Cover Image
close this bookTraining for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Overseer (HABITAT, 1994, 16 p.)
close this folderPart I. Essay on the councillor as overseer
View the documentDefinition
View the documentSummary
View the documentReflection
View the documentConcepts and ideas
View the documentGeneral benchmarks and targets
View the documentOverseeing policy development
View the documentOverseeing implementing
View the documentOnce implementation is underway
View the documentKey points
View the documentReferences

General benchmarks and targets

The overseer role can be summarized as assessing whether or not the local government is operating effectively and efficiently. This definition is both simple and complex. Simple because these are terms we have heard ever since we have had any role or experience in organized settings. Complex because they cut across everything the council and local government does. The terms "efficiency" and "effectiveness" are most often associated with private-sector organizations, but they have equal significance as ways to look at public institutions.

Peter Drucker, that venerable world resource on the practice of management, defines "effectiveness" as doing the right things and "efficiency" as doing things right.2 In simplistic terms we could say that effectiveness is the elected leader's primary responsibility whereas efficiency is primarily the role of the local-government officers and employees. The problem with this easy dichotomy is the fact that a council also needs to look at how it does "the right things," and the management team must also be concerned with whether it is doing what it should be doing as well as whether it is doing these things right.

Councillors, in determining whether they are doing the right things, might want to review all the city's programmes and services from two perspectives: (a) Is this particular service or programme still needed by the community? and (b) If it is still needed, should the city be the producer or should someone else be producing it? One could say, we suppose, that this latter question really gets into the realm of "doing things right." But, the council also must decide whether it is right to be doing it at all On the other hand, if the council decides that it should not be performing the service directly (for example, solid-waste collection) but rather contracting it out to the private sector, the council still has a vital role to play in service implementation according to community standards. Rather confusing, isn't it?

Just to confuse the discussion a bit more, let's look at what Osborne and Gaebler, the authors of Reinventing Government, have to say about these terms. They say " efficiency is a measure of how much each unit of output costs; whereas, effectiveness is a measure of the quality of that output (how well it achieved the desired outcome)."' These authors seem to beg the question of "doing the right things" that Drucker says is the essence of effectiveness. But the authors who are proposing ways to re-invent government cover this by use of the terms "outputs" and outcomes."

Osborne and Gaebler say "there is a vast difference between measuring process and measuring results." But what does this have to do with outputs and outcomes? Well, according to them, everything! Outputs, they say, don't produce outcomes. If, for example, your community's vocational school is graduating 50 students a year in irrigation-pump maintenance, but there are no jobs available as irrigation pump mechanics, how good is the programme? Or, in Drucker's terms, is the school doing the right thing? The school's output is impressive but the outcomes are nil since these new graduates are unable to get jobs in the trade for which they were trained. It's a case of doing something well that doesn't need to be done at all.

We find ourselves somewhat at odds with the definitions of Osborne and Gaebler. For example, in the situation just noted, the school superintendent could argue that he was successful in meeting both criteria. That is, (a) he came under the projected costs of producing an irrigation pump maintenance graduate and (b) the quality of the graduates meet industry standards (they can perform all the tasks expected as a result of this type of educational programme). The authors would, no doubt, counter-argue that the superintendent was not successful in terms of effectiveness because his graduates are not working in positions that use their skills.

You can begin to see the dilemma in attempts to be too precise about the particulars of the overseer's responsibilities. To return to the school superintendent for a moment, how can he be held accountable for the job environment? Isn't that someone else's job? And yet, if he and his staff were carrying out a strategic planning process efficiently (doing planning and forecasting right) which is also effective (because planning and forecasting are the right things to do as managers), they should. have known there was no demand for their product. In this case, they could have retooled their operations to train other kinds of technicians (e.g., sewer plant operators) based on a demonstrated need.