Performance Management in Public Employment Services (again): Boring? Well not really!

So I’ve spent today presenting to an assembled group of national representatives of Public Employment Services from across Europe.  15 member states and the Commission were present.  I’ve done this before, and most people’s response when I mention it?  Well a yawn to be honest.

So why do I say this is not really boring?  It certainly sounds it.

Ultimately it is interesting because performance management in the delivery of public services more generally, resolves the tension that often exists in high level strategies, political rhetoric and speeches and the like.  Put simply, if you want to see what the real priorities are, you have to dig deeply, engage with detail and work through who is being incentivised (and occasionally discouraged also) from doing what.

Public Employment Services (PES), or Jobcentre Plus in the UK, are illustrative of this.  There has been much furore in the media lately about how the detailed performance management system (outcome payments to private providers) has led to the use of work trials (lamented as ‘slave labour’ by some) and wage incentives to subsidise poor quality employers.  But the agenda of ‘activation’ has been around for a decade or more and driven largely by performance management regimes that communicate messages to individual Jobcentre staff about who they should prioritise among the unemployed and how they should ‘help’ them.

The debate over activation interventions such as work trials and wage incentives is complex andI don’t want to go into that here.  Suffice it to say that it is less simple than either proponents or naysayers would have us believe.  The point I want to make here is that the way in which organisational management structures work is not just a technical issue – it is a political, economic and social issue too.

This was the basis of my presentation today to the participating PES.  Performance management should be seen as a governance process which needs to be inclusive (incorporating social partners and other stakeholders) and integrate a variety of evidence and knowledge, including evaluation results to better inform a discursive and deliberative governance process.

Time will tell whether this message will be heeded but it is essential to socially just and economically sustainable outcomes.  Labour market governance is crucial to the achievement of Europe 2020 strategies (or any alternatives that might emerge from the emphasis on Social Innovation – my preference).  PES performance management will be central to this, and from what PES and Commission officials alike were saying today, suggests that I am not alone in thinking this.

Watch out for my report coming from this process, which I’ll summarise here. But in the meantime, have a look at some of the research that this is all based on:

Nunn, A. (2012). Performance Management in Public Employment Services. PES-2-PES Mutual Learning Programme. Brussels, European Commission.

Nunn, A. and D. Devins (2012). Process Evaluation of the Jobcentre Plus Performance Management Framework Norwhich, HMSO.

Nunn, A. (2010). Performance management and neo-liberal labour market governance: the case of the UK. Reframing Corporate Social Responsibility: Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis. W. e. a. Sun, Emerald.

Nunn, A. and S. Jassi (2010). Jobcentre Plus Jobseeker’s Allowance off-flow rates: Key Management Indicator Post-Implementation Review. Norwich, HMSO.

Nunn, A., T. Bickerstaffe, et al. (2010). International Review of Performance Management Systems in Public Employment Services. Norwich, HMSO.

Nunn, A., S. Johnson, et al. (2007). Working with JOT 18 months on: Qualitative research in former Option 1 Pilot Districts. DWP Research Report 409. Leeds, DWP Corporate Document Services.

Nunn, A. and S. Kelsey (2007). Review of the Adviser Acheivement Tool. DWP Research Report 453. Leeds, DWP Corporate Document Services.

Nunn, A. and Johnson, S. (2007). Job Outcome Target national evaluation. Leeds, Corporate Document Services.


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