Contracting treatment services in Australia: Do measures adhere to best practice?

Int J Drug Policy. 2020 Oct 12;86:102947. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102947. Online ahead of print.


Background: Contracting non-government services to provide alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment requires the specification of performance measures to ensure accountability for public funds. There is currently no standardised approach by funders to the measurement of performance of AOD treatment in Australia. Funding to non-government organisations (NGOs) is complex, with NGOs managing funding agreements from a range of sources that contain a large number of differing performance measures. This study aimed to assess performance measures used in contracts for NGO AOD treatment providers and how they align with best practice.

Methods: Performance measures contained in funding agreements for treatment providers were collected from a diverse sample of both funders (n=8) and treatment providers (n=20) resulting in more than 1,100 measures. The list of measures was synthesized to a finite, non-duplicative list (n=537). Measures were assessed by three raters against 11 criteria (for example, measurable and timely) documented as best practice elements of performance measures (Council of Australian Governments, 2011a). Measures were also coded into different measurement types (such as outcome and process).

Results: None of the 537 unique performance measures used in funding agreements for treatment providers fully met the criteria for best practice in performance measurement. Whilst the literature and government policy is being directed towards outcomes-based funding and reporting, only 7.6% of measures were classified as outcome measures. The majority of measures were classified at output (41.3%) and process (23.6%) measures.

Conclusion: Current measures in contracts applied by funders to treatment services do not adhere to best practice. The development and implementation of new performance measures is required to inform AOD policy and accountability of public funds. Further, identifying more robust performance measures has the potential to lead to reduced reporting burden on service providers and better monitoring of service quality and outcomes.

Keywords: Accountability; Contracts; Drug treatment; Non-government organisations; Performance measures.