Several studies on the development of outcome-based performance measures have stressed that identifying and reaching consensus on program goals is one of the first and most critical steps (Dyer, 1994; Horsch, 1996 (b); Yates, 1997). This aspect of building performance measurement systems can be both challenging and time consuming - a study of GPRA implementation found that developing long-term strategic goals and translating them into specific performance measures was one of the most difficult elements of building a system (GAO, 1997). This process generally requires stakeholders to engage in consensus-building to define broadly shared visions of what program goals are important and what strategies are required to achieve them. As part of this effort, it is also critical to ensure that there is buy-in from top leadership at the outset (Bittner, 1998; Hatry, 1999).
The authorizing legislation clearly articulates four goals for TANF, and states enjoy wide discretion in setting their own program priorities from among those goals and in choosing how to spend their block grant funds. There is a broad consensus among stakeholders that work is a central focus of TANF. This consensus is reflected by the near-universal first-year performance competition among states on the various work-related measures of the TANF High Performance Bonus. Many states have also adopted internal goals on measures of their success in placing welfare recipients in jobs and assisting them in retaining employment and increasing their wages.
Agreement among stakeholders on goals beyond work is less universal. States are not required to spend equal amounts of block grant funding on each of the four TANF goals nor even to spend funds on each of the goals. To date, states have exercised their discretion by funding activities as diverse as programs focused on cash and work-based assistance; programs that include work activities, child care, and other work-based supports; programs that support the formation and maintenance of two-parent families; programs focused on preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; programs that expand supports for all working poor families, whether or not they have previously received cash assistance; and various combinations of these activities.
Only when goals have been agreed upon, does it make sense to discuss specific measures and related performance standards. Even if it is not possible to achieve full consensus, it is still important to include all stakeholders in the discussion, in order to obtain a real-world perspective on what is operationally feasible, what is the potential for unintended consequences, etc.