Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

B: Putting the model into actions

B11: Targets

B11.1 Target setting

You are now in a position to consider setting realistic but challenging targets: you know how the service is currently performing in key areas (baseline data collected on your impact and process indicators) and you know where you would like to be. However, quantifying the improvements needed can be difficult – and target setting should not be about ‘plucking figures out of the air’. Some further points:

  • Benchmarking can provide a valuable context for target setting. It is an integral part of Best Value and even if you are not yet engaged in a Best Value review, it will be useful to look at how other similar services are performing. CIPFA performance information and survey results might provide clues to how others are doing; so might the results of national research.
  • Some areas of activity are linked to national targets: for example ICT training of public librarians; public access to ICT in libraries; improvements in literacy and basic skills.
  • Your local authority will have its own priorities and targets - these might help, but resist linking to local authority targets to the point where you are taking on what you cannot achieve.
  • Try to avoid being too ambitious when setting targets – this is a recipe for high risk and high stress. You should aim to set targets which are ‘sufficiently ahead of the present state of play to make a difference’, but not so far ahead as to be unattainable.

Public library services have a long way to go in this area, remembering that 41 authorities had no targets in their most recent Annual Library Plans. Life is not helped by some dissonance at government level: for example, although the importance of public libraries in relation to various aspects of lifelong learning has been made clear, this clarity has not been translated into national standards or targets and there appears to be some difference in view between the DCMS and the DfEE in relation to libraries.

B11.2 Process and outcome/impact targets

Planning tends to be dominated by process targets in much the same way that services generate a lot of process indicators and hardly any outcome/impact indicators. However, you will always use fewer outcome targets than process ones; and indeed it is a mistake to adopt too many outcome/impact targets because each one inevitably drags related process targets along in its wake.17 You should aim to draw up between one and three impact indicators for each priority aim.

  • Outcome/impact targets are posed in terms of what difference the service will make (to the community, to individuals and groups, to the authority)
  • Process targets are concerned with changes in what the service does and how.

There is a further distinction between process and impact targets. As one service manager said:

“The trouble with Audit Commission indicators is that they are all geared to the annual financial cycle. Impact does not occur to fit the annual cycle and has to be viewed over a longer term.”

B11.3 Writing targets

The wording of the targets should not be too difficult if you are happy with your indicators. Whereas an indicator will be couched in terms of:

  • the number of staff confident to…
  • the number of staff with knowledge of…
  • the proportion of schools satisfied with…
  • the number of unemployed/OAPs/ teenagers using…

the targets will state what specific improvement is being aimed at:

  • an increase of X % in the number of staff…
  • an increase in Y % in the proportion of schools…

Some targets will not be described in these terms. You may decide to develop a new stock selection procedure or to put new monitoring/data collection mechanisms in place. Your targets in these cases will be described in terms of completing the tasks.

All targets should be time-related.

17. ARNOLD, R. Target setting: school and LEA in partnership Slough: NFER 1998