I recently attended a session on Public Value and thought that I would write up a brief synopsis of my thoughts on the day. It’s really interesting, though I will admit a challenging area to study. As my brain is wired up somewhat erratically on a Friday afternoon, this may take a second reading to make sense to you.

I have just entered ‘Public Value’ into Google and was gifted with 131,000,000 results in 0.43 seconds, which to me, is a little bit scary.

In the interest of continuing my professional development, I have worked out that reading one of these articles every day will mean that I’ll finish reading them in about 358, 904 years, give or take a decade. Right then… I’d better get started.

What is Public Value? To me, Public Value is about resource optimisation. Adding value beyond statutory duties of a public service and then measuring the impact on the short, medium and long term outcomes of people. It’s not quite as easy as that, value is open to perception and as such demonstrations of Public Value need to lie in evidence of transformation in social conditions. It is the primary function of every public manager to create value for their stakeholders and this can only be achieved through a collective desire to change society for the better. A public manager is someone who is trusted with resources and has control over them. They have a purpose and are accountable to ensure that they act in the public interest in an efficient and effective manner. As the perception of value alters over time, so does the purpose of the public manager and as such there needs to be a constant realignment of activity and task.

Let’s get to some of the specifics and look at how we can create Public Value. Firstly, one needs to examine the social conditions that need to be improved. This is the desired outcome. For example, a better education that supports all children and young people. Through this process, substantive problems are identified, some more obvious than others and as a result there arises specific barriers to overcome. This could be a set of needs which have to be met. If we are to take our example further, this could include; unemployment levels, poverty, disengagement from learning and so forth. The hardest part of this process is to work out what to do next. We could easily spend a few hours concluding on this. I’ll pick one or two obvious ones; individual personalised learning for every child and young person, the right learning provision, the right personal support and the fight financial support.

Of course, all of this is more easily achieved if we can vindicate the rights of the target ‘audience’. This could be anyone affected by societal change. Let’s stick with children and young people between the ages of 15 and 19 who are vulnerable during episodes of transition from school. What opportunities could be exploited to make this task easier? There are always some, you just need to find them. To act upon the task environment described, public managers are required to have their strategies and policies authorised. This would be done by the person or body to whom the manager formally needs resources to survive and be effective. In Scotland, this would be the local authority, the council or perhaps even the Government. The authorizing environment is a complex arena and could be made up from various funding sources. This needs to be clear on the outset so that everyone knows the chain of accountability. It’s usually this authorisation, when poorly handled, which ends up as a scandal in the local paper.

Assets and capabilities entrusted to the public manager from the authorizer produce an operational capacity. When you hear people talking about expanding their capacity to plan and deliver services, they are more than likely referring to other influences which can inform the desired result. The value chain is the process by which fungible assets like money, labour, ideas etc are deployed to produce a particular result. Fungible is a term which describes something that can be transferred, transformed or exchanged. Any programme or procedure which is designed to tackle the task environment and make change for the better in public service delivery really needs partners and stakeholders. This increases the boundary of operating capacity and ensures collaboration and ownership.

If the public manager is also an adaptive leader who is bold, persistent and understands consequence, they are best placed to provide direction, protection and order in the interests of their clients. When this is realised, the public perceive the service as good value for their money and it is this concept that creates Public Value. When you next express your displeasure at a public service and you feel you’re not getting good value, stop and think about this process. Where did it go wrong and how can it be resolved. Public value is not a linear process but a cycle of reflection and balance. Equilibrium is a difficult thing to achieve, but nobody said it would be easy!


Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lee Dunn, Lee Dunn. Lee Dunn said: Creating Public Value in Education – Nobody Said It Would Be Easy!: http://wp.me/pUhln-2Y […]

  2. Walt Patterson 1 Dec 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Scotland’s Colleges (FE Colleges) are a great example of Public Value. Scotland’s Colleges have been doing some work on how that is defined and what the measures might be. If you have further interest a good contact is Principal Graeme Hyslop at Langside College, Glasgow.

  3. Thanks Walt I may look into that!

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