Tuesday, October 17, 2006

KPIs dont mean much for non-commercial organizations

In Singapore public and social culture, there is an inherent lack of employment of critical mass of professionals trained in those areas such as social scientists( e.g. economists, sociologists, psychologists), public affairs experts (e.g. public finance experts, international relations etc) . Instead the positions of organizations that deal with public or social issues there is a prevalent tendency to fill them with technocrats such as those trained in business studies, engineering, accountants, lawyers, doctors etc.

Due to the fact that Singapore is no longer developing but newly industrialized, we now no longer have the straightforward problems within our public and social space. Therefore these same kind of technocrats who in the past were able to address the prevailing issues are unable to do it now simply because the issues are more complex now, interlinked with so many other issues etc. Just understanding what the issue is a hurculean task that hence requires the one addressing it to be adequately trained in that area in order to conceptualize it. Only through such conceptualization can one fully or adequately understand such an issue.

Or if you want to explain in another way you can say any social or public issue requires conceputualization in order to understand it. However for a developing country that process of conceptualization is a lot simple and direct whereas that for a industrialized or developing country is a lot more complex. Hence in our yester years since our educational system emphasized on creation of technocrats and since our labour force favoured technocrats, there was a strong tendency to hire technocrats to address all public and social issues. it worked then cos since the problems were a lot more direct and simple hence allowing simple and direct solutions to the implemented.

in today's industrialized singapore, public and social issues are a lot more complex and no longer direct nor simple, therefore conceptualization is very complex. since technocrats are not trained in advanced or necessary methods of conceptualization, they naturally use their primitive methods which tend to be simple and direct.

one of such methods is the prevalent use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor, measure and evaluation performance of public and social agencies/organizations. they borrow this concept of KPIs from business studies and corporate and commercial world. in the corporate and commercial world KPIs still work simply because their processes and systems and universes are still relatively more simpler and relationships are more direct.

within the social and public sphere, KPIs may tell you the facts through statistics and data. but the question is how much meaning does they hold? indeed because KPIs are unable to explain the truth and reality in social and public organizations, KPIs are incomplete in these areas.

outcomes of social and public organizations need to be measured using other indicators. the problem is technocrats have no training to understand what these other indicators are and therefore they not only are unable to recognize them, they can't devise them. these practical technocrats who unfortunately can only be practical will foolishly dismiss the process of devising these indicators or the very indicators as theoretical. practical approach has its limits. in social and public issues, one will always go into unknown areas. its part of the learning curve if one tries to develop organizations or evolve. this is the real process of thinking out of the box. the box is the domain of one's practical experience. the social or public science expert will not only be able to devise these "other indicators" they will be able to implement them. i am not talking of a hypothetical situation but the real and current situation of public and social sector management in the developed world.

somehow in singapore the public and social sectors dominated by technocrats remain cynical of these methodologies. we can always say boldly that we in singapore do things Our Way. this Our Way can yield results that we can display and boast. But the question is how meaningful, true and real are these results.


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