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Understanding the value of benchmarking for local governments

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

While some challenges local governments face are unique to their particular communities, many are ones being experienced across the country. And yet, most local decision-makers lack regular opportunities to compare themselves to other communities, especially those beyond their own state.

In partnership with CitiIQ, CivicPulse recently conducted a nationally representative survey of 235 local government leaders to better understand how they engage in peer-to-peer learning. Our analysis reveals an unmet appetite to learn more from peer communities across the country.

Peer communities transcend state boundaries

Although state professional associations of local officials play an essential role in providing local officials information, the communities that are “peer” to them often exist beyond state boundaries. In our survey, we found that population size, level of revenue, and the economic characteristics of the community were all more important considerations to officials than whether their community was in the same state.

The figure above shows the results of a question where we asked how useful officials would find comparative data about different kinds of local governments. While a majority found that comparisons within their state would be useful, respondents found each of the other three factors to be even more important.

Staffing and compensation loom large

We also explored what topics would be of most interest for national benchmarking. In the figure below, we show how useful each topic was rated to be. Respondents were most interested in benchmarks on staffing and compensation, with more than 7 in 10 saying that data on these topics would be useful to them.

While comparative information on salary and staffing is one of the most common benchmarking services provided in many industries, the current interest in this topic in local government may be further spurred on by the current challenges with staff retention in the public sector following the ‘Great Resignation.’ Governments have been finding themselves on the losing end of salary competition, as private sector compensation has risen more quickly. In response, some state and local governments even are bringing back retired employees.

It is also noteworthy which topics had less interest. For example, citizen satisfaction and technology use were on the lower end of the list. That said, a majority of respondents showed interest in all of the topics offered.

Taken together, the survey results demonstrate a real demand among local officials for national benchmarks on a wide range of topics. Though some national local government professional associations are providing such information—and innovative private companies like CitiIQ, The Atlas, and PolCo are also doing pioneering work on this front, more publicly available data and research is needed to help local government leaders around the country to make informed decisions on a day-to-day basis.

Survey Background

The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample survey of 235 elected and appointed leaders, fielded between March to April 2022. The sample frame draws on Power Almanac’s continuously updated contact list of government officials from counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with CitiIQ and implemented by the CivicPulse Team. Below are the key survey items used to generate the results:

How useful is it to be able to compare your local government with the following types of other governments?

  • Governments from my state

  • Governments with similar population sizes

  • Governments with similar annual revenue

  • Governments with similar economic sectors

Answer choices: Extremely useful, very useful, somewhat useful, slightly useful, not at all useful

For each of the following topics, how useful is it to be able to compare your local government to other local governments?

  • Government service performance

  • Citizen satisfaction

  • Economic performance

  • Government spending

  • Software technology usage

  • Staffing and compensation

Answer choices: Extremely useful, very useful, somewhat useful, slightly useful, not at all useful

Media Contact

Nathan Lee, PhD

Managing Director of CivicPulse

(618) 319-3404


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