Publications and Reports

Public value is an actual thing

What is Public Value anyway?

‘Public Value’ refers to ‘the value created by government through services, laws regulation and other actions’ (Kelly et al. 2002). It was coined in the nineties by Harvard professor Mark H. Moore, who saw it as the equivalent of shareholder value in a company or enterprise; a measurement of satisfaction with the services provided, and positive outcomes as a result of its activities. Does the public feel it is getting value from this organisation and does it elicit high levels of trust?

A shareholder in a company can measure how effective it is by profits and dividends, but if you’re a public entity like Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA), how exactly can your public value be measured? 14% more clean air? 56% less pollution in our waterways?

It’s a difficult term to pin down, but that hasn’t stopped Nick Faulkner from BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) and Stefan Kaufman from EPA giving it a shot. In fact, they’ve just had a paper published on Public Value in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.

Measure for measure

Governments love metrics that let them measure and report the performance of every aspect of their remit; we all have ‘KPI’s’ we’re expected to meet as part of our jobs. But when it comes to public value, there hasn’t been an agreed set of criteria for measuring government entities such as EPA.

We know they’re doing a job, but what is it, and can it be measured? Using a systematic review technique, Nick and Stefan looked at all the measurement tools they could find and synthesised them into a framework.

Most measurements are specific to particular contexts, like workplace relations (agreements processed, strikes averted, etc) or designing government websites, so they collected all the different criteria across various measures and came up with four different factors which seem to be relevant across every context:

1. Outcome achievement

2. Service delivery quality

3. Trust and legitimacy

4. Efficiency.

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‘The aim is to allow government departments to benchmark what they do, as we don’t really know what the causes and correlates of public value are. It’s a nebulous concept that raises all sorts of questions; how do we achieve it? What are the benefits if we do? And who is achieving it most? Nick and Stefan’s work takes us a step closer towards being able to answer these questions.

Read all about it

To see how Nick and Stefan approach this complex problem, their paper is published here (paywalled). An open-access, pre-publication version of the article is available here.