Data Driven Service Delivery

TEXT: Valbona Karakaçi, Norbert Pijls – 31. March 2020

Many of the countries in South-Eastern Europe have recently established systems that measure municipal performance. Why are these systems being developed? What do they measure? How do they help improve service delivery? Let’s look at different initiatives in the region.

Municipal performance measurement systems consist of a set of indicators that measure municipal policies, services or organizations with the aim of leading to improvements.

Why measure?

Performance measurement systems are increasingly popular because they are a tool for learning and implementation. They help identify a problem and its scope, monitor success or failure, and/or evaluate whether a policy or program has achieved its results, providing important information to citizens on their ‘value for money’. Stefan Pfäffli, professor at Luzern University is also involved in the Bashki të Forta project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), implemented by Helvetas in Albania. He says, “… it is of core importance that performance information on municipal service delivery is available in addition to financial information. Performance information has two levers: firstly, it motivates municipalities and its service delivery units to plan and deliver in accordance with local needs, and secondly, it better informs the community and its council to hold the local government accountable for effective and efficient plan execution.”

Measuring municipal performance is becoming more widespread as it can help implement the legal framework for service delivery. This (legal framework) is in place in all countries in the Western Balkan region, and sometimes even complies with European Union standards, but it is often lacking solid implementation. Performance measurement systems can inform decision-makers on how to transcend from a good law to noticeably better and affordable public service delivery. Jacques Mérat from Bashki të Forta project agrees, saying, “Albania has a superficial implementation of its public policies. All steps may have limitations - from rushed and limited consultation to missing pieces in sublegal acts and implementation guidelines, and weak monitoring and adaptation capacity. Our compliance reports provide hard data for the annual municipal reporting process. This data allows for a comparison between municipalities. And they are public. The reports and their publication are like a symbolic reward or punishment to municipalities. The reactions from low-ranked municipalities, after we made the results public, suggest that they are effective.”

Another justification for using performance measurements is that it reduces the space for politics. Since the collapse of socialism and the civil wars in the nineties, the public sector in most Balkans countries has become increasingly politicized. Public decisions are more often based on political interests than on data. The data produced by performance measurement systems tend to limit the space for such politicking.

What to measure?

A performance management system can be limited to a certain municipal task, for instance local economic development (like the Business Friendly Certification South East Europe [BFC SEE] that operates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro), or it can be extended to measure all municipal legal functions (like the Municipal Performance Management System in Kosovo, which has 115 indicators).

The decision on what municipal services to measure, the selection of indicators to measure these services, and the definition of their sources of information, is mostly a consultative process in which government representatives, municipal officials, NGOs and experts decide jointly. This customizes the system to a country and its municipalities.

Nikola Tarbuk, deputy secretary-general for representation at the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities in Serbia explains, “The Good Governance Index was developed in close cooperation with the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, local governments, independent public bodies and non-governmental organizations and partners with expertise in the area of good governance on the local level. The index is based on international standards for good governance and is adjusted to the legislative and institutional framework of Serbia and in particular that of local governments.”

Data Quality

Data quality is an issue in most countries. In order to have reliable and comparable data, the measuring should be standardized, the reporting should be traceable, and responsibilities should be formalized. Such procedures are mostly still lacking. Moreover, since the performance measurement is often done by local governments themselves, it invites a risk of inflated data. To mitigate this risk, the performance measurement system of the Ministry of Local Government in Kosovo has data quality assurance mechanisms.

Rozafa Ukimeraj, secretary-general of the Ministry of Local Government Administration elaborates, “A central element in the quality control of the Municipal Performance Management System (PMS) is the PMS coordinator. Each municipality assigns this responsibility to one civil servant. At the beginning of each year, this person requests municipal directors to submit the data of the previous year for the indicators within their competence, in a formally signed document.” According to Rozafa, these documents are submitted to the mayor who signs them for approval after which they are submitted to the performance department of the ministry in Pristina. The documents are protocoled and filed in the municipal archive. When the data arrive in the performance department of the ministry, the staff there compares data within a year, and over the years, and asks for clarifications when necessary. In addition, the ministry can form commissions for on-the-spot data verification.

Data Accessibility

Data can make it easier for assembly members, citizens and NGOs to understand abstract discussions within municipal services and policies. This requires that data is available to the public in an easily readable form. In Albania, the Bashki të Forta project encourages municipalities to regularly publish the performance data. According to Voltana Ademi, mayor of Shkodër, “Reliable data that are published at regular intervals and are easy to comprehend provide the best sounding board to compare, evaluate, and collaborate in decision making. Our municipality uses attractive visualizations (tables, symbols, graphs) for reporting the performance data. We publish them on our website and public billboards in villages or in the city. My goal is to be accountable to the public, to discuss based on facts, and to increase the trust of citizens in our work.”

Does performance measurement improve service delivery?

Performance measurements have indirect and direct effects on service delivery.

Zana Djukic, secretary of the committee for local self-government financing of the Union of Municipalities in Montenegro, explains how the Montenegrin development index indirectly affects service levels: “The development index, which measures unemployment rates, per capita income, per capita budget revenues of local governments, population growth rates and education rates of the local population, is used for financial equalization of the municipalities in Montenegro. Under the Local Government Finance Law, municipalities which score below 100% of the national average receive funding from the equalization fund.”

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the effect of measuring service levels is more direct. The Municipal Environmental and Economic Governance project (MEG) of SDC and implemented by UNDP, collects data for about 100 performance indicators. Branko Vucijak, their environment and water management expert says, “The data is used by the management for financial and operational improvements. This has led to a 4-8% annual decrease of water leaks, improved metering with the establishment of 5-10 district metering areas, optimization of staffing level, and reduction of the fee collection period with more than 400 days to the targeted 90.

The decentralization and local development program (dldp) of SDC implemented by Helvetas helped the municipality of Shkodër in Albania to measure and improve waste management. Program officer Arben Kopliku says, “The measurements made it clear that the municipality was not collecting 77 tons of waste per day, but more than 100 tons per day. The new data helped the municipality to improve the tender documentation of the service. The measuring of data also established that it is possible to extend the life of a landfill in the municipality Dibra by five years for approximately EUR 30,000.”

Conclusion 

With the changing nature of public services where citizens are increasingly demanding for accessible, relevant and quality services, performance measurement systems ensure transparency of public decisions and of the use of public funds and they also boost performance. This bird’s eye view of different performance measurement systems used in the Western Balkans shows that they lead to better services and more evidence-based policies. That is a big achievement in a region where public policies are drafted in often overly politicized environments. The maturity of the various systems differs a lot and there is still ample opportunity for countries to learn from each other. In the future, digitalization and artificial intelligence will undoubtedly affect the performance measurement systems.

This article appeared in the March 2020 issue of Helvetas Mosaic.

Norbert Pijls is project director of the Decentralization and Municipal Support project in Kosovo (DEMOS) a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), co-financed by Sweden and Norway and implemented by Helvetas.

Valbona Karakaçi is Regional Advisor for the Western Balkans at Helvetas and Strategic Advisor of Bashki te Forta, a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

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