Performance management at Bristol City Council

This case study explains how Bristol City Council is working to develop a performance management culture which embraces the use of data and insight to drive improvement.

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Bristol City Council's approach to performance management

Bristol City Council has been developing its approach to performance management and has invested in an insights programme to help with this. The council is also moving to a ‘whole systems’ approach, which looks at the impacts of individual directorates on outcomes across the council, rather than looking at services in isolation. This new approach is leading to more productive discussions around performance which look at what the data is showing and why, and what action should be taken as a result.

The council manages performance through a corporate strategy which sets out overarching themes and priorities for the council, and a business plan which comprises a list of activities and key performance indicators (KPIs) which departments report against on a quarterly basis. The quarterly performance reports go to cabinet which also ultimately signs off the council’s performance framework and business plans.

For the quarterly performance reporting, performance information is gathered, and managers add their own narratives which are collated and reported through the divisional management team structure. This progresses through directorate meetings, cabinet member briefings, cabinet, corporate leadership board and scrutiny.

The Insight, Performance and Intelligence (IPI) team also runs a service planning exercise where each service sets out its plans and key priorities for their area for the coming year, ensures these are aligned to the business plan and corporate strategy, and identifies costs against budget. This process takes place over three or four months and is followed by the business planning process where activities and KPIs for the coming year are agreed, and a member scrutiny workshop is held.

Partners and bodies including the council are also involved in a parallel process - the one city plan - which contains its own milestones and measures

Performance management in practice

The role of councillors

Whilst targets are set by officers, there is ongoing engagement with cabinet members for oversight and discussion of any potentially contentious matters. Councillors are involved in oversight of the performance management process and there is engagement throughout, for example through cabinet and through scrutiny commissions, both of which receive quarterly performance reports.

Getting the right systems in place 

The council has various internal business systems to manage data and is in the process of migrating these into the Microsoft Data Lake to allow a single view. An older overarching system – SPAR- net – has also proved effective and is how the council gathers narratives and data around KPIs. The council primarily uses its own internal data, although some is external or open data such as indicators around emissions or education. The council also uses information gathered from its own resident annual quality of life survey.

Reviewing the KPI target setting process 

The IPI team is currently undertaking a review of the council’s target setting process with the aim of standardising this and achieving targets that are challenging yet realistic. This has involved asking more challenging questions of directors during the target setting process and adding an element of external scrutiny and increased rigour to the process.

Cross cutting indicators

The review also developed a process to address the issue of indicators which don’t fall easily into the responsibility of just one service area, and are often difficult to quantify, capture and measure (for example, issues around gentrification). As a result of the review each of the seven themes within the new corporate strategy are now owned by a director, who will then have responsibility for these through the life of the strategy.

Developing whole system thinking

 The IPI team has been working to steer the organisation away from a focus on RAG ratings, reporting and monitoring, with managers historically tending to focus only on the performance of their own sphere of influence. Instead, it is moving towards making best use of data and insight and linking this to performance outcomes. To enable this the council has invested in an insights programme, with directorates encouraged to consider how their activity is linked to performance improvement, outcomes and changes across the council.

The IPI team is also about to commence performance clinics, with discussions around ‘what good looks like’ and how individual service outcomes impact across the council as a whole. This approach will lead to more focussed, mature discussions around performance, looking at what the data is showing and why, and considering what action or activity will be taken as a result.

The impact

Better understanding of data and insight 

Through the council’s insight work, data is now used more effectively and to inform activity. There is increased awareness and interest in the outcomes that this work can achieve. Having data visualised in a way that allows users to interact with it, see its value and to understand how it can impact on their day-to-day activity has been important.

This has particularly been the case with adult social care and the service has benefitted greatly from understanding more about how much they are doing, the cost, the impact and the demand. In this service area, analytics and insight are giving officers a new perspective around their activity and they are undertaking work as a result, which is changing outcomes for people and driving performance improvement. The aim is to replicate the new approach across the council.


Data as a performance improvement tool 

At the council there are different views about performance management. Understanding that data is a tool that can help staff do their jobs more effectively is still being embedded in some areas.

Standardising the council’s approach 

Individuals undertake performance management, data analysis and insight work across the council and are doing this in varying ways. The aim of the IPI team is to standardise this work.

Joined up working 

Linked to the point above, the IPI team is also working to improve joined up working across the council. For example, currently individual managers attend the corporate leadership board to present their own reports, however this approach is not assisting the chief executive and their senior leadership team to understand how work links across the council. The IPI team is working instead on creating more of an ‘organisational health report’ which will give insight into the big issues facing the council. These can be drawn for example from audit, risk, HR, customer complaints and the business plan and this dashboard view will allow the corporate leadership team to have more focused discussions and consider how services may be impacting each other.


Guy Collings, Head of Insight, Performance and Intelligence, [email protected]