Using Data to Manage for Performance at Public Universities

Published date01 March 2014
Date01 March 2014
Thomas M. Rabovsky is assistant
professor in the School of Public and
Environmental Affairs at Indiana University
Bloomington, where he teaches public man-
agement. His research largely focuses on
accountability, performance management,
managerial values and decision making,
and higher education policy.
260 Public Administration Review • March | April 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 2, pp. 260–272. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12185.
Thomas M. Rabovsky
Indiana University Bloomington
As performance-oriented reforms have become more
commonplace in recent years, questions about the factors
that drive organizational adoption and use of perform-
ance systems for internal management are of central
importance.  is article uses data taken from a sur-
vey of presidents at public universities to advance our
understanding about the use of data and performance
management strategies within public organizations.  e
central research question is, why do public administrators
choose to employ performance management strategies? In
addition, the author also explores variation in the extent
to which public universities use performance manage-
ment strategies for three tasks that are central to public
management: (1) strategic planning, (2) evaluating
employees, and (3) interacting with external stakehold-
ers. Findings indicate that public universities often use
performance data to help manage, but many of the causal
factors that lead to data use vary across management
As performance-oriented reforms have become
more commonplace in recent years, questions
about the factors that drive organizational
adoption and use of performance systems for internal
management are of central importance (Kroll 2012;
Moynihan 2010). Despite the increasing prevalence
of performance management within public agen-
cies throughout government at all levels over the last
couple of decades, there is still substantial variation
in the extent to which organizations use data to
inform decision making and improve management
(Behn 2008; Julnes 2008; Kroll and Vogel 2013;
Moynihan and Hawes 2012; Moynihan and Pandey
2010; Moynihan, Pandey, and Wright 2012a, 2012b;
Poister, Pasha, and Edwards 2013; Pollitt 2006).  is
discussion about organizational use of performance
data has recently become prominent within higher
education policy, where there has been considerable
ef‌f ort to explore important questions about the ways
that quantitative data and internal performance diag-
nostics can be employed to promote better student
learning outcomes, contain rising costs and tuition
increases, identify opportunities for external funding
from alumni and private donors, and be more ef‌f ective
in ef‌f orts to expand capacity for research and develop-
ment (Coburn and Turner 2012; Colyvas 2012; Ewell
2011; McLaughlin and McLaughlin 2007; Weisbrod,
Ballou, and Asch 2008).
Using data taken from a survey of presidents at public
universities, this article makes several important con-
tributions to the literature on performance manage-
ment and information use within organizations. First,
I explore the role of administrative values, and politi-
cal ideology in particular, as a driver of performance
management within public organizations. Despite the
fact that performance management is often touted
as a value-neutral reform that seeks to overcome and
negate irrational decisions made through the political
process, there is considerable evidence that, at least
within the context of external accountability poli-
cies, ideological and partisan factors shape the way
that actors use and interpret performance informa-
tion (Dull 2006; Gilmour and Lewis 2006; Lavertu
and Moynihan 2013; Moynihan 2006).  is article
extends this line of research to examine the impact
of political ideology on performance management
techniques within public organizations.
Second, I evaluate the extent to which external
accountability policies, such as the performance
funding policies that have been implemented in many
states for institutions of higher education, inf‌l uence
administrative behavior with respect to performance
information use. Despite the fact that many exter-
nal policies are designed, at least in part, to prompt
changes in administrative behavior, there is little
evidence that these policies have had their desired
ef‌f ects (Melkers and Willoughby 2004; Radin 2006;
urmaier and Willoughby 2001; U.S. Government
Accountability Of‌f‌i ce 2005). I f‌i nd that these con-
cerns are valid with respect to performance funding
policies, but it is unclear whether this is the result
of failures in policy design and implementation or
whether it suggests a failure in the underlying theory
of these external accountability policies.
Using Data to Manage for Performance at Public Universities

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