The aldermen and mayors of Dutch municipalities often emphasize the achievement of concrete results and measuring performance: measurable results make local government organizations more ‘business-like’. The PhD research of Willem Jan van Elsacker has shown that results and performance are indeed recorded and that progress is reported, but also that the difference between the goal aimed at and the reality is only sporadically used to directly change the course of the organization. Only the financial budgets are managed in a business-like way, but usually only in broad outline.
Van Elsacker: ‘Guiding the organization is usually done by adapting future plans and budgets, hardly at all by changing the work processes. Only when a policy field is politically sensitive (if political risks or chances are present) does performance become more important. That’s when performance measures are used to highlight important developments and to adapt the activities. In that case the intensity of planning and reporting also increases. This shows that direct result control is definitely possible in a political context.’
Van Elsacker thinks that his findings are surprising. ‘It is often assumed that planning and reporting clear achievements will automatically lead to formal result control. My field research has clearly revealed a different picture.’ He concludes that local governments are mainly concerned with guiding the behaviour of their staff. A business-like control, with the results to be achieved at centre stage, is virtually non-existent.
Willem Jan van Elsacker (Dieren, 1959) studied business economics in Rotterdam. The research was conducted at the Faculty of Economics and financed by EPM Sneek. He will be awarded his PhD in Economics on 12 April 2007 (2.45 p.m.). His supervisors are Prof. H.J. ter Bogt and Prof. G.J. van Helden. His thesis is entitled Roles of performance measurement in local government. Van Elsacker works for EPM as a management consultant.
Information: W.J. van Elsacker, tel. (0515) 43 28 56, e-mail:
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