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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today on the progress that Departments have made in establishing robust data systems to measure and report performance against 2003-06 Public Service Agreement targets. This interim report draws on the NAO’s examination of the data systems used by seven Departments and the cross cutting Sure Start programme. It summarises the findings from those validations and highlights

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successful practices which have wider applicability and can improve the management of data systems across government. It will be followed-up by a second report, providing the NAO’s overall findings, once validations of the other Departments with 2003-06 PSA targets have been completed.

The NAO found that Departments had made variable progress in meeting good practice principles for managing data systems. For some targets, Departments had overcome substantial measurement challenges to develop and operate good systems which addressed the main risks to the reliability of reported data. But for other targets Departments had not, at the time of validations, developed operating systems that managed all the significant risks to data reliability or explained the existence of those weaknesses to readers of their public performance reports.

The report identifies a series of steps that Departments can take to improve data systems. These include:

  • Planning and co-ordinating the data needs for new systems. Departments need to give more attention to data issues when PSA targets are selected and they should involve staff from relevant business areas, statisticians and analysts, and providers of data;
  • Raising the profile of data issues, for example, by allocating clear responsibilities for data quality and ensuring management challenge, and check the credibility of, outturn data;
  • Developing a corporate view of risks to data reliability so that they can be actively monitored and effectively managed;
  • Ensuring systems are adequately defined and documented so that they can be operated consistently over time;
  • Making users of performance data aware of limitations in underlying systems. This will help users make informed assessments of Departments’ results and thus build trust in public reporting.

"Good quality data are crucial for the effective use of performance measures and targets in improving service delivery and accountability. Departments need to devote more attention to data systems if they are to get full value from their performance management systems in the round."

Sir John Bourn


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