This policy briefing analyses the applicability of performance results and targets (PRT) in four policy areas of the Russian Federation (poverty reduction, safety, education, health,). Even when meeting their preconditions, successful application of PRT in the Russian administrative tasks is rare (access to health care, partially poverty reduction measures). Difficulties to design a PRT system, misguided incentives, and the weak structure of Russian administration hamper potentials.
Throughout the past 25 years, performance results and targets have experienced a heyday in managing public administration. In 2010, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera most prominently defined a PRT system for seven policy areas of his country – making this management instrument his number one tool. In the following, this policy briefing summarizes the prerequisites, potentials and pitfalls of PRT, selects four out of Piñera’s seven policy areas for the Russian Federation, and then critically discusses the applicability of PRT in these fields.
Performance results and targets rely on the managerialist understanding of steering public organisations through definition, measurement and evaluation of performance-based indicators. Against the impression of universal applicability in the Chilean government 2010, PRT require five design- and implementation-related preconditions to develop their full potential: (1) Define clear objectives that can later be narrowed down to measurable target. (2) Targets require performance indicators that can be quantitively assessed. (3) Couple target evaluation to rewards and sanctions; otherwise, PRT create less incentives to comply while producing steady costs. (4) Indicators must be repetitively measured and evaluated; the PRT system itself requires periodical overhaul to prevent misguidance. (5) PRT must account for specific, sometimes changing, environments and staff motivations. If these preconditions are violated, PRT are likely to do more harm than good.
Advantages: Well-specified PRT provide a clear prioritization of tasks, flexibility in reaching the targets, management of expectation, and incentivization for staff members. The iterative evaluation of performance works as a feedback mechanism to discover imperfections and development possibilities that foster organisational learning. On a political level, announcing extensive PRT and implemented objectives may reduce uncertainty in markets, increase public approval, and appeal to administrative engagement. Practice and research have shown successful application of PRT, withal a need for sensitivity when applying the approach in various fields and with different objectives.
Disadvantages: PRT are not a free lunch. Even if the system is well specified, PRT entails potential disadvantages, such as costliness, the lack of a long-term perspective, manipulation of measurement and/or output, and an exclusively quantitative assessment. Detriments like “gaming” (hit the target, miss the point), “cherry picking” (selecting good cases to improve indicators), or the “threshold effect” (adequacy instead of excellence) will be presented when assessing the applicability of PRT in selected Russian policy field.
In the following, the paper discusses the implementation of PRT as means of providing safety, education, health, and poverty reduction in the Russian Federation. Growth, Unemployment, and Democracy & Quality of Government, originally found in the Chilean policy areas, are left out because (1) growth highly dependents on international and private action and public service provision in this field is limited, (2) unemployment is not a topical issue in Russia, and (3) Democracy & Quality of Government are not at the centre of attention as democratic feedback loops are limited in Russia.
Poverty reduction consists of immediate and preventive, publicly provided measures. With more than 19 million Russians below the poverty line (US$ 140 per month, Ostroukh 2016), poverty reduction in both dimensions is pressingly needed. PRT systems can improve immediate measures, such as the provision of food stamps, housing support, or financial assistance (all in place in Russia), as targets can be formulated, numerically assessed and repetitively overhauled (e.g., number of registered recipients). As regular disadvantages still apply and Russian bureaucracy is generally weak, successful design of PRT is only somewhat likely.
PRT in prevention programs is even more difficult: Here, targets are disputed as the link between meeting targets and improving reality is hampered and structural reasons to unemployment are complex. Under the overarching objective to decrease the number of impoverished, staff would be incentivised to ignore people in need to reach targets. Therefore, governments should systematically analyse weather deploying money directly in prevention measures is more effective than a prone-to-fail PRT system.
