Mark H. Moore on public value


Mark H. Moore is the Hauser Professor of Nonprofit Organisations and director of the Hauser Centre for Nonprofit Organisations, at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Famous for his concept of public value, explored in his seminal book "Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government". Moore's interests focus on public management and leadership, civil society and community mobilisation, and criminal justice policy.

He has pioneered research on the way leaders of public organisations can engage communities in supporting and legitimatising their work.

Moore talked to Des Dearlove about public value and citizenship, and posed some challenging questions about the way we view public services.

Where did the idea of public value originate from?

The idea of creating public value in the public sector was developed in the mid-1990s, at a time when the world was going through a dramatic shift from the traditional world of public administration towards an increased effort to apply and use private sector management concepts and techniques in the public sector to improve the performance of those organisations.

One of the goals in writing and creating this concept of public value was to stop the pendulum swinging too far in the direction of private sector management.

What is the difference between private and public management in terms of value creation?

The critical question is: who gets to be the arbiter of the value that is produced by a particular organisation?

As we began talking about "customers" in the public sector it began to sound as though the people who were in the position to arbiter the value of public sector operation, were the same as those in the private sector - namely people who voluntarily chose to buy or not to buy a particular good or service.

Who is the arbiter of public value, if not the individual consumer?

An alternative way to think about it is that it isn't an individual who is the arbiter of value, but a collective, acting through the instrumentality of representative government.

What do you mean by collective?

You can use a lot of metaphors, society as a whole, society acting through the processes of representative government, but a crucial idea is that the individual who matters is not a person who thinks of themselves as a customer but as a citizen.

A citizen focuses on the degree to which an effort being undertaken with collectively owned assets, like the money or authority of the state, advances their conception of what is a just, fair, and good society.

So the measure of a good public service is not whether it satisfies the individual?

There are two slightly different utilitarian concepts here. The first is the markets concept where things are good or bad according to how individuals value them. The second is that society gets together and constructs a social utility function that is not necessarily the same as the satisfaction of each individual in the society.

So you have a social utility function, which is not the summation of individual satisfaction, but the degree to which the society is successful or unsuccessful in achieving a desired goal.

Can you a give an example of the different approaches?

I began my career doing evaluations of publicly supported drug treatment programmes. Had I done the evaluations according to customer analysis, I would have asked the addicts if they liked the programme, and they would have said yes - so much, they kept coming back for more.

I could have filed a report that said we were doing a good job providing public goods and service because the customers liked it, and kept coming back for more - the market test in the private sector.

But if I handed that report to a public accountability body, acting for society as a whole, they would have said that is not what "we" had in mind.

What "we" had in mind when we taxed to produce money for this drug treatment programme, was that addicts would stop using drugs, stop committing crime, get a job, and take care of their family. In that moment they would be specifying the social outcome that the collective had in mind, for the individual clients of the programme.

And it is not just delivering public services?

We say the government is in the business of delivering services, but actually the government is more often in the business of delivering a combination of services and obligations.

In medicine, for example, we provide services with obligations attached, because we understand that the patient actively participates, or fails to participate, in the production of the desired outcome - getting healthy. Some times that is about exercising and eating better. Sometimes it is attached to a particular treatment.

If the collective is the arbiter of public value, how does this work in practice?

It has to be the collective deliberating with one another that decide what the purposes of the public enterprise will be.

Are there enough "citizens" in society in order to ensure that the acts of public managers are judged according to the benefit for society rather than the individual? I would suspect not?

I think you are right. This sometimes leads me to the view that some of the most important changes in public administration will not be on the production side but the political side.

So how do we face up to this?

Part of the solution is understanding that we have to take some responsibility to take a loss on what might think is ideally desirable. We don't have the capacity to do everything.

This is where some work on the nature of leadership comes in, and we begin talking about adaptive leadership. What is challenging is helping people face up to a problematic reality that they don't like; that they have to act as citizens as opposed to customers.

Doesn't the idea of public value framed in the context of the collective, go against popular ideas about freedom of choice?

Not if you realise that the condition that makes you constrained is the actual experience of interdependence. The reality is that you are dependent on other people, but you are allowed to do act as if you weren't.

But if you a have a picture of a world in which there is a state and the state is maximising individual freedom of choice making and then providing a stock of resources necessary to fulfil everybody's aspirations for health, welfare, and employment, you are actually operating in a world where you are highly interdependent but pretending that you aren't.

So one reason public value is a challenging idea is precisely because it brings us out of the world of the individual and back into the world of interdependence and the collective. And that runs contrary to the direction that everyone seems to be going in.

Hannah Arendt (the political theorist) once said that the only kind of freedom worth having is the one in which you participate in constructing the architecture of your own restraint.

About The Author

Des Dearlove & Stuart Crainer
Des Dearlove & Stuart Crainer

Des Dearlove is a long-term contributor and columnist for The Times and a contributing editor to Strategy+Business. Stuart Crainer is a contributing editor to Strategy+Business and executive editor of Business Strategy Review.