The Challenges of Accountability in the Human Services: Performance Management in the Adult Protective Services Program of Texas
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Measuring and managing performance is a critical part of public sector management, but the human services have lagged behind other government functions in implementing organizational accountability. Texas Adult Protective Services (APS) is the state program responsible for addressing abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly and disabled. APS is used as a case study to explore the challenges of organization accountability in the human services. The APS efforts began in 2004, when the organization was under extraordinary scrutiny for poorly handled cases, inconsistent policy expectations, and poor client outcomes.
Looking at both the literature of performance management and the case of the APS program, the research found that some of the challenges in managing performance in people programs lie in organizational culture, an emphasis on direct interaction with clients over the effective documentation, and a pervasive opinion that the most personal, qualitative interactions with clients are simply not measurable. Public human services agency functions are often hampered by an inadequate emphasis on the collection and use of performance information and a frequent lack of clarity or agreement as to their core missions. Further, they often do not have proven technologies for achieving desired outcomes and promote best practice models based on anecdote and conventional wisdom, as much as well supported evaluation of program outcomes.
The research explored strategies that the APS program developed for building sustainable and accepted systems. The stated primary objectives of the APS leadership were to increase accountability at all levels of the organization, mitigating the weakness of existing external performance measures, and having performance standards that directly supported organizational goals of better client services. In developing a performance management system, the research found evidence that the APS program put a strong emphasis on field employee participation; ease of use, relevance and consistency, and in developing tools to measure what had previously been ruled immeasurable.
Finally, the research looked at the impacts of those strategies, and delved into quantifiable improvements generated, in part, by the efforts of the APS programs to bring accountability throughout the organization. Improvements in the timeliness and quality of case actions and related documentation were observed, even though the APS performance management system in its early stages of deployment.
Evidence was found that the challenges to implementing accountability in the human services could be overcome with the appropriate planning, organizational commitment, and resources. The APS case study may serve as a guide for human services agencies and other public organizations with complex missions and dynamic social conditions.