Measuring and Managing Performance in Local Government: Best Practice at Belfast City Council


Belfast City Council (BCC) is the largest local authority in Northern Ireland. BCC provides local political leadership and a range of services such as refuse collection and disposal, tourism and economic development and employs more than 2,800 people serving a city population of about 269,000. Decisions on how the Council is run are made by 51 elected Councillors, whose role is to make sure the views of the people of Belfast are reflected in the way services are provided. This case study illustrates how BCC created, implemented and deployed a strategic performance management framework. It outlines how the leaders of the organization clarified and agreed on the corporate strategy, mapped this strategy into a corporate Value Creation Map (VCM), designed appropriate performance indicators and cascaded the framework into all of its departments and service units. Moreover, it explains how BCC‟s has evolved the framework since the original VCM and supporting indicators were developed in 2006.

Why Measure and Manage Performance?

The strategic performance management journey within BCC can be traced back to 2005. In that year The Chief Executive along with Councillors, Chief Officers and Heads of Service agreed that the Council needed to develop and improve if it was to become a modern, 21st Century local authority. The Chief Executive recommended the creation of a dedicated resource to develop and implement an Improvement Programme for the organisation: this led to the establishment of a Core Improvement Team (CIT) led by a Director of Improvement reporting to an all-party Council Improvement Board. The Board recognised that the organization needed to: offer good service delivery; be the voice of the citizen and an advocate for Belfast; and make sure that others who deliver public services are held to account. In summary, Belfast City Council wanted to be in a position to improve the quality of life in the city by improving both service delivery and the Council‟s civic leadership role. To make this happen it was agreed that the Council should focus on the following:  Governance - enabling more efficient and better decision-making;  Performance Management - providing support and resources to help get results;  Resource Allocation and Planning - matching resources to priorities;  Customer Focus - putting people first:  People Management - building capacity across the organisation. The agreed process for taking this improvement forward was a "strategic performance management‟ method1 which involved developing a Value Creation Map (VCM)2 for the organisation as a whole as well as individual maps for Services - which would replace the traditional Service level business plans.

Clarifying and Agreeing on the Strategy

The diverse political environment in Northern Ireland means that there are six political parties in Belfast City Council with no one single party in overall control. At officer level there were six Chief Officers, each within a functional Departmental structure. This was an issue for the organisation as it gave rise to fragmentation of culture and a "silo effect‟. Therefore, to be successful, any process to define a strategy for the organisation has to be inclusive in order to get agreement on one strategy for the city. Recognizing that the absence of an agreed and clearly defined strategy would severely jeopardise future management and decision making processes, it was decided to create a corporate VCM so to bring together the different views and to clarify and visualise the strategy of the organisation. The original VCM for Belfast City Council (and as we shall explain later it has since evolved) was designed in 2006 and was based on the input of elected Councillors and senior officers as well as a review of existing strategy and planning related documents. The key steps taken in designing the VCM are outlined below (see also Figure 1):

1. Scoping - firstly the project was scoped and planned. As part of this it was decided who to involve in the strategy development process. In order to get a broad and balanced view across the council it was decided to involve all chief officers, heads of services, and elected members from all parties. 2. Data Collection - an experienced external interviewer from the Advanced Performance Institute (API) conducted individual in-depth and semi-structured interviews with all chief officers, heads of services and elected members. In addition observation data and document reviews (e.g. business plans, strategy reports, etc.) were collected and used to triangulate the interview data. 3. VCM Creation - the interview data was transcribed and coded in order to extract themes, constructs and insights to design a draft VCM. A feedback workshop was used to present the draft VCM to senior officers and elected members. Feedback was collected during the workshop which led to minor amendments to the map. Further feedback was collected in the weeks following the workshop which led to the final version of the VCM. In a subsequent meeting the new strategy captured in VCM was agreed to by both officers and members. For the first time the council now had an agreed and clearly defined strategy outlining its value proposition, core competencies and enablers of future performance. 4. Element Definitions and Narrative Creation - once the VCM had been created a one or two paragraph definition was created for each element to provide further detail. This was achieved in a series of meetings and workshops. A smaller project team was used to take this part forward and drafted the definitions in close collaboration with the relevant senior officers. Feedback loops were used to ensure chief officers and members were informed about the progress and were able to provide feedback and suggestions.

