Information to Measure Performance

Data are collected to measure performance of organizations, systems, processes and people.  Some performance measures are status indicators providing information to inform decisions about whether or not action needs to be taken to avert a crisis or improve specific areas of performance.  However, often measures of performance are reported as data with insufficient context to provide meaningful information that can be acted upon.

 Why Do We Measure Performance?

Reasons to measure performance include:

  1. Statutory Requirements: to satisfy legal requirements of accountability.
  2. Effectiveness: to assess whether objectives are being met, and to assess whether stakeholder requirements and expectations of quality are being met.
  3. Accountability: to evidence performance and to justify proposals and actions (such as resourcing decisions).
  4. Targets: to set realistic attainable goals and standards, and to direct attention, behaviour and resources to support the attainment of targets.
  5. Quality: to define characteristics of quality and timeliness of service expectations.
  6. Staff development: to monitor, motivate and promote personal development.
  7. Transparency: to make performance visible and to facilitate communication of performance both internally and externally.
  8. Improvement: to identify areas where improvements can be made and to demonstrate progress.
  9. Learn: to identify best practice and benchmark against other areas or organizations, to learn how processes work to improve process design.
  10. Decision making: to inform decisions about resourcing, planning and strategic direction.
  11. Consistency and control: to promote consistent performance.
  12. Efficiency: to reduce costs and increase outputs.
  13. Risk: to reduce risks by identifying and prioritizing issues that need to be addressed.

Performance measures provide valuable feedback but data are often results-oriented, reporting what has happened and lacking exploration of why a certain measure was or was not achieved.  Each of the reasons listed for measuring performance require sets of information to be provided, however, data relating to performance measures are often presented as isolated measures.

For example, data relating to the performance of General Practices in the UK is published at  Performance measures reported include how easy it is to contact the surgery,  whether the patient was able to get an appointment the last time they needed an appointment and the number of patients who waited less than 15 mins after their appointment time before being seen.  These data provide measures which enable the performance of a practice to be compared against other practices and to monitor its own improvement, although another area of concern is the relatively small sample size from which the data are being generated (for example, in some cases the data are based on around 100 responses).  Contextual information is lacking within which to interpret the performance data and to use the data for the reasons listed.  For each performance measure it is therefore necessary to identify the factors that affect it.  For example, the measure of how easy it is to the contact the surgery may be affected by:

  • Personal Factors such as the specific preferences of individuals (e.g. does the practice allow email communication?).
  • Time Factors such as whether the opening times meet patient requirements or perhaps some restrictions are imposed on the type of contact permissible at certain times (such as do not call before 10am to make a routine appointment).
  • Resourcing Factors such as the number of staff available (including regular staffing levels and staff shortages due to planned absence or illness).
  • Technical Factors such as the capacity and reliability of communication equipment.
  • Environmental Factors such as unexpected increase in demand.

Contextual analysis of the factors affecting performance measures provides practical information to measure performance that can be acted on rather than isolated data measures of performance.

Further Reading: performance measures are discussed in Chapter 4 and Chapter 6.

Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:

Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Information to Measure Performance’, 5 December 2014,, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]


© 2014 Sharon A Cox