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Opinion

The Podium

Keeping Mass. informed

Governor Deval Patrick has focused on results-driven management.  Dina Rudick Photo /Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick has focused on results-driven management. Dina Rudick Photo /Globe Staff

Well-administered government is not a partisan issue, but that does not mean it should be ignored during campaign season. As the remaining candidates vie to be the next governor of Massachusetts, it is time for them to commit to continuing MassResults, the goal-focused, data-rich, transparent management practices put in place by Governor Deval Patrick.

New governors often toss out their predecessors’ inventions to introduce their own. In this case, that temptation should be resisted. Instead, the gubernatorial candidates should commit to continuing MassResults. Beyond that, the candidates should thoughtfully discuss the kinds of improvements they will introduce, taking care to avoid promises of overly simplistic pay-for-performance systems that likely tempted the measurement manipulation plaguing Veterans’ Administration hospitals in Phoenix and elsewhere.

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We need execution excellence in the administration of our public policies. We want government, no matter its size or political complexion, to provide value for our tax dollars. We should demand transparency, accountability, and the use of best business practices (adjusted to the serve the needs of the public rather than the investor) to improve outcomes (including equity and fairness concerns), return on taxpayer’s investment, service quality, and accountability.

With little fanfare, the Patrick administration launched MassGoals in December 2007 as an internal management tool to align operations and resources across state government to get better results for the people of the Commonwealth. MassGoals identified nine citizen-focused areas for which performance would be evaluated. By publicly announcing these areas, the governor invited public debate about priorities. At the same time, internally, he expected his executive departments to report progress every quarter.

In February 2012, Patrick increased his emphasis on results-driven management when he issued Executive Order 540 to establish the new Office of Commonwealth Performance, Accountability and Transparency to be “more effective and efficient so that every tax dollar it uses is stretched as far as possible.” Patrick continued to press for improvement in 2013 with the release of the FY2014 budget, initiating MassResults, a comprehensive effort to make Massachusetts a national leader in results-driven management.

The Commonwealth is improving not just the way it delivers, but the way it communicates its priorities, strategies, progress made, and problems encountered. Informed Massachusetts provides a direct link to each Secretariat’s performance reports, strategic plans, and budget proposals.

The site also provides revenue and spending details. For this, it earned an A- grade three years in a row from the state consumer watchdog group MASSPIRG, after suffering an initial F grade in 2010. MASSPIRG now calls Massachusetts the leader among states in making government spending transparent and accessible.

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The philosophy underpinning these reforms is based on the value of using goals and data to provide clarity of purpose, communicate objectives, and compel essential priority-setting, focusing government efforts and scarce resources on the most important and prevalent issues and finding the smartest ways to achieve them. It is based on the notion that goals and measurement work best when they are first and foremost used as tools to find and inspire ways to improve, not primarily as part of a reward-and-punishment mechanism.

Goals that are set and strategies chosen to advance toward them need not be fixed and unbendable, something public administrators must attain at the expense of other needs. Rather, goals and the means to achieve them can and should be highly responsive and adaptable to evolving understanding of experience and changing needs. This management approach creates an organic, dynamic system that frequently gathers and interprets data to gain new insights, complemented by occasional “deep dives” to identify root causes that can be tackled and measured trials that find ways to accomplish new performance heights.

By establishing goals that resonate with and engage those with a stake in them and by digging into relevant data, this state management approach has contributed to extraordinary progress. Preliminary state data show that homicides in Massachusetts have decreased 21 percent since 2009, with the number of youth homicide offenders ages of 14-24 falling by one third. Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 16 percent from 1990 levels. And in a small change with an important impact on the quality of our personal experience with government, more than 300,000 people each month now avoid a trip to the DMV by renewing their driver’s license online.

Also, unquestionably, the state continues to have delivery problems it needs to address. The Department of Children and Families remains challenged by extremely difficult issues. Previously ignored problems, such as sexual assault on our many college campuses, still call for attention. And, despite noteworthy decreases in youth violence in the state, more attention or explanation is needed to understand why Massachusetts’ downward trend in violent crime appears less favorable than the national average.

Still, the Patrick administration has made exceptional strides in handling the business of government. His would-be successors should study the progress of the past seven years and let the electorate know how they will sustain and accelerate this goal-focused, data-rich, transparent approach to deliver better results to the people of Massachusetts.

Shelley Metzenbaum, president of The Volcker Alliance, was associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget. She was also director of capital budgeting for Massachusetts.

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