Cube Group Podcast #1 – Public Value and Mark Moore
Cube is podcasting! Tristan Russell and Jeremy Levine recently had the opportunity to attend an ANZSOG hosted presentation in Melbourne by Harvard Professor Mark Moore, who posed the question: “How do we keep delivering public value in an ever-changing and devolved world?”
In this podcast, Tristan and Jeremy, together with Scott Ko, discuss what Mark had to say, what they learned, and what it means for us as public value consultants.
Mark teaches and lectures in Australia every year with ANZSOG and privately. ANZSOG also runs regular courses on various facets of public value such as this one. You can view a copy of his presentation here.
Update: Aren’t able to listen to the podcast? Here’s the full transcript:
Scott: Welcome to the inaugural Cube Group podcast! My name is Scott Ko. I work for Cube, Australia’s premier public value consultancy. I am joined today by two of my esteemed colleagues, Jeremy Levine and Tristan Russell.
Today we’re having a conversation about public value. Jeremy and Tristan were lucky enough to attend a presentation by Mark Moore, a Harvard professor from the US. He founded the concept of public value as an outcome for governments and organisations to aspire to. I wasn’t able to go, but what did you guys think? Was it a good event?
Jeremy: Yeah absolutely! It was great to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, about public value. Mark’s been in Australia a number of times; I think the last time he was here was two or three years ago. It’s always great to get insights from someone who thinks so deeply and constantly about public value, a space that we and our clients work in.
Thanks to the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and the Victorian Public Service Commission (VPSC), Mark gave a presentation on: ‘How do we keep delivering public value in an ever changing and devolved world’. He gave a quick introduction on public value and then talked about how it now relates to an ever changing world, where policy making is complex, authorising environments are complex, and gave a lot of examples and illustrations that made it real for people.
Scott: I want to touch on that quickly. Obviously we are a public value consultancy, and people in the not-for-profit or government space might know what it is, but how did Mark explain what public value is?
Tristan: It really resonated with me when Mark simply stood in front of a crowded convention and said: “Public value is about making the world a better place.” It’s as simple as that; it’s something we practice every day for our clients. I’ve been at Cube for almost two years now and for me, I found that Mark’s words were so true. The concept becomes richer and richer the more I practice it through my project work.
Jeremy is right, no one is able to articulate a concept better than the brains behind it. Belinda Clark, the Public Sector Commissioner, said that: ‘Mark is a formidable intelligence’ and I would have to agree with that.
Jeremy: He said something quite interesting when he introduced that concept: “Public value is a slogan, It’s not a definition.” He was really keen on making sure people understood that what is valuable and what is public value depends on that what it is you’re trying to create that is ‘of value’. So whilst we can think of it as creating public good – using government assets for something that is of interest to the community and that creates a particular good – we need to recognise that there is a wide spectrum of what might be deemed to be in the public interest and what is public value.
He made the point that delivering public value is, in one sense, a very simple thing to understand: you’ve got the strategic triangle that lines up the authorising environment, being clear about the outcomes you are trying to achieve, and making sure that you’ve got the organisational capacity to deliver it. However there is a lot of complexity underneath that, and that is really where he wanted to take the conversation.
Tristan: He did! He focused quite a bit on public value in practice and allowed us to really conceptualise and see how it works in reality.
Scott: Could you share an example from Mark?
Tristan: I can, but I probably couldn’t give it well as Mark could! One of his key points is that when public value is in practice, you shouldn’t always consider it as about improving organisational capacity or building operational capacity. It’s not only about the outcomes for the public. Sometimes it is something a little less tangible.
One of the points that resonated was about innovation. Mark made me realise that innovation doesn’t always have to be a final product, that it can be about innovation enablement. He made me realise that the work we do as public value practitioners is often about enabling our clients’ organisations to be innovative. The public value innovation we bring allows them to make their own public value – like a cyclical process.
Scott: I think we can all relate that depending on the different clients or organisations we work with, how they think about or define public value can mean very different things. Did Mark touch on that? Was there anything about how organisations can define what their public value is, given that it can be such a vague concept?
Jeremy: He did and he didn’t. One of the points I took away about the definition of public value is that the way you define public value has such a huge impact on what you deliver, and how. Which sounds a bit obvious but it can be illustrated in a really interesting way. If you define your public value purpose or proposition narrowly, then that’s how you’re going to deploy or mobilise your resources to achieve it.
He gave the example of the Baltimore Police Department. Their previous public value proposition was essentially ‘catch bad guys, put them in jail’, like so many police forces around the world. But the Baltimore Police Department was challenged to try to ‘Reduce fear in the community’, over and above just catching bad guys. That was quite a huge shift for a police force to broaden their public value proposition and their mission. To actually achieve it would require a hugely different way of working for that organisation, the way they get their staff to conceptualise their job, the numbers of people you put towards different parts of the organisation.
That really resonated for me particularly because in the sort of work we do with our clients, we encourage people to think beyond the limited scope of what they might do day-to-day. Whether that is rail, bus services, etc, there is always something broader that you can conceive of that you’re achieving.
Tristan: I echo those points. I think Jeremy has distilled it well. I kept of thinking The Wire when he was talking about the Baltimore Police Department, but everyone finds value in the speech in their own way.
Scott: I’m curious about the audience. Was it only government people and public sector organisations?
