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Results-based Budgeting not likely to improve service delivery

More likely to result in bloated bureaucracy and to be used to justify cuts and privatization

A new report by the Parkland Institute finds that Alberta’s implementation of Results-based Budgeting (RBB) is driven by ideology, and will not yield the promised results of more effective and efficient service delivery.

The report, entitled Smoke Screen: Results-based Budgeting, Privatization, and Public Sector Cuts in Alberta, draws on research from other jurisdictions and evidence from Alberta to highlight the extensive flaws of performance management techniques like RBB:

  • techniques like RBB are usually presented as unbiased and objective, which serves to reduce accountability and couch ideologically motivated goals like privatization and cut-backs;
  • public services are highly interconnected and multifarious, making them highly difficult to evaluate in the prescribed ways imposed by RBB;
  • techniques like RBB result in increased administrative burden and higher costs, drawing resources that could have otherwise gone to providing public services;
  • past performance management efforts in other jurisdictions as well as in Alberta have failed to significantly alter how services are funded and evaluated.

Concern over the dubious track record of performance management efforts like RBB is exacerbated by the Alberta Government’s refusal to make public important documents related to their RBB process.

“Our biggest concern,” says report author Shannon Stunden Bower, “is that this isn’t about efficiency and effectiveness at all, but rather a mechanism meant only to justify continued privatization and de-funding of public services in Alberta.”

The report finishes with a recommendation that the Alberta Government pause the process and essentially turn RBB on itself by conducting a thorough and open assessment of the entire policy.

“The government would then be obliged to recognize that a wealth of expert research suggests that RBB is highly unlikely to come close to fulfilling the grandiose promises made by its advocates, or to justifying the significant investment of public resources required,” says Stunden Bower.

The Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta.  The report Smoke Screen is available for download on the Parkland website.

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