The private sector uses one metric—profit—to determine whether an investment is worthwhile. The public sector, in contrast, cannot determine whether government programs are worth the money by using only one measure. Answering how much we should we spend on public goods—such as health, education, justice, and social services—is a difficult task, and one we face every year.
Earlier this month, the Vera Institute of Justice published a new report by the Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC) titled Performance Incentive Funding: Aligning Fiscal and Operational Responsibility to Produce More Safety at Less Cost. As part of our focus on outputs, outcomes, and cost-benefit analysis on the blog this month, we asked Alison Shames, associate director of CSC, to discuss some of the lessons that states have learned about using performance measures to drive fiscal and policy decisions.
We’d all like policies and programs to do what they were created to do. But how do we know if we’re getting the intended results? Figuring out the answer can be difficult. People frequently measure only what they’re able to measure, even though doing so may not tell us whether a program is making a difference.
This month on the blog, we’ll look more closely at outputs, outcomes, and cost-benefit analysis (CBA). In challenging fiscal times, governments want to ensure that they’re getting results from the policies and programs they’ve invested in. Yet they often use the wrong metrics to gauge the performance of programs. Determining the right things to measure is critical.