Open Access Benchmarking

ICMA facilitates software-neutral benchmarking that puts cities and counties in the driver’s seat.

ICMA has developed a new approach to local government performance benchmarking that simplifies the process by zeroing in on key indicators and limiting the need for control by any single organization. This approach, Open Access Benchmarking, also provides flexibility so that cities and counties can reap the benefits of comparison regardless of their own reporting cycles and software choices.

A significant challenge to benchmarking initiatives is getting everyone on the same page – in terms of what to measure, how to measure it, and how and when to collect and analyze the data. Through its Performance Management Advisory Committee, ICMA has found ways to ensure consistency where it’s necessary while also limiting the need for centralized control.

The result is Open Access Benchmarking, led by jurisdictions. The city or county is in the driver’s seat, free from requirements governing software choices, data collection methods, or timeframes for entering, analyzing, or reporting performance data.

This approach is based on a set of Key Performance Indicators and corresponding definitions that were developed by the Advisory Committee and a working group of jurisdictions around the country. Definitions and data are available online, including responses received so far this year and those from other communities that have participated in prior ICMA data gathering efforts.

Participation is free of charge and does not presume the use of any particular software package. Jurisdictions are welcome to download a copy of the data and use it internally or with a software provider of their choice. In return, ICMA encourages jurisdictions to share their data with ICMA (in Excel or CSV format) so that their peers can benefit from an updated and growing dataset. 

Another challenge for benchmarking is data cleaning. Open Access Benchmarking addresses this by the use of warning flags that are coded into the response form through which jurisdictions report their data. Jurisdictions are cautioned to review their own data in light of these warnings and to communicate with each other around any data points of concern.

Participants in earlier benchmarking initiatives sometimes said that they felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data collected. So the Advisory Committee settled on a modest list of just 80 metrics. While this is not sufficient to benchmark every aspect of every department, it is intended to provide at least a key set of data and related ratios for comparing with peer organizations, without overburdening the assigned staff.

Since counties often provide services that cities don’t, the working group also developed a separate list of 54 county-specific metrics.

ICMA’s first steps are to share the current measure list and data, facilitate data sharing across states and software platforms, and start the dialogue about where to go next.  If you have questions, comments, or data to add to this database, please contact Gerald Young,

To hear more about performance management and benchmarking, add the “Performance Management” topic to your interests.

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