What is the Difference Between Benchmarking and Baselining?

What is the difference between benchmarking and baselining in view of applying these concepts in research? Read and note the difference.

While benchmarking and baselining are very common terms used by many people, the usefulness and relevance of these terms in  research are not well discussed. I say this because when I did try to look for the meaning of these words online, definitions either refer to business or to computers.

This article, therefore, aims to differentiate one from the other and to highlight the importance of understanding these two terms in view of doing good research.

What is benchmarking?

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Benchmarking is the process of comparing something — performance, practices, cost, quality, among others — with a standard. A standard, in this sense, is a desirable state for doing something. It could be a model to emulate or look up to.

Benchmarking is usually applied in businesses for management purposes. An organization might want to compare itself with another organization that performs better than itself. It is with the end in view of being able to compete or at the very least, be at par with the best in the industry. The best in the industry are those organizations that perform so-called best practices that can help 1) attain quality in whatever product they may be producing, 2) save time, or 3) minimize cost. These are not, however, the only benefits that can be gained from benchmarking.

The relevance of benchmarking in doing research

First and foremost, a set of measurable indicators must be identified before making comparisons between and across subjects or entities to be compared. Without indicators, there will be no way of comparing, say, work performance, between the model organizations and the one aspiring to do better. The indicators that serve as the units of comparison, therefore, should be similar. You cannot compare the height of  individuals using inches in one and centimeters in the other. You have to standardize using just one measurement scale.

Indicators are similar to variables that researchers have to contend with for them to be able to make an objective comparison. If indicators are not measurable, the only way to make comparisons is through subjective judgement, that can be done by experts. Subjective judgement, however, is unscientific and is prone to erroneous conclusion.

To be more specific and to make clear the idea of benchmarking, consider the following scenario:

A newly established university (NEU) wants to find out if it competes well with other universities in terms of the annual number of publications its faculty produces. Specifically, the administration would like to see an increase in the number of refereed publications produced each year.

The university president sends its research staff to three well-known universities in the country to find out the best practices employed by those universities, such that they are able to deliver a lot of publications without sacrificing quality. Once these best practices are identified and applied to the aspiring university, the president would want to know how the faculty performed.

What is the indicator for comparison in this case? Obviously, it is the number of refereed publications. It would take years for best practices to take effect in the aspiring university, so the comparison may be made after, say, 10 years. After that period has elapsed, data on the number of refereed publications from the model university may be compared with the NEU.

What is baselining?

Baselining is different from benchmarking in the sense that the comparison is made between groups or organizations before and after intervention has been made. But this is not comparing them against an outside entity but with itself. Measurable indicators, in this instance, is still important in order to find out if considerable progress has been made.

In the example given above, the university may compare its past performance, i.e., the number of refereed publications for the last 10 years, with its performance in the next 10 years after implementing interventions based on best practices in model universities. There is a historical element in this comparison.

A baseline study may be used in evaluating government policy such as the performance of the number coding scheme to regulate vehicle traffic and reduce air pollution. This can prevent a costly and ineffective hit-and-miss approach to policy making.

References:

International Business Machines. (n.d.). Baselining projects. Retrieved from http://pic.dhe.ibm.com/infocenter/synhelp/v7m2r0/index.jsp?topic=%2Fcom.ibm.rational.synergy.manage.doc%2Ftopics%2Fs_t_bmg_baselining_projs.html

Management Analysis and Development. (n.d.).  What is benchmarking? Retrieved from http://www.mad.state.mn.us/benchmarking

The Benchmarking Exchange. (n.d.). What is benchmarking? Retrieved from http://www.benchnet.com/wib.htm

© 2013 July 18 P. A. Regoniel

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