Tristan: It was a really good mix of public sector organisations. There were a couple of prominent peak bodies represented. It was really good to see the not-for-profit sector represented as well. Obviously a strong cohort from the Victorian public sector, who are so invested in public value. And even a couple of private citizens too.
Jeremy: Who may or may not have walked in without registering! *laughs*
Scott: The reason I ask is because we often have this conversation in Cube. We work with and help public value organisations specifically, which is often the public sector or not-for-profits, but there are actually a lot of private organisation who also get involved in public value. Was Mark talking mostly to government or not for profit organisations, or did he go broader than that?
Tristan: No, the concept was most definitely deeper and broader than that, that public value is not limited to public sector organisations at all. Mark spoke a lot about the arbiters of public value, and that those arbiters do not necessarily come from one specific cohort of people. It’s so individualised to each case. For example, we are a private organisation but we deliver public value with our clients on a daily basis, and do consider ourselves public value practitioners. The concept can’t be limited to one type of organisation.
Jeremy: He was really clear that because the world is more complex and that demands on the public sector are so in flux, the authorising environment is no longer just the minister, the executive, or politicians. It involves the not-for-profit sector, it involves your clients and customers, it involves people in the private sector. Partly because all of those people help create public value and solutions to policy problems, but also because governments and public sector agencies have to respond to those stakeholders in order to make sure the authorising environment lines up with the public value outcomes that we’re all trying to achieve.
Scott: Did Mark think governments around the world have already started embracing this multi-channel, private and public delivery of public value, or is that still in the early stages?
Tristan: That’s a good question. We had a coffee afterwards with Cube partner Deb Symons and we tried to tackle that exact question. We feel that public administration is moving rapidly towards being outcomes focused and measuring outcomes.
I recounted the story about my grandfather’s lifelong public service career, who told me that when he was in the public service, there was never any policy unit, certainly no strategy units; we’ve come such a long way since then. I think that Mark is certainly very aware that the concept of public value is now popularised within public administrations. It is certainly resonating more and more with governments, public sector agencies, and public value organisations around the world.
Jeremy: It is interesting that his book: Creating Public Value is now 21 years old. It came out in 1995 and Mark is still talking about the same context. You do feel that the conversation about public value has to broaden out to the entire community if you’re talking about really creating public good or creating the best outcomes for the community. I feel like he touched on it and he could have talked about it specifically if he was asked a question about it, but he would consider that all of those other stakeholders are important.
Scott: A natural question that comes to me is that as the conversation gets broader and broader, how do you measure public value? How do you even know that we’re having an impact on public value? There isn’t a handy poll on the street that lets people express: “Yes, this has achieved public value!”
Tristan: It is notoriously one of the hardest parts of the concept to tackle. Measuring public value is incredibly difficult and is done at such an individual level. It is done per issue, per cohort, per community. We can’t take one large-scale straw poll and say: ‘Public value has been delivered there’ but we can do it at a very localised level. For us, we feel that part of our job is not just measuring public value, but demonstrating it. We help the people who deliver public value demonstrate and articulate what they have delivered, and their public value proposition. That helps us measure public value in turn.
Jeremy: In a program sense – particularly in social policy areas – demonstrating the achievement of outcomes has always been hard, and still is hard despite advances in methods of collecting information. There is always that conflict in government where Treasury wants to fund very tangible things – often just outputs – whereas line agencies and social policy spaces want to achieve lifelong outcomes. However those outcomes can take a lifetime to achieve, thus measuring public value is still a complex space.
Scott: Any other insights from Mark’s talk you’d like to share?
Jeremy: Mark’s got an interesting sense of humour; he’s a funny guy. It was a bit of a privilege for a lot of people to engage with Mark on the day, and I think he genuinely enjoys speaking about public value to those types of audiences, who ‘get it’ to begin with and who want to engage more with it.
Tristan: The entire crowd was on the edge of their seat; they wanted to be taken on that journey. These people were interested in the delivery of public value and how to create it. It was an absolute pleasure to hear from the doyen and the man himself!
Scott: Finally, has listening to him talk changed how you individually approach public value? Did he give you any insights or a-ha moments? Or that there is some action or activity we can start doing?
Tristan: It has for me. It really reinforced to me how dynamic and fluid the environments are within which we work and deliver projects. I do a lot of work in the local government space, and they are undergoing a period of huge transformation at the moment. The authorising environment that I thought I had a month ago may have already changed. So it is a constant reminder to stay on top of things as it changes the tasks we need to do. It is a reminder that the public need is always evolving.
Jeremy: I would add that it’s reinforced for me, particularly in relationship to that strategic triangle, that public value is really ‘live’. Whilst it’s a static diagram at the core of the strategic triangle, it’s a live model with lots of tensions and lots of players. Hard work and ongoing effort is needed in all areas of the public value triangle in order for all organisations – particularly government agencies and not-for-profit agencies – to successfully track towards the public value outcomes they want to achieve. It’s only when you align those three that you can really achieve public value.
Scott: I wish I could have come along. I mean, this is our bread and butter, given our company slogan is Making public value happen. It’s a shame that I missed it but hopefully I’ll be able to catch the next one. Thank you for sharing what Mark had to say and his insights!
Jeremy: We should do a shout out to the VPSC and ANZSOG. The materials, audio and slides should be up on ANZSOG website.
Tristan: VPSC often upload the materials too. Belinda Clark was a fantastic moderator.
Scott: Terrific! Well, we hope everyone got something out of this podcast, and hope you’ll join us for more podcasts in the future.