there are three ways that organisations can use benchmarked results to drive improvement:
Used consistently across a sector, benchmarking not only helps individual organisations improve, but also supports sector-wide development. However, the public sector has failed to exploit the benefit of benchmarking.
To help government organisations improve performance, we have developed CiviForum – a sector-wide benchmarking tool for government departments and agencies.
CiviForum offers an integrated and user-friendly system that allows rapid data collection and delivery of insightful, actionable data based on comparisons with similar organisations.
This data helps government departments and agencies understand the relative efficiency of different functions and where they can save costs.
CiviForum uses highly granular data, allowing organisations to build a detailed picture of the cost and efficiency of each function and service area. Our consistent activity framework and normalising of data allows us to compare organisations on a like-for-like basis.
Many insights can be derived from CiviForum benchmarks, including:
The data behind each function allow the user to highlight where their organisation is over- or underperforming. By uncovering specific and achievable efficiency opportunities, true investment profiles and service delivery model choices, CiviForum empowers users to improve their performance and increase savings.
For more than a decade we have worked with universities to use benchmarking to improve performance. Working with us over time, organisations have seen savings of 15-25 per cent across administrative operations. CiviForum offers public sector leaders the clarity and insight they need to make critical decisions within months. This might mean building shared service capability, delivering new operating models, or automating frontline services. CiviForum helps organisations to focus on what matters most.
As budgets tighten and user expectations grow, government organisations will need to intensify their efforts to improve efficiency. Without data as a guide, government leaders run a high risk that their efforts will be misplaced, and the outcomes disappoint. It is a risk that few can afford to take.
Find out more about CiviForum on the Nous website.
Get in touch to discuss how we can help you use the CiviForum database to optimise the operations of your public sector organisation.
Connect with Peter Horne on LinkedIn.
Prepared with input from Abigail Dempster.
Published on 11 August 2022.
 Trosa, S., and Williams, S. (1996). “Benchmarking in Public Sector Performance Management”. OECD. PUMA Public Management, Occasional Papers. No. 9