Public sector benchmarking:
an application to Italian health
district activity plans
Emidia Vagnoni and Laura Maran
Department of Economics, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy
Purpose – The paper seeks to suggest an application of the benchmarking technique on the content
evaluation of the health district activity plans (HDAPs).
Design/methodology/approach – A literature review on benchmarking leads to the deﬁnition of a
benchmarking process, which is utilized to evaluate and compare the contents of the HDAPs. These
documents link the planning activity of the health districts of a region to the objectives
comprehensively established at higher levels. Consequently, to deﬁne a common level of comparison of
the HDAPs, the contents of the texts are evaluated through an in-depth study of the speciﬁc law
prescriptions and the adoption of an hermeneutic point of view. The HDAPs collected among the
health districts of a single Italian Region represent the empirical data set and their speciﬁc
benchmarking involves the deﬁnition of benchmark scales and placement of “best practices”.
Findings – Benchmarking can improve planning capabilities of the health districts pointing out their
most positive differences. Its speciﬁc application on the HDAPs highlights its ﬂexibility and
usefulness; whilst at the same time, it opens new insights on the recent evolution of the health care
systems towards accountability, cost consciousness and efﬁciency.
Practical implications – The results of the benchmarking comparison will lead to the design of an
empirical blueprint for framing health district planning data and improve the understanding of the
Originality/value – The paper highlights the role of benchmarking both in providing a
comprehensive lecture key of the reality of district planning and suggesting cues from the best
Keywords Benchmarking, Corporate strategy, Health services sector, Public sector organizations, Italy
Paper type Research paper
Learning and sharing information are two core concepts in organizational change and
benchmarking adoption (Patterson, 1996).
First developed by Xerox Corporation in 1979 (Kouzmin et al., 1999), benchmarking
is a systematic and continuous process of assessment of a ﬁrm’s products, services and
methods, compared to those of the best-in-class. Bullivant (1994, p. 1) further sustains
More simply benchmarking is ﬁnding and implementing best practices.
Wynn-Williams (2005, p. 485) recognizes a central principle of benchmarking in the
assessment of performance against external criteria. This concept can be indifferently
applied to the private or public sector depending on what is benchmarked.
Balm (1992) remarks that the benchmarking process involves a comparative
investigation which aims to analyse the gap between an organization’s present
level of performance and the best that exist, named benchmark or standard.
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Benchmarking: An International
Vol. 15 No. 3, 2008
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