Why does performance benchmarking vary? Evidence from European local government
The way performance of local authorities is measured and compared varies widely in the OECD (Kuhlmann, 2004; Kuhlmann, 2010). We refer to ‘benchmarking’ if the objective is to identify best practices in order to draw lessons for one’s own organization (‘learning from the best’); this may also include explaining any performance gaps. If we could answer Hood’s (2007) question ‘why does it vary’ we might understand and therefore minimize numerous, often perverse effects associated with benchmarking exercises. Therefore we do compare benchmarking exercises at the local level of government in Sweden, England, Switzerland, and Germany to discover whether there are significant country differences or similarities in the governance structure, the extent of coverage and the utilization of the results.
We conclude that benchmarking in local government has to be put into context—its institutional and political starting conditions need to be understood, especially the peculiarities underlying the local administrative structures.