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Towards an improved performance and reporting framework for community night patrols

Performance measurement has emerged in recent years as a key strategy to assist governments and other service providers assess the impact of their operations, improve service provision and effectively target resources (Cunneen & Luke 2007; Mears & Butts 2008; Rollings & Taylor 2008; Winokur, Tollett & Jackson 2002).

What is performance measurement?

A range of definitions of performance measurement have been proposed. The United States of America Center for Accountability and Performance Measurement (cited in Bazemore 2006: v) defines performance measurement as

a method of gauging progress of a public program or activity in achieving the results or outcomes that clients, customers, or stakeholders expect...[it] tells people how well public programs are doing (see also Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center 2004; Thomas 2006).

Good performance information has therefore emerged as an essential component of quality management and accountability (ANAO 1996).

What is the purpose of performance measurement?

Performance measurement has a range of purposes. Measuring performance:

  • assists agencies to identify problems as they arise and allows for action to be taken to address problems;
  • assists agencies to identify whether policies are likely to be effective;
  • informs evaluation strategies;
  • enables progress in achieving goals to be tracked;
  • enables the prioritisation of new stakeholders;
  • enables resources to be targeted towards achieving objectives;
  • strengthens practice; and
  • promotes the accountability of service providers (Audit Commission 2000; Harp et al. 2006; Mears & Butts 2008).

Reporting on performance measures also has a range of purposes, including:

  • demonstrating that an agency is operating effectively, and that changes have been properly implemented;
  • increasing public confidence in the system;
  • promoting effective service delivery and accountability; and
  • assisting policymaking and related processes (Harp et al. 2006; Mears & Butts 2008).

What are the particular challenges of measuring Indigenous justice outcomes?

It is widely acknowledged that there are unique challenges and considerations relevant to measuring performance of Indigenous justice outcomes, including:

  • while sound performance standards need to apply, statistical indicators can be at the expense of specificity, context and history, which may undermine meaningful measurement of success;
  • meaningful indicators need to be developed with input from communities, capturing human dimensions, incremental changes and local outcomes, otherwise it may appear that nothing has been achieved due to the high-level nature of the performance framework;
  • performance information can be improved if communities have input into it and it should be shared with them and service providers in the community to support improvement;
  • performance indicators for achieving justice outcomes (ie reducing offending) should not be the only focus for community safety. For example, contributions to school retention rates and reductions in youth suicide may also be relevant;
  • prevention work may have a range of impacts, including reducing witnessing of violence, the de-escalation of alcohol and drug problems, and improving the reintegration of juveniles and adults after custody incidents or sentences. Reductions in offending and victimisation are not necessarily the only indicators of success;
  • remoteness and mobility of Indigenous populations introduces challenges for service delivery and urban approaches to measuring performance may not be appropriate (ie transportation of persons back to their home community and cultural authority may be an important crime prevention strategy in a remote community);
  • performance indicators ideally measure progress in regard to outcomes, as well as essential processes (eg for implementing and for managing risks) and structural elements (eg adequacy of essential complementary services); and
  • the existence of a strategy that authentically involves the community to improve community safety is in itself an outcome that is valuable (Willis 2010).

If the above considerations are not taken into account when developing a performance framework for Indigenous-specific, community-focused programs such as the NT community night patrols, the value and strengths of such programs can be missed in performance assessments.

Why is measuring the performance of community night patrols in the Northern Territory important?

A number of key documents relating to NT community night patrols highlight the need to measure the performance of community Night Patrol Services. One principle of the National Partnership Agreement On Remote Service Delivery (COAG nd b: C-1), for example, is that ‘programs and services should have regular and transparent performance monitoring, review and evaluation’. Similarly, Allen Consulting Group’s (2010: ix) review of policing in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory recommended that:

service standards should be developed for night patrols to complement remote policing activities by NT Police....[and]....quantitative and qualitative performance measures should be established in order to monitor adherence to and accountability for service standards for policing in remote communities.

In addition, the Night Patrol Services in the Northern Territory Operational Framework (AGD 2010), the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (COAG nd a) and the Indigenous Justice Program Guidelines 2010–11 (AGD nd) all stress the importance of collecting performance information on community night patrols.

Measuring the performance of community night patrols in the Northern Territory is important for a number of reasons. In order to secure ongoing and adequate funding for the program, it is vital to have an understanding of what community night patrols are doing, how much of an impact they are having on communities and how community Night Patrol Services could be improved. Measuring performance contributes to:

  • identifying and addressing issues in relation to the operation of community night patrols;
  • informing any future evaluations of community night patrols. Future evaluations will be able to build on data collection strategies already in place to evaluate community night patrols;
  • enabling resources to be effectively targeted and therefore enabling community night patrols to assist as many people in communities as possible; and
  • providing community night patrols with an insight into how their service is operating and ways to improve it.

This project contributes to meeting the accountability requirements for the NT community night patrols program; it clarifies their unique contribution to community safety and building on sound accountability practices already in place, it presents a practical and enhanced performance and reporting framework.

Performance indicators and reporting

As noted above, data collection on community night patrols are currently limited (Pilkington 2009). To address this, the current research project has developed a suite of Key Performance Areas and Indicators (see Appendix A) and a Generic Reporting Guide (see Appendix B) for community night patrols in the Northern Territory. These were developed based on the Program Logics described above.

It should be noted, however, that the role of Program Logic in developing a performance framework is to clarify the ‘ideal’ performance information. In developing the Key Performance Areas and Indicators and Generic Reporting Guide, the following practical issues were considered:

  • building on the performance information and reporting schedules already used by community night patrols to minimise the administrative burden of improvements;
  • addressing problems with the extent and quality of the current data, including inconsistent and/or lack of agreed definitions of key terms and the counting of different units;
  • ensuring that information and data from community night patrols addresses in a meaningful way How much have they done? How well have they done it? and Did they achieve what was expected?;
  • responding to barriers for data collection and reporting, such as small operations with limited administrative funding and support, limited literacy and limited information technology;
  • building understanding of performance measurement and reporting among community night patrols and how it may be useful to them;
  • using revisions to the reporting system already underway, including the development of a database and training and support to staff responsible for uploading recorded data; and
  • improving the sharing of data and reports with community night patrols to allow them to test the reliability of the reports and to use them for continuous improvement of the community night patrols.

Importantly, the information and data collected need to be analysed in a timely manner and shared within government and with the community night patrols. It allows community input into whole-of-government reporting about progress on community safety and will provide community night patrols with vital information to improve and build on their successes.