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Measuring public value

Measuring public value

Are we getting value from our public sector managers?

Public value, broadly defined as the value that organisations, including governments, contribute to society, is important to communicate and measure, particularly in an era when citizen’s trust in government is at an all-time low.

Moore’s law

Harvard Kennedy School academic, and Creating Public Value author, Mark Moore, says that the task of public sector managers is to create public value and that, to be successful, they must navigate a strategic triangle encompassing outcomes, resources, capabilities and budgets and the authorising environment.

According to Moore, public value also refers to personal judgements about the social standards, principles and ideals to be pursued and upheld by government officials.

Need for better methods

While inspired by Moore, BehaviourWorks researchers, Nick Fawkner and Stefan Kaufman, believed that there was a lack of clarity about how to measure the extent to which organisations are generating public value, which has rendered researchers unable to quantitatively study the causes, consequences and correlates of public value.

So, they undertook a systematic review of the literature on public value measurement from 1995 to 2016, including quantitative, qualitative and conceptual studies published in peer-reviewed journal articles or books (in English) and which proposed a method by which government bodies could measure the extent to which they are generating public value as conceptualised by Moore.


Their subsequent paper, published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, noted that, while 543 studies were found, only 19 met the inclusion criteria. They included a wide range of public value dimensions, including:

– public satisfaction

– economic value; generating economic activity/employment

– social and cultural value; social capital/cohesion

– political value; democratic dialogue, public participation

– ecological value; sustainable development, reducing pollution, waste, global warming

– service delivery; take‐up, satisfaction, choice, fairness, cost

– financial performance; revenues, expenditure value for money, efficiency

– non‐financial performance; efficiency, customer satisfaction, service quality

– social value from the user perspective, the tangible economic value from the administration perspective and the intangible economic value from the administration perspective

– trust and legitimacy

– protecting citizens’ rights.

Synthesis and findings

The researchers synthesised the findings into four domains.

1. Outcome achievement; the extent to which a public body is improving publicly valued outcomes across a wide variety of areas.

2. Trust and legitimacy; the extent to which an organisation and its activities are trusted and perceived to be legitimate by the public and by key stakeholders.

3. Service delivery quality; the extent to which services are delivered in a high-quality manner that is considerate of users’ needs.

4. Efficiency; the extent to which an organisation is achieving maximal benefits with minimal resources.

While all the included studies explored dimensions of public value, few made recommendations about how to turn these qualitative dimensions into quantitative scores.

Nick and Stefan’s paper, entitled Avoiding Theoretical Stagnation: A Systematic Review and Framework for Measuring Public Value, Australian Journal of Public Administration, Volume 77, Issue 1 has hit a nerve with readers of The Mandarin, with a post on the paper receiving thousands of views online.

The review suggests it may be possible to develop universal measures of public value, questions remain about how to operationalise and practically apply such a measure.

Knowledge gaps

The researchers note that there remains a significant gap in the literature, “it will remain impossible to test hypotheses about the causes and consequences of public value, and impossible for organisations to reliably measure the extent to which they are generating public value”.

As such, “progressing to empirical testing of the four dimensions identified is an important next step for practitioners, researchers and theoreticians who wish to see public value research mature”.

Paper here.


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