Performance measurement uncertainty on the Grand Canal: Ethical and productivity conflicts between social and economic agency?

Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 2005, 54 (7), pp. 595 - 612
Issue Date:
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Purpose The article aims to present an overview of how the conflicts related to economic and social agency within particular public sector performance measurement arrangements can work for and against the application of balanced scorecard style systems. It highlights some of the dilemmas that are caused when performance measurement and productivity enhancement are required within broad areas of public service, especially where market behaviour is relevant. Design/methodology/approach Using a case study approach based on literature review and field research, this article focuses on the gondoliers (gondolieri) of Venice, Italy. The analytical basis is historical record, Aristotelian ideas of ethical responsibility and contemporary literature on performance measurement and productivity. Findings The research, so far, has found that performance is not necessarily determined by formal standards and technical measurements. It can be, but performance is also situational and opportunistic and mediated by more subjective and basic concerns. The findings confirm that performance management systems are largely socially rather than technically constructed and operated. As such they will continue to pose dilemmas for public sector managers that will be difficult to resolve. Originality/value This is an unusual case study as the gondolieri do not fit neatly into the usual paradigm of public service. Yet they have existed in a similar form for nearly 1,000 years and have operated within performance measurement systems during that time. Thus, it is possible to track the kinds of individual and organisational conflicts, which arise and impact on performance measurement systems, and have done for many centuries up until the present day.
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