The possible emergence of new myths concerning PM feels at first counter-intuitive: The imperative of number crunching, output-orientation and economic thinking seems universalized and impossible to contest. Still, different authors share the assumption that the golden age of purely cost-oriented performance measurements has come to an end: In her study about PM within the public sector in Germany Greiling (2005:562) states that “The first euphoria is replaced by a discussion about the effectiveness of performance measurement systems. Measuring for measurements’ sake is no longer a value in itself”. Likewise Politt et al. (2007:6) claim that the “tide may be beginning to turn” and find that even “forerunners of NPM are now taking a step back, or (partly) reversing NPM reforms, as they have become aware of unintended and undesirable consequences” (ibid.).
Modell goes beyond the diagnosis that the times of a wholehearted enthusiasm about PM has ended and outlines a potential new myth that, for him, is to replace the old one. He calls visions and understandings that differ from the mainstream and institutionalized vision “ghost myths” (2004:43). They circulate around within an organizational setting, are shared by some of the actors but haven’t become (yet) organizational normality. For him, a ghost myth that is about to gain power and is to be applied in the public sector is the PM-instrument of the Balanced Scorecard. Just like the old myth of economic and managerial thinking this new myth has its origins in the private economy: “whilst originally developed in the private sector, there are indications that this model is beginning to diffuse to public sector organizations.” (ibid.).
So what brought this new myth into existence and what it is about? Efficiency-based PM has, according to Modell, suffered multiple “crises” (ibid.:44) and is “under increasing attack” (ibid.:43), not just from within organization and the resistance of professional groups such as doctors, nurses and teachers but also from outside. The scientific debate revolves around the question of what is measured: One position claims that “the one-sided reliance on financial and other types of efficiency-based PM has largely failed” (ibid.) and thus call for broadening what is measured; others feel that public sector organizations have “measured too many things and the wrong things” (ibid.) and thus call for more strategic, goal-oriented measuring. The Balanced Scorecard on the other hand is introduced as a strategic (not everything, but only strategically relevant data is collected) and yet multidimensional (more than quantitative data such as quality, competence, client satisfaction etc. is being collected) instrument (cf. ibid.f.). As a model that emphasizes consensus, participation from all organizational levels, clear objectives for what the measuring is used for and that also includes non-financial and qualitative aspects it seems to answer the criticism that has been mentioned within numerous blogposts about the teacher’s experiences.
What I find interesting is the relative absence of more radical critique, the lack of ghost myths closer to Marxist ideas that question the principle of performance in itself. The criticism circles around the data and its measurement, of validity – and thus stays at an operational level. But the normative idea of performance as the means of a fair distribution of status, income and professional development remains unquestioned. The widespread introduction of the Balanced Scorecard definitely would be a change in myths – but a minor one. In theoretical terms it could be defined as frame blending, where old ideas are fusioned with new aspects but where the core idea stays untouched.
Greiling, Dorothea (2005): Performance measurement in the public sector: the German experience. In: International Journal of Productivity and Performance Measurement. Vol. 54, No. 7, pp. 551-567.
Modell, Sven (2004): Performance Measurement Myths in the Public Sector: A Research Note. In: Financial Accountability & Management, 20 (1), p. 39-55.
Pollitt, Christopher/ van Thiel, Sandra/ Homburg, Vincent (2007): New Public Management in Europe. In: Management Review Online, Oct. 2007. Online: repub.eur.nl/pub/11553/BSK-2007-004.pdf
Werner, Miriam/ Cornelissen, Joep P. (2014): Framing and Change: Switching and Blending Frames and their Role in Instigating Institutional Change. Organization Studies, Vol. 35, No. 10, p. 1449-1472.
Picture: CC BY-NC 2.0, Wally Harthorn, Online: http://tinyurl.com/olnvvdz