Understanding Local Service Delivery Arrangements: Are the ICMA ASD Data Reliable? 613
Abstract: The authors utilize the two latest ICMA Profile of Local Government Service Delivery Choices surveys
to investigate whether the service provision and delivery arrangement information reported in the surveys accurately
represents reality and, if not, what factors contribute to generating incorrect or unreliable survey responses. Interviews
with practitioners are used to better understand both the accuracy of the survey responses and improvements that
could be made to the survey instrument. Results suggest that the ICMA ASD survey data are highly erratic, with
more than 70 percent of the cases (N = 70) investigated containing some inaccuracies. A qualitative analysis shows
that the majority of the errors appear to be caused by the lack of a clear definition of service provision or by the service
titles being too vague or too broad, both of which likely lead to discretion in interpreting survey questions and thus
inconsistent answers by individual respondents over time.
Evidence for Practice
• Contracting is only one of many policy tools that local public managers utilize to deliver local services;
this finding highlights the need for future endeavors to identify the wide variety of innovative delivery
arrangements that practitioners adopt to meet citizen demands.
• Collaboration among local governments for service delivery is a widespread practice and takes a variety of
forms, including, but not limited to, joint service delivery, consortia, and special districts.
• Local nonprofit organizations, whether in human services or the arts, are often partners rather than contract
agents in local service delivery, operating autonomous programs and providing essential services to local
residents with government support.
• The ICMA ASD data, if improved in accuracy and equipped with greater details regarding the wide array
of production modes that locales utilize, can serve as a useful source to inform public managers about local
innovations in service delivery.
Approximately every five years since 1982, the
International City/County Management
Association (ICMA) has fielded its Profile of
Local Government Service Delivery Choices survey
(also known as the Alternative Service Delivery
[ASD] survey or the ICMA ASD survey), asking local
governments what types of services they provide to
their residents (i.e., provision) and how they arrange
delivery (i.e., production) of those services. The scope
and types of information the ICMA ASD survey
collects have been comprehensive and consistent over
the years, allowing researchers to theorize about and
systematically analyze local service delivery decisions
using large-N longitudinal samples. The value of
this data source in the local contracting literature
has been evident in the widespread utilization
of the ICMA ASD data to test local government
outsourcing propositions, including by many of
the most cited articles (see, e.g., Brown and Potoski
2003; Ferris and Graddy 1986; Hefetz and Warner
2004). There is little doubt that the ICMA ASD
survey has been instrumental in the development
of the body of literature on local government
However, as will be expanded on later, over
the years, there have been concerns regarding
the veracity of the ICMA ASD data. Given the
prominence of this survey in the local governance
research area, it is important to examine the
reliability of this data source. In doing so, we pursue
three major goals in this study: first, to assess the
extent of the reliability concerns by verifying the
accuracy of previous ASD survey responses; second,
to diagnose the nature and causes of the problems
in the hope that we might provide specific warnings
and cautions to be taken for any future use of
the existing data; and, finally, to develop a set of
recommendations for future improvement of ICMA
ASD survey instruments.
University of Oklahoma
Understanding Local Service Delivery Arrangements:
Are the ICMA ASD Data Reliable?
Elizabeth Bell is a PhD candidate in
the Department of Political Science at
the University of Oklahoma. Her research
agenda broadly speaks to questions of
importance for public administration and
public policy, with a substantive focus on
accountability and education policy.
Scott Lamothe is associate professor
in the Department of Political Science
at the University of Oklahoma. His
research interests include privatization
and contracting, public management, and
innovation and diffusion of public policy.
Meeyoung Lamothe is associate
professor in the Department of Political
Science at the University of Oklahoma.
Her research interests include local service
delivery arrangements, contracting, and
nonprofit advocacy and accountability.
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 4, pp. 613–625. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.