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Professor of Public Administration, Joseph Wholey, explains that contrary to popular thought, it is possible to increase program equity without compromising program efficiency-through performance measurement and management systems.

Equity—the fairness with which organizations allocate resources, deliver services, or achieve outcomes—is an important value for both public and nonprofit organizations. It is often suggested that equity and efficiency are incompatible, and that efforts to improve program effectiveness run counter to efforts to increase equity. For example, a job training program may enroll only the most job-ready clients in an effort to increase its number of placements. This approach will increase the program’s efficiency, but reduce equity in the delivery of its services. In situations like this, being results-oriented conflicts with being equitable.

Program equity and efficiency do not have to be incompatible. If policymakers and senior managers agree that equity is important, they can: first, define equity goals, second, develop performance measurement systems that emphasize both equity and efficiency, and third, adjust management systems to create greater equity in their programs and in the communities that they serve.

Defining Equity Goals
The first step to increasing equity is achieving agreement among stakeholders on what the equity goals are. Evaluability assessment, a process for determining whether a program is ready for useful evaluation work, can help create agreement on equity goals. Through this process, policymakers and program managers can: compare and contrast the performance expectations of key stakeholders; reach a reasonable level of agreement in defining the program’s intended inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes; establish or revise the program’s goals; and develop or revise the strategies for achieving these goals.1

Involving stakeholders who represent different population groups in this process helps organizations to develop goals and strategies that include a clear focus on equity. If key stakeholders emphasize equity in service delivery or service outcomes, then the program’s goals should reflect that emphasis.

Related Resources

Wholey, J. S. (1983). Evaluation and effective public management. Boston: Little, Brown.

Wholey, J. S. (1994). Assessing the feasibility and likely usefulness of evaluation. In J. S. Wholey, H. P. Hatry, & K. E. Newcomer (Eds.), Handbook of practical program evaluation (pp. 15-39). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Measuring Progress in Creating Equity
Organizations have many options regarding what types of performance measurement systems they can use to address equity concerns.

Organizations can create performance measurement systems that directly measure equity. For example, an organization may use role-playing to evaluate whether different groups of job applicants, home buyers, or renters receive equal treatment. “Paired role-playing has been used since the 1970s by private and public fair housing organizations to test for discrimination against minority home seekers by real estate and rental agents.”2

Organizations can use performance measurement systems that report separate performance scores for different population groups. For example, to encourage effective services to disadvantaged populations, many school districts now measure and report both overall student performance and the performance of various minority groups. Such efforts will grow as the federal government encourages and requires state and local educational efforts that “leave no child behind.”3

Organizations can use statistically-adjusted measures of effectiveness or statistically-adjusted performance standards that reflect the influence of client characteristics. For many years, for example, the U. S. Department of Labor has adjusted performance standards for job training programs to reflect the influence of client characteristics and other degree-of-difficulty factors.4

Adjusting Management Systems for Equity
Once organizations have set equity goals and developed performance measurement systems that address equity concerns, they can develop results-oriented management systems to help increase equity. Though attention often tends to focus on equity of inputs, the most interesting and challenging issues typically relate to equity in service delivery or outcomes.

Individuals and organizations seeking to increase equity must find ways to change management systems to create the incentives needed to change behavior. If the incentive systems don’t change, nothing will change. Intangible incentives may include regularfeedback on performance, public recognition, meetings with policymakers and senior managers, and increases in flexibility. Financial incentives may include bonuses, increases in budget levels, and award or renewal of discretionary grants and contracts.

Efforts to enhance equity may draw inspiration from the success of others. For example, the Veteran’s Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation have used performance agreements to focus executives’ attention on agency performance goals.5 The County Board of Arlington, Virginia, used frequent public reporting and meetings with the County Manager to stimulate the hiring of minorities and women. At national, state, and local levels, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has changed the incentive systems of elected officials and helped create greater equity in public services.

Joseph S. Wholey
Professor of Public Administration
University of Southern California
2103 21st Road North
Arlington, VA 22201
Tel: 703-524-0022

1 See Related Resources: Wholey, J. S. (1983); Wholey, J. S. (1994).
2 Turner, M. A., & Zimmerman, W. (1994). Acting for the sake of research: The use of role-playing in evaluation. In J. S. Wholey, H. P. Hatry, & K. E. Newcomer (Eds.), Handbook of practical program evaluation (pp. 310-337). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
3 Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, each state will: measure the progress of all students toward state-developed standards for what a child should know; the progress of each state, school district, and school will be publicly reported; and state and district reports will show achievement gaps for students who are economically disadvantaged, are from racial or ethnic minority groups, have disabilities, or have limited proficiency in English (U. S. Department of Education. (n.d.) Introduction: No child left behind. Retrieved July 18, 2002, from
4 U. S. General Accounting Office. (1999). Managing for results: Measuring program results that are under limited federal control. Washington, DC: Author.
5U. S. General Accounting Office. (2000). Managing for results: Emerging benefits of selected agencies’ use of performance agreements. Washington, DC: Author.

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