As so often happens when preparing a presentation, one discovers new questions within familiar territory. This is what happened to me when I was thinking about the role of the public in Public Value and how far we will go to acknowledge the public as authorizers of value.
Mark Moore was one of the earliest proponents of engaging the public as co-producers in creating public value. But he also clearly identified the public as the ‘ultimate authorisers’ of value. Kelly et al (2002) furthered his arguments for public engagement making a case from the perspectives of both principle and pragmatism. One the one hand, they argue that public preferences are at the heart of Public Value in a democracy where only the public can determine what is truly of value to them. Pragmatically, they point out that engaging the public makes sense for governments and institutions because it gives access to intelligence necessary to gain a better understanding of established preferences and to predict emerging attitudes and expectations.
From the perspective of public sector managers, if the priorities and expectations of the public shift, and the culture of a public body does not, then satisfaction and trust in the service may be undermined, a point attested to by research indicating that service users are well attuned to the ethos of providers (Kelly et al, 2002, 24). Blaug, Horner & Lehki (2006, 7) are unequivocal:
If organisations are to create public value in their practices and use evaluative standards to measure their performance, then those values and evaluative standards must be authorised by the public.
What happens, then, when the values of an organisation and those of the public are at variance? When Moore talks about addressing ‘unmet social needs’ in the public realm as a focus for public value creation, it resonates strongly with the museum sector’s focus on the social impact agenda of museums. So what do we do when the public indicates that the social impact agenda is not what they value most about museums?
Britain Thinks 2013 research for The Museums Association provided a very interesting example of this variance between the intentions of the organisation and the value of the public. The research found that public strongly values museums and is aware that the current economic situation places them under extreme pressures. Addressing the facts, the public suggests that the best use of funding at this time is to ensure core functions such as conservation, interpretation and education and learning. These are the essential things about museums which the public value and they are rightly concerned about how much we can undertake as a sector in these economically stringent times.
So what does this mean for the social impact agenda? How do we address variance when we encounter it? How much do we value the public’s value?
Blaug R. Horner L. and Lekhi R. (2006). Public value, politics and public management: A literature review. London: The Work Foundation.
Britain Thinks. (2013). Public Perceptions- and attitudes to- the purposes of museums in society. London: Museums Association.
Kelly G. Mulgan G. And Muers, S. (2002). Creating public value: an analytical framework for public service reform. London: Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office.
Scott C. A. (2010). Searching for the public in Public Value: arts and cultural heritage in Australia. Cultural Trends, 19, 4, 273- 289.
Scott C.A. (2013). Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures. London: Ashgate.