Case Study - RSSB: Using Indicators and Targets

Client: Rail Safety and Standards Board
Sector: the transport sector
Services delivered: performance improvement

Setting targets for the rail industry

Many texts on performance management present targets as an essential mechanism for driving improvements in performance. Government departments and agencies in the UK have embraced this philosophy and set targets to reduce waiting times, improve literacy, etc.

Supporters point out that carefully thought out targets can focus minds, helping organisations set priorities and allocate resources appropriately. Detractors complain of increasing bureaucracy and distorted behaviours resulting in unintended undesirable outcomes.

Common Safety Targets

This debate is spreading to Europe and we have been asked to look at the potential issues associated with setting common safety targets for railway administrations. As part of efforts to improve interoperability of rail services, the EU is encouraging a common approach to safety and this includes setting targets in key areas. However, for a number of reasons, safety performance varies widely across the continent and there are concerns about how to set targets that are meaningful and do not create ‘perverse incentives’.

To inform this debate, the Rail Safety and Standards Board asked us to review experience of targets in other sectors (most of which is in the UK) and then identify the key principles that need to be understood when setting and applying common safety targets.

The project has resulted in clear criteria for determining whether indicators and targets are likely to achieve their aims, and these are being used to inform the debate on how common safety targets should develop.