Value Creation Map and Narrative

A VCM provides a single image of an organisation‟s overall purpose, the key competencies it needs to have to deliver its purpose and the key resources it needs to support these competencies. With expert external facilitation from API, The Council Improvement Board, the Chief Officer Management Team and the Heads of Service Forum, together with the Core Improvement Team, built, refined and finalised the corporate VCM. The Strategic Policy and Resources Committee agreed the Map (the strategy) in June 2006. Figure 2 depicts the original corporate value creation map for Belfast City Council and the following narrative describes it. The main purpose of Belfast City Council is to help improve quality of life for the people of Belfast now and in the future by making the city a better place to live and work in and to visit. To do this we must be good at two things. The first is to provide strategic leadership and direction and work with others to shape, develop and manage a shared city. We will also continue to meet the needs of local people by

providing a wide range of quality and accessible services. As a Council we have identified a number of key areas we will focus on to achieve our goals. We have a wide range of key stakeholders including European, central and local government, the voluntary and private sector, public agencies, citizens, funding bodies, neighbourhoods, media, politicians, academia and professional bodies. We recognise the need to work well with all of these stakeholders if we are to improve the co-ordination of service planning and delivery and assist with the implementation of the Review of Public Administration (RPA). To do this we will build public confidence by promoting a more positive image of the Council among the media and by supporting Councillors in their work to represent the organisation and the City. This will require improving officer / Councillor relationships to build trust and facilitating more two way dialogue among employees and stakeholders. We will be clear about what our priorities are and will effectively communicate and listen in an open and transparent way. To achieve these improvements we will create an open, performance driven culture built on trust, where performance is discussed openly and used to help the organisation learn and improve. Everyone will know what we want to achieve and how they contribute to this, in an environment where performance counts, is valued and is at the heart of everyone's job. We will also identify the skills and expertise necessary to be a successful organisation and Councillors and employees will work together to develop skills and improve how knowledge is shared across the organisation. BCC will be a place where people are happy and motivated to do a good job. All decision makers will have access to the right information and expertise to allow them to make informed decisions. This will involve improving our structures to ensure all decisions are transparent, made at the right level and are acted on quickly. All parts of the Council will work to bring about innovative improvements in service delivery for the benefit of our customers. To do this we will re-align resources, make better use of technology, bring about more joined-up working and encourage and reward innovation and improvement at all levels.

Aligning Projects and Prioritising Initiatives

Once the strategy was defined and agreed, the process began to align and prioritise supporting organisational initiatives and programmes. To inform this process a heat map (a colour-coded VCM) was created. Each strategic element on the VCM is colour coded using red, amber, yellow and green - indicating poor performance, significant performance problems, minor performance problems and good performance. The colour codes for the Belfast City Council heat map were originally based on the interview data. Once the map was operational colour coding was largely determined by carefully selected key performance indicators. All existing corporate initiatives, projects and programmes were identified and mapped onto the VCM. This proved a powerful process as it provided insights such as:  Some elements of the new strategy had few or no aligned initiatives, projects or programmes- indicating that new initiatives would be needed in order to deliver on the strategy.  Some projects couldn‟t be mapped against any of the strategic elements on the map - indicating that such projects would not contribute directly to the implementation of the new strategy. The implication of a mismatch between strategy and projects can be twofold - either the strategy has to be revised because important elements of the organisations are missing, or - which is more likely - a serious discussion needs to take place about the reasons for doing these projects.  The balance of projects/initiatives was wrong. A few of the strategic elements had the majority of the projects linked to them, whereas others -often the red or amber ones - had few aligned projects, initiatives or programmes. This triggered a discussion about readjusting the balance. This process of identifying, mapping and prioritising initiatives, projects and programmes becomes the basis for the business planning going forward.

Designing Key Performance Questions and Key

Performance Indicators With the VCM in place the next step was to identify a robust set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with which to monitor progress toward its strategic goals. However, instead of just brainstorming possible indicators for each element on the map, a vital link was introduced between the VCM and the performance indicators: Key Performance Questions (KPQs)3. These are questions that managers and employees in organisations would like to have an answer to in relation to performance of each of the strategic elements on the VCM. BCC found the articulating of KPQs to be a powerful process as it ensured that any subsequent KPIs would help to answer these questions and by default, would be relevant and meaningful. KPQs were designed by a project team that was set up within BCC‟s Core Improvement Team. In close communication with relevant officers and members, a set of KPQs was drafted. Once the questions were finalised, the project team facilitated the design of possible KPIs. KPIs were designed using a customised version of the generic API indicator design template (See Figure 3). The template ensures that performance indicators are well defined and their relevance and limitations are understood. When designing indicators it was emphasised that it was about the generation of useful management information. This required experimentation and continuous refinement of the way information was collected and performance measured. People were encouraged to identify new ways of collecting relevant information, drop indicators that were not providing meaningful information, and change the way performance was measured in order to provide better information.

