Defining Performance in Public Management: A Survey of Academic Journals
Performance in the public sector is an ambiguous, multi-dimensional, and complex concept. It is also one of the most popular concepts in current public management the-ory and practice. In this paper, results of a comprehensive survey of academic journal articles dealing explicitly with theoretical or empirical aspects of performance are pre-sented. The paper focuses on how performance is being defined in the academic litera-ture, what the (most often used) elements of these definitions and the relations between them are, and on how these findings can be interpreted. First, definitions of perform-ance are being extracted from the texts and decomposed into their components. Then, the components are classified and counted before relations among components are ana-lysed. Third, we discuss some of the results and their implications for public manage-ment theory and empirical research. The study is based on a literature review and the analysis of more than 200 papers containing substantial definitions of performance. It could be observed that elements of the ‘output' and ‘outcome' categories are the most frequent while ‘throughput', ‘quality' and especially ethical concerns (such as equity or fairness) only play an inferior role in the definitions. As far as bivariate relations are concerned, there are especially frequent relations between ‘output' and ‘outcome' as well as between ‘efficiency' and ‘effectiveness' components; there is only one negative correlation between ‘quality' and ‘outcome'. A cluster analysis of the definitions in the sample produced seven different clusters, illustrating the multitude of approaches to defining performance. In several clusters some categories are not represented at all while in others elements of the same categories are present in all definitions. As a con-clusion, it is suggested that researchers should avoid using the term performance if is not in the core of their research interest, or to define exactly how the term and its com-ponents are understood, or to engage in the complexity of a broad performance con-cept. However, it seems obvious that the application of a unitary concept of perform-ance is out of reach - and might be inappropriate given the multi-dimensional charac-ter of the phenomenon.
contribution to scientific community
European Group for Public Administration (EGPA) Annual Conference 2008