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  • Ian McCormack

Measuring Governance


We frequently use terms like ‘good governance’ or, more recently ‘great governance.’ In fact, we recently changed our company’s vision statement to the more aspirational Building Great Governance Together.’ That’s all well and good, but the devil – as always – lies in the details. How do we know when we encounter good – or great – governance in action?


Fundamentally, there are two types of measures, outputs, and outcomes, and they are related. Essentially, outputs can be measured directly by looking at things like ‘how much, how many, how often’ types of measures. They are transactional, objectively measuring throughput. There is a correlation between this and how well an organization functions, but it’s not always directly correlated.


Of more interest is outcomes – looking at change over time. This is where local government strategic plans need to aim. I believe that all local governments and their elected officials want to make life better for citizens, businesses, and community organizations. They want to see the economy diversified, business incubated, population grow. A municipality can’t directly measure much of this, so it seeks out proxy measures. A series of output measures can be used to see a direction in terms of outcome. For example, if there are more business licenses issued this year than last (an output measure), and the population is growing (also output), that could be interpreted as a positive change over time – or a good outcome.


Elected officials need to focus on outcomes because that’s the governance-level perspective on measures. They are looking to make their communities better – which is by definition a change over time and therefore an outcome. Municipal managers and other leaders may well be concentrating on the output measures that lead to the desired results.


Those of you familiar with logic modeling will understand this process. It’s described in more detail in chapter 8 of my book Who’s Driving the Grader, and Other Governance Questions.

Even higher level than all of this is well-being. This is an all-encompassing measure that, to me, speaks about why people move to a place and what makes them stay there.


My final comment on measuring governance is that it’s iterative. The measurements, just like the strategic plans that frame them, are never perfect; however, each time the planning is done, the priorities identified, and the measures set, the process should be smoother. As Voltaire said, ‘perfect is the enemy of good.’ Even in a volatile environment like the one we currently find ourselves in, planning – and measuring – are still important. At the very least, we can look back and learn from what worked and what didn’t – which measures actually measured what we wanted them to, and which ones need to be altered for next time.


We’ve been working with a couple of like-minded companies, ResourceX , and It’s Logical , on the concept of ‘great governance with intent.’ It’s a wrap-around concept of the ‘grand unification theory’ of governance. Check it out here.


As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this topic. How important is it to measure governance, and how do you know that the measures you chose are the ‘right’ ones? Is there a difference between good governance and great governance? You can find me at ian@strategicsteps.ca. The company’s Twitter profile is @strategic_steps.

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