PRT for the provision of safety is in a quandary: Intuition calls for 100-percent objectives, such as “no crime”, “everyone feels save”, or “empty prisons”. Obviously, these targets are unrealistic and tend to work disincentivising, especially in Russia where memories of Soviet 100-percent goals are still vivid. On the other hand, a non-zero crime rate likely leads to the “threshold effect”, namely the lack of engagement beyond a reached target. In Russia, drugs/arms trafficking and corruption are striking criminal problems (OSAC 2018). Especially with regards to the latter, targeting in police work also encourages gaming: With little external validation of indicators, measurement can be manipulated when, for example, police officers refuse to record crimes in order to stay below the target.
Even though education can be measured well by independent, international evaluations, such as PISA by OECD, steering national education by targeting scores in these tests can have detrimental effects. This particularly the case if PRT is linked to severe sanctions, such as dismissal of least successful teachers. Here, teachers are incentivized to “cherry picking” good students while neglecting the neediest students out of fear of dismissal. In addition, widely applied education indicators, such as test grades, are not necessarily good predictors for future fitness on the labour market or life satisfaction; lastly, PRT lead to the “ratchet effect” (adequacy instead of excellence) for teachers as their intrinsic motivation to work with students is crowed out by target trimming. As quality, not quantity, of Russian schools is lacking (OECD 2018), the government should rather think in the direction of allowing more choice in rigid primary and secondary school tracks to encourage quality enhancements instead of pressuring teachers with PRT.
Health care systems are particularly interesting to public management research as traditional command-and-control structures (Finland), management by targets (UK), and choice systems (with regards to health insurance: Germany) can be found alike (Smith 2002, OECD 2010). In Russia, the state-financed, and relatively well-equipped health care system needs improvement with regards to easier access and better drug & alcohol prevention (Cook 2017). To lower entry barriers, PRT seems applicable as precise targets can be formulated (e.g., more registrations, better coverage) and a reasonable link between achieving the target and improving reality can be found. Regarding prevention, this link is not as clear (e.g., higher enrolment in prevention seminars does not mean the high-risk persons are enrolled); hence, PRT may work only limitedly and after passing a thorough cost-benefit analysis.
Assessing the introduction of PRT in four exemplary policy fields in the Russian Federation sets limitations to the universal applicability of the “Chilean Public Management Dream”. The briefing shows that PRT can improve Russian administration to a limited extend (health care, poverty reduction). For most tasks, PRT are not suitable as they either set wrong incentives (“cherry picking” of talented students, wilful manipulation of crime records, alcohol prevention for the wrong group) or lack a possibility to identify robust targets in complex problems. In general, applying PRT to Russia is challenged by the weak, sometimes corrupt, administrative structures that hamper compliance with PRT rules. Nevertheless, the Chilean public announcement of PRT created another – yet, political – benefit: A government’s promise to certain objectives may have a stimulating effect on economic stability, public opinion and administrative motivation. This applies to the Russian Federation as well, of course.
This policy briefing was written for the course "Public Management" at Hertie School of
Governance, lectured by Salvador Parrado, Director of Governance International.
- Cook, L. (2017): “Constraints on Universal Health Care in the Russian Federation: Inequality, Informality and the Failures of Mandatory Health Insurance Reforms”, in: Yi, I. (2017): Towards Universal Health Care in Emerging Economies. Social Policy in a Development Context. Palgrave Macmillan, London
- OECD (2018): Russian Federation – Country Note: Education at a Glance 2018: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing.
- OECD (2010): “Health Care Systems: Efficiency and Policy Settings”, OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264094901-en
- OSAC (2018): “Russia 2018 Crime & Safety Report”, U.S. Department of State – Diplomatic Security: Moscow.
- Ostroukh, A. 2016: “Number of Russians Living in Poverty Rises”, Wall Street Journal: New York; access via: https://www.wsj.com/articles/number-of-russians-living-in-poverty-rises-1458581478, last access: Nov 8th, 2018.
- Smith, P. (2002): “Performance Management In British Health Care: Will It Deliver?”, Health Affairs, vol. 21, no. 3, Maryland: US.