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Monday, 15th September, 2008

Ratings and Rankings of Public Service Performance
A special issue of International Public Management Journal Vol. 11 Issue 3

National and international rankings and ratings of public service performance have become common place today. Supporters claim they are a valuable tool for spurring performance improvements. Detractors argue they can cause output distortions, such as encouraging school teachers to ‘teach to the test’ and thus narrowing the curriculum, and can be misleading; for instance, when the difference between those ranked is less than the likely measurement errors. However, love them or hate them, it seems ratings and rankings for public services are here to stay.

The latest publication to come out of the Programme, this special issue of the International Public Management Journal, thus attempts to go beyond the standard social science critique of ranking’s statistical reliability and validity. It asks:

The issue consists of six papers that address these questions, beginning with Steven Van de Walle’s article that argues although rankings are based on the assumption of some measure of consensus as to what counts as ‘performance’ and ‘public services’ this is far from clear-cut in the European Union. This is followed by articles from Christiane Arndt and Geert Bouckaert that examine the process of developing rankings and how this impacts on the rankings that are finally produced in the World Bank and Dutch government respectively. Christopher Hood and Ruth Dixon develop a method for ranking the rankings and argue that maybe it is time for a kite-marking of rankings to be introduced. The final two papers are concerned with developing better rankings. Jean de Kervasdoué claims life expectancy is a relatively robust measure of health outcomes, and is of great relevance to health policy, since there is no simple relationship between life expectancy and health spending. Deborah Wilson and Anete Piebalga examine the use of ‘contextual value added’ in ranking English schools, showing that while this adds something important to measures based on raw test scores, it has difficulties as a ranking exercise.

This issue originates from the International Public Management Network Workshop that the Programme hosted at Worcester College, Oxford in August 2007, where early versions of these papers were presented.

IPMJ cover