Why there is always value in benchmarking for local authorities


by N Burrell, Marketing Exec, Research and Analytics, CIPFA 

Go Compare – comparison means insight

People love comparison. It’s why sports training apps like Strava are so wildly popular. Seeing where you are, performance-wise, in relation to others is extremely valuable. It can motivate you to work harder, confirm whether you’re excellent rather than merely good or average, and give you valuable insights into what your peers are doing. Strava makes its money mining data from millions of athletes and selling the insights to the sports industry, illustrating another reason why benchmarking is valuable – consolidated data from benchmarking studies reveals trends that help us identify new ways of doing things.

Value vs. effort

However, we also have to recognise that for local authorities, benchmarking can be burdensome. The process of gathering data and completing questionnaires can be complex and time-consuming in an era when there’s increasing pressure on staff and resources. So while there’s little doubt at most local authorities that the output of benchmarking data can be very valuable, is it always worth the input required?

Benchmarking transformation

If you’re investing in a transformation programme, then it almost certainly is required. Recruiter Badenoch and Clark notes that the days of outsourcing transformation planning to large consultancies are gone and that today, “senior management teams are taking full responsibility for thinking outside of the box”. Without the comparative data that outsourcing partners can provide, authorities running transformations in-house need benchmarking data to answer important questions. Are we starting from a position of strength? Are we doing something from scratch when we could use a proven approach? What does best practice look like in a particular area?

Digital insight

These questions are particularly pertinent now that digital transformation holds out so much potential for both improving service quality and making authorities more efficient. The complexity in this area is huge – from understanding fast-evolving user habits and needs, as people expect to access more services digitally, to knowing where digitisation can offer the best cost efficiencies. While there’s a huge body of case studies in the public domain, for example published by the Local Government Association, comparative data can provide more digestible and relevant analysis to inform what are likely to be very consequential decisions.

Critical mass

And that last point highlights what for many is the crucial advantage of involvement in a comprehensive benchmarking study: access to genuinely meaningful, reliable data. Isolated case studies are always informative, but when you can see your own costs, expenditure or strategy in the context of a 'critical mass’ of your peer departments or authorities, you’re much better equipped to steer important (and expensive) decisions in the right direction.

CIPFA is the market leader in local government comparative data

Our benchmarking clubs provide a solid foundation for transformation efforts and our many other comparative datasets help you understand everything from operations to service charges. We can even help you decide which authorities are most appropriate to benchmark against.

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