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An introduction to public leadership
An introduction to public leadership

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Week 2: Leading change for public value?


Close up view of a person's hand sowing pound coins like seeds in a row in the ground.
Figure 1

This week, you will learn more about the concept of public value and its usefulness to leaders and their work in various sectors of the public services.

One of the key tasks of leaders is to identify the opportunities and spaces that can be used to create improvement in the work of the team, organisation or partnership. What changes might be initiated so that improvement occurs

Leaders may try to design and implement fundamental change – transformation or innovation, for example. Or they may focus on the continuous improvement of existing services and processes. Either way, change is not always straightforward and requires key skills in leaders to be able to imagine a different future and influence others to create and monitor change.

Change and innovation are generally undertaken with the intention of improving a service or process. However, change doesn’t always lead to improvement – sometimes the change stalls, or some parts get better while other parts get worse; or the service improves for some citizens but gets worse for others. So how does a leader maintain a clear sense of purpose, especially when issues arise that threaten to derail the change? Having a strong sense of creating value for the public will be very important for effective public leadership to stay on track.

All organisations and partnerships exist to achieve goals and thereby add value through their work. But what do we mean by value? In private organisations which provide goods and services to paying customers, value can be broadly assessed as outcomes that benefit the firm. For example, value might be the amount of profit, or the size and growth of the market, or market share. A number of tools and techniques have been developed to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of operations so as to achieve value outcomes for private firms. Some of these tools and techniques can be valuable in reducing waste or focusing on efficiency.

But value in public services is a little different and needs different ideas to support it. Firstly, many public services are about prevention, not expanding the size of the ‘market’. For example, in policing, reducing not increasing crime is a key goal, but how does one measure what an organisation has prevented from happening? Secondly, there is not always a paying customer. There are also taxpayers to consider, and the public at large – they have a stake and a say in what public organisations should and can do and they may potentially benefit from what the organisation does. Thirdly, some ‘customers’ may not want the service provided to them – burglars and car thieves would generally prefer not to be caught, and restaurants with poor quality hygiene don’t necessarily value the service they receive from environmental health officers. Finally, public organisations have to be concerned not only with goods and services but with how services are provided – with fairness, justice and efficiency (and with proportionate force wherever coercion is required).

In the next section, you will hear from Mark Moore about how he developed his original approach to public value.