Challenges in the Comparative Analysis of Local Government Bureaucracy and Performance Measurement: The Case of Italy and the United States

36 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2007

See all articles by Emanuele Padovani

Emanuele Padovani

University of Bologna - Department of Management

Eric A. Scorsone

Michigan State University - Department of Agricultural Economics

Date Written: September 4, 2007


Across the globe, local governments and their brethren regional and national governments, are facing the growing prospect of performance measurement and management (Hatry, 1999, 2006; De Bruijn, 2002; Poister, 2003), performance based budgeting (for example Berman and Wang, 2000), and the general rubric of new public management (OECD, 1990; Hood, 1991, 1995; Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Pollitt, 1993; Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2000; Guthrie et al. 2005). In essence, these approaches demand greater accountability, in many cases greater data collection and compilation and reporting in order to create a more transparent and more responsive government. Importantly, these new management systems are also critical in facilitating the comparison of governments within and across countries.

Extensive research has been conducted over the last two decades on understanding the evolution of performance measurement systems (PMSs), their adoption and, in some cases, their effectiveness, both subjective and objective (see for example Poister, 2003). While some attempt has been made to address cross-national trends in PMSs, very few systemic efforts have been attempted to uncover similarities and differences. This type of analysis may illuminate the importance of different aspects of the adoption and use of performance measurements in local governments across country borders.

Progress has been made in understanding challenges in measuring and comparing bureaucracies across countries at the national level (see for example, Van de Walle, 2005, 2006). The next stage or evolution in this area of interest is the comparison of local government performance and bureaucracy. This is particularly important given the continuing push by many international agencies for devolution or decentralization of government functions (for example OECD, 2001).

This paper will proceed to address two basic questions. One, an analysis will be undertaken on the methodological challenges of comparing local government bureaucracy across countries. Starting from the existing literature, a methodological framework will be constructed to identify the key variables and options in comparing the local government bureaucracies of countries. Second, the paper will build on this methodological framework and compare the local governments of the United States and Italy. This comparison, that will be carried out being aware of the possible pitfalls which can undermine such cross-national research (Eglene and Dawes, 2006), will be facilitated by the joint surveying of local governments in these countries in the spring of 2007.

One of the challenges in comparing local governments are the different set of functional responsibilities encompassed by different levels of government. One must find a way to standardize service delivery responsibilities across different countries and systems. A second challenge is the availability of data, even within a single country, to compare or benchmark performance across countries. A third challenge is the differences in expectations among the population and elected officials as to the role of government and bureaucracy in society. As a matter of facts, one major criticism has been the subjective nature of the comparative indicators (Van de Walle, 2005).

Our analysis proceeds by addressing the challenge of compiling comparable data and assessing how even nearly identical survey instruments can lead to challenges in assessing the adoption and use of performance measures across two countries. Using a quantitative analysis, the aim is to contribute to Study Group on Productivity and Quality's theme of comparisons of public sectors across countries. Questions that will be directly addressed include: What are the challenges in comparing local government bureaucracies across countries? Can instruments be designed to facilitate this comparison? What are the conditions under which PMS is established and succeed? What are the enablers of successful PMS? Does PMS bring to deliver all the desired effects claimed by theory?

Keywords: performance measurement, international comparisons, local government, public sector

JEL Classification: H70, O18, O19, O57, R50, R59

Suggested Citation

Padovani, Emanuele and Scorsone, Eric A., Challenges in the Comparative Analysis of Local Government Bureaucracy and Performance Measurement: The Case of Italy and the United States (September 4, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Emanuele Padovani (Contact Author)

University of Bologna - Department of Management ( email )

Forli' Campus
15, p.le Vittoria
Forli', FC I-47121
+39(0543)374-621 (Phone)
+39(0543)374-660 (Fax)


Eric A. Scorsone

Michigan State University - Department of Agricultural Economics ( email )

East Lansing, MI 48824
United States
+1(517)353-9460 (Phone)
+1(517)432-1800 (Fax)


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