1/2010

New take on productivity: the grassroots approach

Jääskeläinen et al

Researchers Virpi Sillanpää and Aki Jääskeläinen
from the TUT's Performance Management Team
are glad that the initial experiences of using the
new measurement method have proved
positive. The method will become more widely
available in 2010.

"We can boost the productivity of welfare services by means other than downsizing or undermining service quality", claims Researcher Aki Jääskeläinen.

TUT and the City of Helsinki have developed a new model for measuring the productivity of public welfare services. The intention is to gain a better understanding of productivity and build new workplace culture.

"The word "productivity" tends to have negative connotations, and the relevance of the entire concept has been called into question by the public sector", says Researcher Aki Jääskeläinen from the Department of Industrial Management of TUT.

The public sector is under constant pressure to increase productivity. For example, services for the elderly are being squeezed between the need to develop operations and demands to raise productivity. As the population ages, the number of people working in the public sector is reduced, but at the same time the demand for the services and customer numbers increase.

"People often think that the productivity of welfare services can only be improved by downsizing and undermining the quality of the services. This, however, is not necessarily the case."

Jääskeläinen, who is currently finalizing his Doctoral dissertation that focuses on measuring the productivity of welfare services, believes that in addition to cutting resources, productivity can be increased even though, for example, more and more demanding services were produced with existing resources.

Five ways to improve the productivity
of welfare services

  • Use resources effectively by anticipating demand and customer needs
  • Find ways to increase self-service
  • Review the size of operational units
  • Ensure that human resources management practices are sound
  • Utilize existing measurement data effectively

Moving closer to practice

Jääskeläinen's view is supported by the results of a research project that centred on the welfare services offered by the City of Helsinki. The project spawned a new approach to measuring public sector productivity. Another objective was to achieve a better understanding of different factors that influence productivity, such as service quality.

The productivity measurements were carried out in pilot units within Helsinki City Social Services Department. The research generated a new productivity measurement model that has, as far as is known, never before been applied in a public organisation in Finland. The basic idea of the new model is that in order to pinpoint relevant factors that influence productivity, you must first understand the operations of an individual unit. Only then can the results be brought together and implemented higher up in the hierarchy.

"To increase productivity, you need information on factors that influence productivity at the grassroots level, such as the rate of facility utilization or the condition of patients".

The researchers were seeking to understand productivity factors by conducting action research and interviews. The research focused on practical challenges and the needs of operational executives.

"Most of the existing methods that measure public sector productivity can only be used to arrive at a rough estimate of the situation. Few concrete solutions address supervisor's need for accurate measurement data. And another problem of the older methods is that they are often detached from the real world", summarizes Jääskeläinen.

The 18-month project called "Productivity of public welfare services: the development of measurement systems that support leadership " conducted by the Performance Management Team at Tampere University of Technology came to a close in late 2009. The project was primarily funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund (TSR).

Text: Tarja Luukko
Photo: Petri Laitinen

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