Creating an Enabled Learning Environment

With the design and agreement of the indicators, the traditional technical part of the strategic performance management system design was completed. Now it was important to ensure the KPQs and KPIs were being used in the appropriate manner to inform decision making, organisational learning and performance improvement. For that purpose Strategic Performance Improvement Meetings (SPIMs)5 are being put in place to formalise the regular review of performance. From the outset it is emphasised that the purpose of these meetings is not to look backwards but to make forward-looking decisions based on the learnings gleaned from the performance information. Within a SPIM the emphasis is on a facilitating a strategic dialogue guided by the KPQs and informed by the KPIs. These meetings are being introduced both for chief officers and elected members. That SPIMs are about learning is important. Indeed, the senior team at BCC placed much emphasis on the fact that performance information derived from KPQs and KPIs must be used to identify performance improvement opportunities on an ongoing basis. At the very top of BCC, there was a clear awareness that, and as with any performance management initiative, there is a danger that it is seen as a reporting tool only with a focus on showing progress towards targets. If that was the case then performance measurement might seen as a non-value-adding administrative

burden rather than of strategic significance Another identified danger was that the VCM and accompanying KPQs and KPIs might be seen as a command-and-control tool that is used to direct subordinates and control their behaviour. BCC was determined to avoid both of these negative outcomes. Therefore, a large number of communication workshops and presentations were conducted to ensure that heads of services, middle managers, and front line staff were kept informed about the process and, most importantly, about the aims of the strategic performance management implementation within Belfast City Council. Cascading the approach into the Services It was realised that many of the strategies and actions in the corporate map would have to be implemented and measured at Service level. At the same time the corporate map would not represent all of the strategies and work of individual Services which is why the process also needed to be cascaded throughout the organisation. Each service was therefore asked to design its own value creation map to:  Clarify what the service is about - i.e. 'What is our purpose?'  Establish what it is they need to do well to achieve this - 'What are our core competencies?'  Agree the enablers - 'What are our value drivers?' Crucially, the VCM cascading process was seen as an opportunity to streamline the organisation‟s entire planning process. Services used the corporate VCM as guidance in order to ensure that their planning was aligned with the corporate objectives. The mapping process allowed every service to make their strategy explicit and easy to communicate which also encouraged Services to integrate their strategy with operations at Unit and Departmental level. At BCC the VCM process has placed more of a performance management framework around the corporate planning process. Initially, two cascades were conducted for the Parks Section and the Information Systems Belfast. These maps were designed using the same approach as the one described above for the corporate level: senior officers and members were interviewed, the data was analysed and a draft map was created, the map was refined in a feedback workshop and a final map was created. Once the map was complete, project teams within the two services took on the coordination role of defining the elements, KPQs, and KPIs. For the remaining 24 cascades, a more time and resource efficient way of cascading was developed. BCC created a workbook "How to create your service level value creation map" which outlined and explained the necessary steps involved in designing local VCMs, KPQs and KPIs. This workbook explained the aims of the entire initiative and outlined the process step-by-step using examples and illustrations from the corporate and the two service level implementation (see Figure 4). The workbook was widely distributed inside the organisation and outlined the following six steps of the cascading process: Establish your team, collate and analyse all relevant information, agree your initial VCM, define your strategic elements, develop and expand your performance indicators, and agree your ongoing review and reporting mechanisms. Each Service established a team that was responsible for coordinating and facilitating its own cascade. This team then collated the necessary and relevant information about the current strategy, such as the business plan and other relevant documents. Each Service created their own VCM within a dedicated API-facilitated workshop, which was attended by between 5 and 20 people - depending on the size and requirements of the Service. Once the maps were created, each Service level cascade team took on the role of moving the process forward and to co-ordinate and facilitate the creation of definitions, KPQs, KPIs as well as future reporting and review processes. However, in doing this the team received dedicated support from member of the corporate Core Improvement Team. Such central support also enabled continuous communication and reviews to take place and ensured that everyone was learning from each other. Most importantly, it ensured that the planning process was coordinated so to achieve alignment between corporate and Service level strategies, as well as cross-Service alignment.


