December 11, 2014

Public value – are you getting it?

Does your organisation ‘get’ public value? In a recent post, I discussed some key challenges facing today’s public value leaders. In part one of this two-part blog, I build on that concept by introducing a profiling tool that describes how different organisations approach the concept of public value.  Where does your organisation fit?

There are two key dimensions to understanding the public value maturity of your organisation: public value awareness and public value achievement. Let’s take a look at each, so you can use the profiling tool.

Eyes wide open: public value awareness

Public value organisations exist to create public good. It’s important to understand that public value isn’t about inputs, like teams of good people, processes, infrastructure and business systems. And public value is also not about outputs, like prompt train services, passport production, putting out fires, collecting recycling and building community housing. Leaders generally have a good handle on the inputs and outputs of the organisations – they are the value chain through which public good is generated, but not the public value itself. Public value is about outcomes. Outcomes like social inclusion and families living without violence. Outcomes like a safe, healthy and educated community, a rich Australian culture and heritage, economic growth and prosperity, thriving and confident rural communities and a healthy, sustainable environment for us to live in. These are the signposts that say you’re really making a difference, and ultimately they are the reason public value organisations exist. Looking beyond the nuts and bolts of service delivery to shape a compelling public value proposition is a strategic shift in thinking that many organisations and leaders are grappling with today.

Ears to the ground: public value achievement

If shaping an organisation’s public value proposition is hard, defining and measuring public value success is unquestionably harder. Some of my clients actively set public value goals, then monitor and measure them – they are leading the way. However, many organisations have not made the leap to public value goal setting, from which strategies can be formed, teams can be inspired and success can be measured. Why? Because setting and measuring social, economic and environmental public value goals is not easy. How does a fire service know if it is building resilient communities? How does a school know if it is transforming the lives of its students? How do public health providers know they have enhanced the mental and physical health of their patients? How does a prison determine if the men and women they have rehabilitated are making positive contributions to the community? To truly understand the positive difference your organisation is making, defining and measuring public value success needs to be high on the agenda.

Four types of public value organisations.

By placing the concepts of public value awareness and public value achievement in a matrix, with ‘low’ or ‘high’ ratings for each, four organisation profiles emerge:


The gold standard. Deeply understand their public value proposition, set public value goals and align their business model to deliver them. These organisations are thought leaders who champion service delivery innovation and build change-ready, public value oriented cultures.


These organisations understand the public good they want to deliver, but their business model is not geared to achieve it. The strategies and outputs of the organisation are not driving public value.


Have not defined their unique role and point of difference. The public value outcomes of the business are unclear, and the organisation lacks a compelling and motivational reason for being.

Worker Bees

Achieve public value by instruction not design. These organisations deliver public good by following legislation and regulation. They are technically capable and proficient, but enhancement of their public good outcomes is limited by an inward focus.

Where does your organisation sit?

In part 2 of this blog, I explore how public value leaders can shift their organisation profiles from dreamer, drifter or worker bee to entrepreneur, and make a bigger difference.

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