The utility and effectiveness of routine health information systems (RHIS) in improving health system performance in developing countries has been questioned. This paper argues that the health system needs internal mechanisms to develop performance targets, track progress, and create and manage knowledge for continuous improvement. Based on documented RHIS weaknesses, we have developed the Performance of Routine Information System Management (PRISM) framework, an innovative approach to design, strengthen and evaluate RHIS. The PRISM framework offers a paradigm shift by putting emphasis on RHIS performance and incorporating the organizational, technical and behavioural determinants of performance. By describing causal pathways of these determinants, the PRISM framework encourages and guides the development of interventions for strengthening or reforming RHIS. Furthermore, it conceptualizes and proposes a methodology for measuring the impact of RHIS on health system performance. Ultimately, the PRISM framework, in spite of its challenges and competing paradigms, proposes a new agenda for building and sustaining information systems, for the promotion of an information culture, and for encouraging accountability in health systems.