Before discussing how the VCM and the supporting strategic performance management framework have recently evolved, it must be noted that the first - or 2006 - iteration certainly delivered significant benefits to Belfast City Council. Perhaps the most important benefit being that deploying the VCM forged a clear link between planning and performance management processes. That the VCM serves as the primary planning framework and process within and across BCC has made a significant difference in how staff develop and collate performance information as part of their planning activities. They now collect information that is more evidently strategic in nature and therefore more meaningful and relevant - information that really does enable the driving of step-change performance improvements. A further benefit that should not be minimized is that as the bulk of the work of the Services has to be linked to the VCM it is now significantly easier to view performance across BCC and to gain insights into which departments, etc are contributing to the delivery of strategic goals and to gauge which interventions are making the greatest impact - which can help shape further initiatives, etc or trigger best practice sharing. As with just about all local councils, BCC has a traditional structure (parks, leisure, etc). Historically, therefore, managers only reported on what their particular departments did, which of course made it difficult to get a proper cross-organization view of performance. The VCM enables manager to look across cross-cutting thematic issues to see how BCC is performing as an organization.

Evolving the Strategy Map

Figure 2 shows BCC‟s original VCM, whereas the current version is presented in Figure 5. As we can see, BCC‟s vision has remained the same: "The council takes a leading role in improving quality of life now and for future generations for the people of Belfast by making the city a better place to live in, work in, invest in or visit," and both maps highlights the importance of leadership and service (although their positions on the Map hierarchy have changed). Where changes are more pronounced is that the current map has also more broadly defined the strategic resources that must be managed to deliver to its ultimate vision. This is important because this section now incorporates much of the objectives that were originally housed in the third level of the original map (the enablers). For instance, in the new version "communication and engagement" is captured in the resource section, whereas in the original version it appeared within the "effective communication," enablers bubble. Such a change is important, because whereas the "enabler" section of the original map was more internally focused, on the current map it is much more externally focused. This evolution is perfectly understandable because the first map was created as part of a major internal change agenda, whereas the new map is focused on how BCC better delivers to a wider "city" agenda. As a consequence we see enablers such as "cleaner and greener", "stimulate growth and competitiveness," and "vibrant, shared and diverse city." Moreover, these enablers are collocated according to three key themes: "Better Care for Belfast‟s Environment," "Better Opportunities for Success Across the City," and "Better Support for People and Communities." Key Performance Indicators Another important development has been in the collection of KPIs. As is common to public sector organization when BCC began its strategic performance management program it had little experience in collecting "strategic KPIs" being more used to collecting indicators to satisfy external regulatory requirements and to demonstrate progress toward externally mandated targets. As BCC became more comfortable with this new strategic management process the KPIs gradually became more relevant and specific to the achievement of strategic objectives. Also noteworthy is that through the deployment of the VCM, people‟s mindsets regarding metrics changed. Rather than just collecting KPIs as a "tick box" requirement (not uncommon in the public sector) individuals became more focused on collecting meaningful performance information. Use of KPIs will further evolve going forward. The present corporate strategic plan runs to 2011, when BCC begins work on the VCM and supporting

strategic performance management framework to deliver to the next three year plan it will challenge every single KPI within the organization to ensure strategic relevance and fitness for purpose. To this purpose, it is already making full use of the internal audit department to ensure that KPIs and performance information are robust and appropriate. As examples of how metrics are used within the wider performance management framework to demonstrate success to the present strategy consider the following. The "theme" "Better Care for Belfast‟s Environment," is first more broadly defined (what we mean by this), then it has a description of desired achievements within the timeframe of the plan and supporting KPIs. "What we mean by this," is defined this way: Better care for Belfast‟s environment - a clean, green city now and for the future in Belfast City Council is about: Action - securing the long term viability of the city and its environment Improvement - creating a cleaner, greener and healthier environment Education - increasing knowledge and awareness of environmental issues and promoting positive behaviour Protection - ensuring compliance with all current and future statutory obligations Over the course of the plan, BCC intends to - be on course to achieve zero waste direct to landfill by 2015 - have reduced the city‟s impact on climate change and improved air quality - have protected, promoted and enhanced the city‟s natural and built heritage and open spaces Metrics include:  City recycling rate  City wide cleanliness index  % of residents satisfied with street cleaning service and refuse collection service  Household waste arisings per capita  Number of council vehicles emissions tested As a further example, the theme "Better Support for People and Communities," is defined as (what we mean by this): Better support for people and communities in Belfast City Council is about: - Engagement - finding ways to better connect with local people - Development - building capacity within the city to influence and address local issues, tackling inequalities and improving relationships - Improvement - making the best use of council and other local services and facilities to achieve our objectives and address the issues facing the city and its neighbourhoods - Transformation - enhancing the city and local neighbourhoods by making them safer, healthier, more inclusive, welcoming and enjoyable Over the course of the plan BCC intends to have led, supported and influenced others to ensure that… - people enjoy living in a vibrant, shared and diverse city - people feel safer - people are healthier and more active - health and social inequalities are reduced - people have, and avail of, opportunities to improve their well-being with a focus on children and young people and older people Metrics include:  % residents who agree people from different backgrounds get on well in their areas  % usage of community centres  % of residents who feel safe in their areas  Number of incidents of anti-social behaviour  Number of leisure centre members.

