Helping governments and nonprofit organizations track and improve their effectiveness and efficiency

Our Issues

Public service managers need the best performance information possible to manage their programs, make decisions, and continually improve services. In addition, demand for greater accountability and efficiency has increased considerably as government agencies and nonprofit organizations are being asked to do more with less. Funders and taxpayers want to see results, and programs need reliable information and tools to monitor the quality and outcomes of their services.

Performance measurement is the process of regularly tracking progress on a series of program indicators. Performance management is the practice of using that data to inform decisions and make improvements.

The Urban Institute has been a leader in performance measurement and management for four decades. Early on, we pioneered performance management techniques that government agencies still use to evaluate and improve public services, from garbage collection to human services to economic development. Our research also helps public agencies and private nonprofit organizations identify what questions to ask, what data to collect, and how to use that data to manage and improve their work.

We also work on such performance management issues as motivating public employees and evaluating alternative service delivery approaches. And we provide objective information on such controversial issues as public versus private service delivery, analyzing the trade-offs between cost and effectiveness.

Our Approach

Our work cuts across policy domains and is applied both at home and abroad.

  • We provide hands-on assistance to government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
  • We develop and promote innovative practices in performance management, including identifying meaningful performance information, collecting reliable data, and incorporating performance metrics into these planning and measurement systems.
  • And, we build cutting-edge tools to make performance measurement and management more accessible to practitioners.

Our Impact

Beginning in the 1970s, when government was focused solely on costs and amount of work performed, we encouraged the measuring and monitoring of program results and service delivery quality. This work is greatly influencing the movement toward performance measurement and performance management both in government and in the nonprofit sector.

In 1993, Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act, which requires each federal agency to develop strategic plans, annual performance plans, and performance reports. Urban Institute has assisted many federal agencies in meeting these requirements, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, and the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development.

In addition, colleges and universities have used our reports on performance measurement and performance management for many years to educate future administrators and policy officials.