Posted by Colin Weatherby 790 words
One of the challenges in local government is understanding public value – what it is for your community and how you can create it. It can be difficult to separate it from private value expectations and to see the relationship with the operating capacity of the organisation. This post explores a conceptual tool to understand public value and gaps that need to be addressed in achieving it.
Many years ago when asked to be the officer leading a community advisory committee I developed a model to help the group understand what we were talking about and to focus on gaps where we could be most effective in making a difference. It worked very well. At the time I didn’t really understand why. Now I think it was because is identified the public value gap that the group could work on. Here it is.
The model is a set of concentric boxes. They could be circles. Do whatever works for you. The first and largest box represents the sum of all the ideas held by every individual in the community about something. It could be the way customer service is provided. Each person has different views on what should be done to meet their exact requirements. Normally, no one has any expectation that every individual’s exact requirements will be met. For example, if someone wants the Mayor to visit them to personally deliver any letter. Or if someone wants a car to be sent to take them to the council offices when they need to go there and pay a bill. Some people might want this but no one expects that they will get it. It is the sum of all private value expectations.
The next box fits inside the first and represents those ideas held by individuals that there is collective agreement to do something about them. Going back to the customer service example, it could be that all letters should be sent by post. People need to make their own way to the council offices if they can. The exact requirements of each person won’t always be met but an adequate and universally available level of service will be provided. This decision is usually made by the authorising environment and is effectively the public value proposition.
The next box fits inside again. It represents the resources that the public (community) agrees it will provide to implement its ideas (i.e. create the public value). Usually this is the taxes that will be paid, or other acceptable fees and charges, and the degree of compulsion accepted to make everyone comply. In the customer service example, it could be that funds are available to send every resident ten letters each year, or that someone with a good reason why they can’t get themselves to the council offices will receive a taxi voucher. The resources will be less than the total amount of public value everyone will agree should be provided. This is a key point because sometimes people in the community think that their specific private value expectations have been funded by their taxes, but more often they think that the agreed public value has been fully funded. It seldom is. Therefore, this box shows the operating capacity of the organisation with available resources.
The last box fits inside again and represents the value that is actually produced. It is what the organisation has managed to achieve using the resources at its disposal. Typically it will be less than the potential of those resources because of inefficiencies. Hopefully it is not a big gap. This box shows the operating performance of the organisation in trying to provide the expected public value.
As you can see, the four boxes show gaps. The choice I put to the community advisory committee was ‘which gap do you want to work on?’ Do you want to sit here and tell me how inefficient the organisation has been using resources (gap 1)? What are all the occasions you know about where we got it wrong? Or, do you want to talk about the adequacy of the resources available to deliver the agreed public value (gap 2)? Maybe you don’t agree with the public value proposition (gap 3)?
It was surprising how quickly people understood the situation, particularly the councillors, and decided on what they wanted to do. They went straight for the resourcing gap. They understood the agreed public value and wanted to use their influence in the authorising environment to get the resources needed to deliver it. They were concerned about the efficiency of the organisation but were prepared to leave that to officers to improve and let them know what was happening. They stopped raising the fringe concerns of people they knew who wanted a specific private value outcome.
Try it. It works.
Moore, Mark H. 2013 Recognising Public Value.
Addendum 4 April 2015
An alternative way to describe the value represented by each box is shown below: