Quality Performance Data – for the NHS and everyone else too?


A new Audit Commission report published today assesses progress in improving data quality – especially performance data – in the NHS. It reports on-going problems with embedding a culture of good data quality into NHS organisations.

But another recent study suggests that it may paradoxically be the drive for better data by external stakeholders, like the Audit Commission and others, that downgrades the importance of data for public organisations.

The software giant Oracle sponsored a study covering 16 countries and over 800 people in a range of private and public organisations.

One of the interesting findings is that organisations – private and public – are much less likely to take performance data seriously, and use it for themselves, if the external regulatory environment is strong.

In other words – the greater the demand for performance information externally the less likely it is to be taken seriously internally, and as a consequence the greater the data problems are likely to be.

This finding is rather different from the standard argument around performance data in public organisations which usually suggests that the stronger the demand for external accountability the more likely people are to ‘fiddle’ or ‘game’ the results to get external ‘brownie points’.

The Oracle report also raises the question of whether any organisations are really using performance data effectively. In their overall ranking index, on a scale of 1-10, for ‘Enterprise Performance Management’ (EPM) the average is only 5.13 and healthcare (4.6) and the public sector (4.3) score worst.

The Audit Commission give a ‘normative’ diagram of what ought to be driving good quality performance data (p5) that gives primacy to ‘good quality decisions’ by Boards – but the real primary driver seems to be external reporting.

Whatever the truth, these reports amount to yet more evidence of just how little we really know, yet, about the dynamics of performance measurement, reporting and management systems in human organisations.

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About Prof. Colin Talbot

Professor of Government (Emeritus). Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
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