Site Visit

Researcher: Ellen G. Liston, Assistant City Manager of Coral Springs, FL

City Contact: Charles Curry, Budget Officer

Austin is a large, modern city which is host to both the state capital and the University of Texas. It is also home to an increasing number of high tech companies and their employees. Austin city government, serving over 600,000 residents, has a reputation for progressive and customer-focused management.

The City of Austin uses a family of indicators which measure results, outputs, efficiencies and demands. The City takes great care to ensure that the measurements reflect both their strategic priorities and the "hot topics" which occupy their citizens’ interest. Started about ten years ago, the process was initiated to improve government accountability.

The City’s Annual Budget includes over 1,000 measures of results, outputs, efficiency, and demands. Because those 1,000 measures are too cumbersome to create an effective communication tool, the City also produces a "Community Scorecard" of the several dozen most critical performance measurements.

The performance measures used by the City of Austin are balanced to cover a broad spectrum: indicators of financial health of the organization as well as the efficiency and affordability of the services the City provides are critical components. The City does extensive surveys of its citizens and other customers — and of its own employees to measure satisfaction and to identify emerging issues. Austin benefits from a large, informed and very interested citizenry. They participate in city government through boards and commissions which assist as well as budget proposals.

Other areas included in the Community Scorecard include public safety and crime control, vitality of neighborhoods and support of youth and families, and protection of the environment. Finally, indicators are included which measure improvement of internal processes.

The Community Scorecard is produced annually and presented to the City Council and departmental decision makers. It includes long-range measures such as infant mortality which are linked to each of their four strategic priorities identified in the strategic planning process. In addition to the long-range strategic measures, shorter term measures of immediate concern to citizens are included, to strengthen the tie to community interests and demands. An example of one such "hot topic" is traffic congestion -- an issue very much on the minds of Austin commuters. These short term measures are determined through comprehensive customer surveys.

Austin is in its third improvement cycle for its performance measurement initiative. Over the years, Austin has developed over 1,000 performance measures, all of which are tracked by its departments and reported annually in the Annual Budget. In its most recent improvement cycle, Austin has initiated a "Business Planning" process. This process is intended to provide better alignment with the four strategic priorities, as well as serve as a method of better aligning employee’s work with those four priorities.

One of the key drivers of this latest change was a question in the annual employee survey. One of the questions asked each employee if they used performance measures in making daily operations decisions; only one-fourth of the employees indicated that they did most of the time. Austin’s top management decided that a system was needed that would provide more meaningful information to line employees through senior management -- information which would be useful in everyday decision-making.

Tying program results to employee evaluations had already been one of the strengths of the Austin performance measurement system. They now took the idea several steps further.

To accomplish this, they have created "alignment worksheets" which will be used for each executive level employee. These worksheets will link the employee’s compensation with not only program results, but also with progress made toward the City’s strategic goals and vision. In the next several years, these alignment worksheets will be available for each and every employee, allowing all employees to see how their job contributes to all levels in the organization. The new Business Planning process also allows employees to help determine new performance measures to be used.

The process enjoys strong top management support. This is a city government with a will to be the best. A city government that spawns many innovations — and is open to many more.

Austin, TX
Charles Curry
Budget Office

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site