Public value has become something of a catch-all in public management and administration. A paper in the International Journal of Public Administration, by ANZSOG and University of Melbourne Professor of Public Management Janine O’Flynn, reflects on the development, debate and future prospects for public value.
Public value developed in the mid-1990s as part of the quest to find a strategic approach guiding public managers in their roles. Professor Mark Moore from the Harvard Kennedy School is considered the architect of the approach.
In conceptualising public value, he drew in the following elements of strategy theory in the private sector:
Moore saw public management as conceiving and implementing public policies that realise the potential of a given political and institutional setting. He later reframed this as creating public value.
The core challenge of the public value framework is encapsulated in the strategic triangle (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 depicts the three main areas of a public manager’s focus and the aspects they must keep aligned. Keeping these aspects balanced is a central task in the value creation process, especially as what constitutes public value is a contested and political space. Amid these tensions, public managers are challenged to articulate a clear purpose and enlist others to support their conception of value.
The strategic triangle provides three tests for the public manager:
The strategic triangle also highlights two environments:
Over time, Moore’s ideas have gained attention outside the US, especially in Australia, Aotearoa-New Zealand and the UK. There have also been conceptual developments extending Moore’s work:
Alongside these developments, critiques also emerged:
More in depth study is needed into aspects of public value. Areas of focus include:
The language of public value is travelling into other fields. An example of this is the work of Mariana Mazzucato on the value of government. An innovation economist, Mazzucato’s focus has been on a more macro version of public value where the state is seen as value creator, creating and shaping markets.
When she has more directly engaged with Moore’s work, Mazzucato has been largely dismissive of it. She makes the case that public management scholars rely heavily on conventional economics and see the role of the public sector as reactive and market-correcting.
A close read of both Moore and Mazzucato shows that while they have a different focus, there are clear areas of overlap. In framing article public value as the focus of strategy, Moore is encouraging public managers to use their imagination and to innovate. Mazzucato has made similar calls.
In assessing public value, it has been argued public value has still not broken through to become an umbrella concept. Instead it remains stuck in a back-and-forth process of contestation. There is considerable work to develop it, including an ambitious empirical agenda to provide some ballast to a range of dimensions and applications.
Considerable work also remains for those that seek to more clearly position public value in the field, especially at a time when the language of public value is travelling into other domains.
Where to for public value? Taking stock and moving on – Janine O’Flynn, International Journal of Public Administration, February 2021
The original article is available via individual subscription to the journal or institutional access through a library service such as a university library, state library or government library.
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