Executive Dashboards

A further performance management development that has been introduced within BCC over the last couple of years has been executive dashboards, which are in place for all chief officers and service heads. Whereas the VCM is a strategic performance management framework that monitors performance over the longer-term and therefore will likely include metrics that are updated perhaps on a quarterly or even annual basis, a dashboard provides a more real-time snapshot of operational performance: an example BCC dashboard, for the Health and Services Department, is shown in Figure 6. This includes metrics such as "bins collected on time" and "net expenditure". In short, whereas the VCM is more focused on the strategic elements the dashboard is more KPI focused. Dashboards and the VCM work well together in providing a full overview of operational and strategic performance.


Both the VCM and dashboards are now fully automated via the CorVu solution from the long-established performance management software provider Rocket Software. This means that Belfast City Council‟s most important performance management information is now consolidated in one place, provides one source of the truth and is accessible to anyone with access rights, which presently are 200 BCC managers/staff - mainly all of the senior managers and all of the business planning officers. That said the numbers of users will increase as the system is rolled out over time. Within the CorVu system, information is updated when and as required and it enables full slicing and dicing of data for reporting purposes, whether for VCM, dashboard of other purposes. BCC has found that amongst the key benefits of the system is that at the strategic level it forces a full understanding of how indicators link to objectives and therefore improves the overall planning process. The benefits of automation are being realised and the front-end (what the user sees) is intuitive,web-based and easy to navigate. As part of its usage,responsible managers will receive an Email to updatetheir indicators and commentary. As that's basically all they have to do, it is not a burden on their time.

Next Steps

Since 2006 Belfast City Council has made great strides with its use of its strategic performance management framework. But the story is still unfolding. Simply put, the VCM will further evolve in line with the emerging challenges facing the organization. The evolution will comprise both internal and external focus areas. Internally members of the planning and performance team have been trained by API in the use of analytics to create evidence-based decision-making. This will enable more valuable insights to be gleaned from the information gathered. Moreover, project management will be better aligned to the strategic agenda. All projects will be aligned to initiatives and KPIs rather than being managed as a separate process, which BCC has come to believe "just doesn‟t make sense." Externally, in the next couple of years further evolutions will likely be around area and thematic planning. Presently BCC plans at departmental or service level. However, after working with themes through the VCM, BCC will move on to looking at using the VCM for area-based and city-wide planning. The focus will be on bringing different agencies across Belfast together to create and work off the same plan. A VCM might become a "plan for Belfast" rather than just for the city council.

Critical Success Factors

Finally, based on BCC‟s experience thus far in using a strategic performance management framework there are several critical success factors that should be highlighted. Firstly it is critical to involve everyone in the process and to reach the point where they can all see how they contribute to delivering to the strategic elements as described on the VCM. If people don‟t see that link they might ignore the process or, worse, actively resist it. Buy-in from the top is a must - as with any change program. Furthermore, it has to be properly resourced. Within BCC full-time resources were dedicated to the effort, but, crucially, people from the Services were given the time to develop - and as a result own - the Service level VCM. Proper training was important here. Finally, the importance of expert facilitation should be highlighted. API had the expertise in building and deploying the VCM and strategic performance management frameworks. As well as the technical knowledge API provided challenge and ensured BCC went through the process properly and rigorously. Although BCC could not have started the process without this external facilitation, it was equally important that as a core deliverable of the facilitation project API transferred the knowledge and expertise to an in-house team so that employees within Belfast City Council could, quite rightly, take full ownership of the VCM - as they own the strategy it powers.

Bernard Marr is a globally regognized big data and analytics expert. He is a best-selling business author, keynote speaker and consultant in strategy, performance management, analytics, KPIs and big data. He helps companies to better manage, measure, report and analyse performance.
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