This PhD research examines institutional explanations for the use of performance information (PI) to learn and improve by government agencies. Despite widespread criticism of and disappointment with New Public Management (NPM) reforms, performance budgeting (PB) is credited with contributing to efficiency and effectiveness in several public sector agencies. The fact that an agency successfully uses performance information to realize improvements or efficiency gains may however be the result of a diversity of factors that bear little or no connection to the PB system itself. Corporate culture, public sector motivation, leadership commitment and discretionary power of managers have already been identified as important in this respect. Moreover, the causal relationship between successful PB adoption and the purposeful use of performance information (PI) by an agency may in fact be reversed. The central question posed in this research is therefore: How do underlying cultural and historical factors explain successful PB in government agencies? In an attempt to further explore the ‘DNA’ of agencies with a reputation of successful performance budgeting, this study turned to alternative explanations provided by neo-institutionalism. More specifically, a number of indicators concerning an organization’s history and culture were explored as explanations for purposeful use of PI. Among these were: reflective openness, cognitive frames the impact of events and leadership. The research consisted of four qualitative case studies of four public sector agencies in the Netherlands and the US that share a reputation of purposeful use of performance information, that is, PI use that is consistent with PB reform objectives. Four indicators were used to assess the degree to which a case can indeed be qualified as a PB success. Subsequently specific institutional factors believed to be beneficial for PI use were tested by eight indicators. The primary source of evidence consisted of semi structured interviews with key organization members. Overall, 36 persons were interviewed who were selected to represent management, performance & budget staff and operations of each agency as well as staff tasked with oversight on the part of the agency’s principal. By means of triangulation the findings from interviews were compared with questionnaire results and findings from analysis of documents.

The results indicate that in all agencies examined, deeply rooted cultural characteristics largely explain purposeful use of performance information. In two of the cases, events or leaders provide an additional explanation. Although one should be careful with generalization from a limited number of case studies, the results cast doubts on some widely held assumptions among budget reformists. As the cases studied were carefully selected to represent the relatively scarce good practices of PB implementation, the findings challenge the assumption that purposeful use of PI results from PB reforms. While PB adoption may not provide the main explanation for purposeful performance information use by these agencies, it can be credited with positively impacting effectiveness and efficiency in the areas of goal alignment, capacity planning and stakeholder dialogue. The analysis from the case studies suggests that cultural and historical institutional factors are a necessary conditions for PB to work as envisaged Therefore anecdotal evidence of purposeful PI use by government agencies should not be mistaken for success of a NPM/PB recipe that can be reproduced elsewhere. For future attempts to advance this popular public financial management (PFM) reform, it is suggested that measurement and reporting systems should remain close to organization members’ own measures of professionalism and that reforms should simultaneously address aspects of organization culture associated with organizational learning.